Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Harpin Points 34 : Obama-esque optimism, off-field 'culture' & more


On Wednesday we widen our focus beyond Leinster & Ireland rugby matches, offering views on broader rugby topics and themes

YES WE CAN

Take a deep breath and say it with me : "Ireland CAN win the World Cup."

Of course I'm joking above, though only in the first part of the sentence because I'm certainly not here to tell you what to think or say.  All I'm doing is giving my opinion, and I'm definitely serious about the last bit.

Just for now let's put aside tactics, let's put aside specific personnel, let's put aside superstition, let's put aside provincial bias (though of course we should always do that when talking about the Irish team) and look at what Ireland has achieved since the last World Cup.

We've won a Grand Slam, we've beaten every 'elite' test nation on the planet, we've won a series in the southern hemisphere.  And while we have also had some bad runs of form, including the most recent Six Nations, no other team can claim to have been perfect in that time either, not even the All Blacks.

So what I'm trying to do here is set my baseline opinion before squads get named, interviews from the training camps emerge, pundits start opining and warmup games start being played.

As far as I'm concerned, if you can't at least get on board with that statement, we have been watching the boys in green playing over the past few years through different lenses.



CULTURE, CLUBS

It turned out to be another successful season for Leinster; perhaps not quite on a par with the previous one, but still one that would suit 99% of clubs across the continent just fine.

No sooner had the post-match celebrations died down, however, when a few not-so-pleasant stories came to light, none of them related to something that happened on the pitch, yet all of which were still linked to the provincial rugby set up.

It is not my intention to re-hash the rights and wrongs of the individual incidents; most will be fully aware of them and according to reports in the media, both have been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties.

But what I want to harp on here is a question that was put to Devin Toner last week, when he was asked if a 'review of Leinster's club culture' was needed on the back of the incidents.


"I don't think there's a need to review anything, to be honest. It is a player-driven thing. The people that have been involved know that it's not what they do, and it's not what we do."

As you can see, much like his best lineout work for club & country, despite the wobbly dart, Devin rose majestically into the air to cleanly take the ball and secure it for his side.

Now I get that newspapers need to sell copies and encourage clicks, and the more trophies we win, the more the phenomenon which I call 'Leinster-freude' grows, and there would be many fans of Irish rugby who would be more than happy to read articles about supposed off-field problems at the reigning Pro14 champions.

But is it actually a 'culture problem' on rugby's part or a 'reality problem' on ours as observers????

Anyone with a modicum of sense knows that such things are never specific to one particular club.  All the other provinces have had issues over the years, as have clubs at all levels and all over the world.

Rugby takes pride in the fact that it is a sport for all shapes and sizes, so this must also apply to the players' personalities as well as their physical appearance.  Not everyone is going to be 'squeaky clean' and to expect them all to be such is absurd.

So rather than try to maintain some kind of image whereby the players are some kind of super-human entities who are incapable of having flaws unlike us mere mortals, maybe we can revise our expectations and appreciate that not everything is going to run smoothly and when things spill over into the news cycle they can be handled on a case by case basis.

Of course we want players to be role models to inspire the next generation, but all I'm saying is that striving for that is all well and good but not at the expense of the real world which will always be real no matter how much we sport we watch to try to avoid it 😉 .

For a final point on this topic...obviously I was partly alluding to Sean O'Brien above, and with both him and Paddy Jackson bound for London Irish, I wonder if they're now in a position controversy-wise where they might as well make an offer to Israel Folau? 🤔

Click here for our post from last weekend > "The Folau story is a subset of a wider narrative facing rugby union"


JUNIORS IN NAME ONLY

The whole reason for this Harpin Points feature is that while the website's main focus is Leinster & Ireland matches, we don't want ignore what's happening elsewhere in the game so hopefully Leinster Rugby won't mind me bringing up these off-field issues and on top of the two I mention above there was another in recent weeks.

