I'm back! Sort of. Not quite ready for the 2000-word writeups or the fixed daily schedule just yet; I'll probably get to that next Monday, but my plan was always to kick start the site by doing a brief writeup for this match - unfortunately it failed to deliver 80 minutes that could actually be called a "match", but still I will soldier on and try to harp on something that hopefully will keep your attention.
The plan is to attack three general headings in this article, two of which are chosen to avoid writing about the actual rugby for obvious reasons. So let's get going shall we...
Obviously you shouldn't need to be in perfect physical health to keep a blog going. Sure you're just sitting at your laptop, that can be done from anywhere! Well without boring you with the details of my actual symptoms, having been pretty much "perfectly healthy" for literally decades, this virus that took me down a few weeks ago left me with little or no interest in following anything, let alone rugby.
I worked out it had been 1994 since I had previously seen the inside of a hospital as a patient, and even then it was for something superficial. I won't lie I was pretty worried about this for the six nights I was there, but thankfully after a battery of tests came back all clear, I was told that only rest and patience would see me through. For that I can be nothing but grateful.
Of course it wasn't like I ignored rugby altogether in that time - I went in to hospital around the same time Ireland played Samoa and got home the day before we played New Zealand so as you can probably appreciate, my emotions had been mixed. Yet whether it was green-tinted optimism before that quarterfinal or black-tinted despair after it, I just wasn't motivated to write anything in that time, apart from the odd tweet.
When it comes to addressing the lack of writeups for Samoa and New Zealand, I think what I will do is a more general post about the Joe Schmidt era before the weekend, since at this stage I'm not sure how much I can add to what has already been written about those particular matches!
It had been that my levels of rugby nerdery meant I'd get up each morning and head straight to my rugby news aggregator (Feedly) to clue me in on the latest articles, plus so I could compile my daily morning post "Front 5". But for the past few weeks, my primary concern each morning was assessing if I felt any better than I had the previous evening.
Hopefully my mojo is returning to the extent where I can resume normal operations next Monday; fingers crossed.
EIR SPORT SNAFU
I won't lie, my health hasn't been the only thing I'd been taking for granted. Much like over 30 years with no major ailments had me thinking I was invincible, Leinster's perfect haul of 15 points from their opening 3 Pro 14 fixtures had me settling down in front of the telly last Saturday assuming that tally was about to reach 20.
And the weird thing was, I didn't even notice right away that the television coverage was being delayed. The transmission was due to start at 5, yet when I switched over they were playing brief 5-minute highlight clips of past Rugby World Cup matches, and it was only when the third one started that I began to suspect something was amiss.
Did I get the kickoff time wrong? Was this some kind of daylight savings time sorcery I had somehow missed? Eventually I copped on. It dawned on me that all of a sudden they were going to cut to the action in Parma and the match will already be in progress, and that's exactly what happened.
To be fair, according to the consternation on Twitter, the gremlins weren't just affecting eir Sport - Premier Sports had the same problem. Where I can definitely fault the Irish broadcaster is in its failure to do viewers the courtesy of explaining the situation. Just how hard can it be to type a graphic onto the screen informing us that we will be joining the rugby coverage as soon as possible?
And as one Harpin reader pointed out, the biggest irony was that in between those RWC highlight shows, there would be advertisements trying to convince us how good a network eir Sport is, mostly due to the fact that they offered "every Pro 14 match live".
So there can be no doubting that this was a major PR failure on the part of the channel, and given the BT Sport package was recently taken off them by Sky, I'm not so sure they can really afford to be pissing off their subscribers this much. Again, to be clear, I don't fault them for the loss of transmission like some seem to be, just the complete lack of basic communication. At the time of writing, I can't find anything by way of apology nor explanation on their press release section of their website nor social media.
NOT SO FINE MARGINS
One thing for which I cannot blame eir Sport is the fact that by the time the full time whistle blew I was wishing they had actually stuck with the 5-minute RWC highlight clips for the duration!!!
If I had a euro for every time I said before a Leinster or Ireland match "I don't care if we win 3-0, just that we win", I'd have easily had enough to get myself to the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi to watch this match from start to finish. And if I had a bonus Euro for every time I said I enjoyed 80 minutes of solid defending every bit as much as a high scoring Super Rugby encounter, I could probably have brought a few mates with me to Parma as well.
Maybe I wouldn't go so far as saying that I'd completely take those two statements back, but this match definitely tested them to their limits. Basically every time Leinster had the ball I thought we should score, and every time Zebre had the ball I expected us to thwart them, and only the second panned out.
It was a bizarre match. I hope the current coaching ticket will forgive me for this reference but at times when we were in possession it was like we were back to the Matt O'Connor days! Yet when the home side had an attacking opportunity, even late in the game and deep in our 22, our defence was more than able to handle it, with double tackles driving back would be carriers almost each and every time.
That said, how the referee Craig Evans didn't see some kind of infringement that would have given the home side a chance to level the scores from under the posts is some kind of miracle. 3-3 would arguably have been a more fitting final scoreline, though it would hardly have been twice as satisfying for any 'neutrals' who were left watching by those closing stages.
For me, Leinster's biggest problem with the ball was in a general lack of basic support play. At one stage when I was in hospital they had me in a room to myself in case I had something contagious yet even then I wasn't as isolated as some of the boys in blue who managed the odd line break. It was all too easy for the defenders to jackle their way to a penalty and this is an area Irish teams are meant to take for granted so I'm sure things were said at the ensuing DVD session.
You would have thought that with players like Fardy, Gibson-Park and Tomane on show there would have been enough experience to eventually click us into gear but it simply was not happening. Just 'one of those days' I suppose.
But hey - mind-numbingly boring as it may have been to watch, the result was still a Leinster away victory, which leaves us as the only 100% team in the league after 4 rounds. And with the Dragons set to visit the RDS this Friday (planning to make it down there myself having missed both the Ospreys and Edinburgh) there's a perfect opportunity for the boys in blue to show their fans that it was a once-off below-par showing.
Since the Pro 14 couldn't even find two minutes of footage from this contest to justify the tag "highlights", there's no real point in harping on this result for much more. All I can say is that I'm happy with a Leinster win and even happier that I'm back writing again. Here's hoping I have more entertaining rugby to help me fill these pages for the rest of the season. JLP