Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Harpin Points 33 : Competition draws, U20s and more


A feature where we widen our focus beyond Leinster & Ireland rugby matches, offering views on broader rugby topics and themes

SEEDS OF DOUBT

Since the Pro14 final we have taken a quasi-sabbatical here at Harpin Manor, what with another long season that saw Leinster playing a pretty much maximum amount of rugby, and a World Cup just around the corner, but yesterday I saw a good opportunity to wade back into rugby's keyboard warrior pool once more by reviving this Harpin Points feature which I had to suspend during the Six Nations due to other commitments.

Earlier in the week, the 'draw' was announced for the make up of the two seven-team conferences in next season's Pro 14, and it was hard to ignore the fact that the most recent finalists, Leinster and Glasgow, were paired together.

For us Leinster fans in particular, it was really curious to see that under the seeding system employed by the league, we were given the tag 'Ireland 2', even though we were champions for the past two seasons.

The reason for this is that the league determined that match points gained in the last regular season would decide the ranking within each union's group of teams in the league and that means Munster got the Ireland got the number 1 slot for Ireland and found themselves avoiding the Warriors.

So I decided to voice my displeasure at this state of affairs on social media with this tweet (which was also replicated on Facebook) just to see what the reaction would be...


Now when it comes to this issue itself, my overall view is that it is a curious method of seeding.  Possibly the thinking was that it was meant to motivate clubs to care more about matches in the latter stages of the season that could be considered 'dead rubbers'. If so that's a good idea in theory but a pointless one in practise, and Leinster's experience illustrates this perfectly.

We had our home semifinal wrapped up by the beginning of March, which left us with four regular season matches.  With knockout rugby in both competitions on the horizon, few could blame the province for using those occasions to try new combinations and give game time to Academy players.

Honestly; can you imagine Leo Cullen saying at the time "Actually we're going to play all these matches at full strength because I will affect our seeding in next season's Pro 14"?  He'd have been laughed out of it!!!

As it turned out, Leinster only managed one draw from that phase I dubbed the 'midseason preseason', and as Glasgow and Munster battled for top spot in Conference A, they both actually overtook our final points total, which ended up gifting the number 1 seed slot to Munster.

All of which leaves me with the following thoughts :

  • While I appreciate that the clubs would have known of this format, I still feel it is a bad idea which doesn't offer any benefit to the league.
  • Some argued that this was the same method that was used for the first season of conference play in 2017/18 but that's not quite true. The league table that generated those seedings was one from the old round robin home and away format, and thus every team's schedules were the same. 
  • My tweet yesterday teased out an element of opinion which I fully expected, namely that which I call 'Leinster-freude' where the premise is along the lines of 'pity about ye! The cheek of Leinster fans moaning about anything!!!'.  It's something I reckon All Black fans are well used to in that the teams that have the most success are perceived as being banned from acknowledging any kind of injustice.
  • Overall I'm still OK with the Conference system.  I certainly wouldn't use this seeding issue as a reason for going back to the old way.  All I would do is simplify the process and reward the team that actually won the whole competition!

All of that said, from a neutral perspective it has to be good for the league that last season's finalists will meet each other at least twice in the next campaign, and even with Leinster goggles on you can see a positive in that there's no harm in our having a much more competitive schedule than last year's.


THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

Ireland's 2019 Under 20 World Championship campaign may not have reached the dizzy heights of the Grand Slam earlier in the year, but it is certainly better than last year when we had to win the final match to avoid relegation from the top tier altogether!

But however our fortunes may go, this is always a fascinating tournament.  This year we began really well with victory over England then a first half red card saw us fall to the Aussies although only after putting up a spirited fight as long as our legs would allow.  On Monday night the English got us back as they made much more from the muddy conditions and we paid the price for too many errors.

The players to impress me most of all have been half backs Craig Casey & Ben Healy; they look like a pairing that could serve Munster & Ireland very well down the line.  But overall it was the team effort which has stood out which is a credit to coach Noel McNamara and his staff.  Despite losing to both Aus & Eng, the never say die attitude throughout the team was there for all to see.

One thing is for sure - the choice between the clashing matches on Saturday evening is an easy one for me.  I'd much rather watch the 'Wolfpuppies' face the 'Baby Blacks' than find out who wins the trophy itself.


POOL OF LIFE?

The pool draw for the 2019/20 Champions Cup...

POOL 1 : LEINSTER, Lyon, Northampton Saints, Benetton
POOL 2 : Exeter Chiefs, Glasgow Warriors, La Rochelle, Sale Sharks
POOL 3 : Clérmont, ULSTER, Harlequins, Bath
POOL 4 : Saracens, MUNSTER, Racing 92, Ospreys
POOL 5 : Toulouse, Gloucester, CONNACHT, Montpellier

I can't lie - as I watched this draw unfold I felt less aggrieved by the Pro 14 situation!  Taking into account all the standard clichés like 'no such thing as an easy tie' this was definitely a decent draw for Leinster and a horrendous one for Munster.

One bit of irony has to be noted - all those years when Benetton were qualifying automatically simply because they were Italian we'd never draw them, and now they've reached their first league playoffs and gone two season unbeaten at the RDS, we have them in our pool!!!

Overall though we definitely did ok compared to the other provinces - Munster will definitely attract the predictable 'pool of death' depiction.

We'll see how the fixtures pan out - for some reason we tend to get English teams in the December 'back to back' series more often than not and my spider sense tell me the organisers may be keen to reward Benetton's recent success with a home opener against us.


PAST THEIR PRIME



This really bugged me.  I'm not 'one of those rugby fans' who likes to poke fun at other team sports like GAA and soccer; on the contrary I often enjoy a good contest in both codes even when a Dublin-based team isn't involved; most recently the Leinster Hurling Championship clash between Wexford and Kilkenny.

I was drawn to this YouTube clip by the title - the League of Ireland has been in steady decline over the years and I was interested to see how RTÉ's Prime Time described the problem.

Well, I'll let you watch it for yourself but my issue is very simple.  If you're going to mention GAA as a reason for soccer's demise on these shores, surely you must also throw at least a nod to rugby union because nobody can deny that its popularity now is miles ahead of what it was 20 years ago, and had to play a factor.

Many thanks for sticking with my latest Harpin Points until the end.  We'll be back to our full range of regular features soon. JLP

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