I saw a report recently on the US women's soccer team's demands for equal pay to the men.  I'm not sure if many sports are in a position for across-the-board wage equality just yet, but certainly the Americans have a definite claim in this case.  Apparently the men, ranked 30th in the world, make on average around $235k while the won, number 1, three-times world champions and just reached another final, make an average of $99k.

For similar reasons, on the surface, Railway Union's wish to be considered a 'senior club' by Leinster branch definitely seems to be justified on the surface.  Although their men's team plays at 'Junior' level in the Leinster League, their women are in the top tier of the AIL and have won the All-Ireland cup twice.

I'll admit that I'm not altogether sure of the finer points, like what the major difference is between senior and junior level (and while I'm at it, why do they have to use those words?  Surely there are other terms that can be used so as not to be confused with underage rugby?) or indeed the political situation among all the different clubs in the Leinster branch, but this is definitely a topic that warrants following and hopefully it will be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties soon.



DON'T CRY TOO MUCH FOR ARGENTINA

In Southern Hemisphere rugby, every four years the leading test nations down there get the perfect build up to a World Cup.  A preseason around the New Year, Super Rugby kicks off in February, they have regular top flight rugby through to June/July, then the Rugby Championship, all with suitable rest periods built in to the schedule to allow for all the travelling.

Here in the North, the journey is far from smooth.  At the New Year we are already well into the season, and when our major test series is done, the players all must go back to their clubs as the continent's major silverware still needs to be handed out.

This takes us to the end of May, when the test coaches can finally emerge from behind the sofa to survey what kind of fit squads they have available for their assault on the coveted William Webb Ellis Trophy.

Perhaps there's not much that can be done about this, though I have long harped on these pages about how much the European calendar needs to be restructured.

But for all of the perceived advantage experienced by the Southern Hemisphere nations, imagine what kind of boost Argentina are getting thanks to the existence of the Jaguares franchise.

Many observers outside of Ireland are quick to point out how many Leinster players are in the Irish squad, and this is true but any advantage Joe Schmidt may get from that pales in comparison to the team morale the Pumas must enjoy.

Towards the end of May they announced their squad for the Rugby Championship and I make it 34 of the 46 players are currently with the Jaguares and thus have been together as a squad the entire calendar year and what's more it has been a banner season for them as they have become the first non 'Tri-Nation' team to reach the Super Rugby final.

Just to be clear - while it is a distinct advantage for them over the other 'elite' nations, it's not that I begrudge it to them (especially as they were kept in the competitive wilderness for so long), it's more that I am jealous!  I wish more could be done to keep all rugby squads together for as long as possible because it would surely have a positive effect on the quality of rugby we see on the pitch.

That said, I wonder how the other unions will react if the Jaguares and Pumas continue to enjoy success; perhaps the need for a second franchise will be floated sooner rather than later.



BT VANISHES INTO THIN EIR

A couple of years ago I scored a very good deal to switch to Eir TV - I think it was something like three months free and a further three half price.  And for what I get out of TV and broadband, the service has been fine, and what's more, I had the option (if not the time) to watch every single Pro 14 match last season, and that will continue into next.


However, a strong benefit of the package was the free inclusion of the four BT Sport channels, which as you know covers the Champions Cup and the Premiership, and in a sneaky email towards the end of June, Eir announced that due to circumstances beyond their control, they will no longer carry BT as part of the basic package from the beginning of August.  Apparently this is to do with a move made by the Sky platform, and it remains to be seen how much extra I'll have to shell out if I want to continue with BT.


Putting aside my overall annoyance that customers are forced to shell out for 'premium' sports channels which are already taking in plenty in ad revenue, these things happen in TV world and I'm not going to let it affect me too much, but for the purpose of this final Harpin Point, I feel it needs to be said that when you lose crucial elements from your product yet keep your prices the same, it's tantamount to a price increase, no matter what contorted double-speak they use in their emails.



Many thanks for sticking with my latest Harpin Points until the end.  We're slowly but surely getting back to our 'normal' output of content and we're hoping to add a couple of new feature before the World Cup - stay tuned!  JLP

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