First there was the vote by the RFU on their policy regarding the participation of transgender players in the women's game, although it wasn't just the result that was alarming but also the protracted debate around the issue which preceded it - I briefly harped on this over the weekend.
Then there was the announcement by SANZAAR (a name which looks more and more like the home planet of an evil species in a sci fi movie every time I type it) that they are going to continue the trial of the "20-minute red card", which seems to prioritize the spectacle for those watching over the safety of those playing. Also in a really ironic twist I notice a lot of the people defending this move are the same ones arguing for the transgender ban under the guise of "player safety".
But then on Sunday the entire rugby family read the tragic story of Siobhan Cattigan, and if all claims made by the article are true, then to my (admittedly untrained legally) mind, neither an apology nor an internal investigation by the SRU are anywhere near sufficient; instead it seems to be a case heading towards criminal negligence.
So I couldn't introduce this post without at least acknowledging those issues - but for now we must of course hurry back to the main theme, namely Ireland's 21/22 test campaign, which was quite the journey in every sense of the word.
It was meant to start in Las Vegas with a one off test against the USA, but sadly this fell foul to COVID, something Andy Farrell had gotten very used to since he was just two matches into his tenure. From March 2020 on it was a case of matches postponed, rearranged, or at best played in mostly empty stadia as he tried to establish himself as a test level coach.
And it's not like Irish fans were collectively giving him their full throated support and understanding at the beginning of November 2022. When the team was named to face Japan, there was the usual chorus of disapproval for all the usual reasons...not enough development, not enough from certain provinces, too many from one particular province, yaddya yaddya.
There was really only one thing Farrell's team could do to stick it to the naysayers and that was start winning. And I think we all know what happened next so without any further ado, here's a timeline of our progress through the Autumn internationals, Six Nations and of course the New Zealand tour, complete with quotes and links from our Harpin match writeups....
Sat Nov 6 - Aviva Stadium
"Simply put, bringing offloads and “KBA” rugby back to the Irish table is in many ways like taking the shackles off. Over the years it has been our way to truck it up the middle hoping for a penalty to create scoring chances and I don’t even think that’s necessarily a bad thing when you can make it work, although when opposition can see it coming as your “brand” from a long way out, the time does come to mix things up and it looks like we’re doing it." - PUT TO THE SWORD
IRELAND-29 NEW ZEALAND-20
Sat Nov 13 - Aviva Stadium
"So Lowe has gotten Reiko down and rolled away, and the All Black has one, two, THREE team mates gathering around him to protect the recycle for TJ Perenara, but three is clearly not enough for the War God who has already planted his feet in the ground and burrowed his way over the ball to give referee Luke Pearce no option but to go for his whistle." - FEARLESS
Sun Nov 21 - Aviva Stadium
"...with all the debate over who should be backing up Sexton, plus another lurking in the background over what kind of full back we should have in reserve should Keenan ever be unavailable, all of a sudden we were being treated to half an hour of Joey in a role he played on several occasions for Leinster 'back in the day'. And he didn’t look too shabby back there either." - PLENTY IN RESERVE
Sat Feb 5 - Aviva Stadium
"...the (Josh Adams) ruling could not have been more pivotal for Ireland's hopes of getting to four tries. All of a sudden from a Welsh penalty heading towards our line, now we're going the other way and with an extra man and straight from the lineout, a series of phases including what is by now a trademark JVDF crash ball set us up for JGP to do what he does best finding that final pass which Conway gratefully received to finish his second try." - EARLY 6MAS PRESENT
Sat Feb 12 - Stade de France
"Do I believe we'd have made up the 7 points we were short of victory if Sexton were on the pitch? Yes, I do, absolutely. Does that mean I believe Joey Carbery was a disaster and we can't possibly win anything without our captain? No, absolutely not. Make of that what you will." - STILL IN THE HUNT
Sun Feb 27 - Aviva Stadium
"...it was a case of JGP showing why he has become the presumptive starter in this "Farrellball" squad, moving so quickly he's pretty much moving to the next breakdown before he's finished passing from the last one, and with strong support from his forwards, we worked our way to the 22 where an inside pass by Peter O'Mahony was perfectly times (and disguised) to allow Caelan Doris through a gap. Next was the relatively easy bit as he has Sheehan and Carbery in support and it went quickly through the hands allowing our out half to defy a last gasp tackle to get it over the line. " - A QUARE ONE
Sat Mar 12 - Twickenham
"Ewels' body position going into the tackle was both awful and dangerous. It ended James Ryan's match before it had a chance to begin, and every contact to the head comes with the possibility of long-term implications. It deserved a red card. And when your team gets one, you deserve to be without a player no matter how long is left...The sanctions are not there to victimize. They are there to influence behaviour. Get. Those. Tackles. Lower." - THE FULL EIGHTY
Sat Mar 19 - Aviva Stadium
"...this was the year of a French squad which itself will go down in history as one that achieved the Grand Slam courtesy of some of the greatest players this competition has ever seen. Yet while the final table shows them to have won by a margin of four match points, we have to remember that they got an extra three for winning said Slam. When it comes to points earned in individual matches, Ireland only fell short by just the one point. ONE...So if this team can reach those heights, who are we to bet against them learning enough to move on and go even higher. " - ANOTHER STEP TO 2023
NEW ZEALAND TOUR
NEW ZEALAND-42 IRELAND-19
Sat Jul 2 - Eden Park, Auckland - First Test
"...it all started when Ringrose bobbled the pass. Not his fault; it happens. But for this play everything needed to be perfect and James Lowe knew this, which was why he tried so hard to adjust his run to be available. Garry managed to hold onto it, managed to offload, but Lowe's adjustments weren't enough for him to be there, not his fault either of course. So the ball went to ground, and as we all know, when this happens it's up to the Rugby Gods to determine what happens next, for reasons only they know." - MARGINAL
NEW ZEALAND-12 IRELAND-23
Sat Jul 9 - Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin - Second Test
"Even putting aside the perennial talk outside of New Zealand that they tend to push the boundaries of the Laws - after a start like this, is it any wonder they might have tried to push them even further? Like maybe a late hit on Mack Hansen? Or maybe tackle Garry Ringrose off the ball when he looks certain to score? Or maybe stay upright when facing that same centre because you're wary of him offloading or stepping around you?" - THE CARDS OF DUNEDIN
NEW ZEALAND-22 IRELAND-32
Sat Jul 16 - Sky Stadium, Wellington - Third Test
"...while we can't exactly say "it never looked in doubt", because at one point despite the big halftime lead it most certainly did look in doubt, the way we managed to pull more and more big plays out of the bag, both with and without the ball, demonstrated clearly that this is a squad that has its sights set on a lot more success than this one end of season series, however historic the victory may be." - TEAM OF AWESOME
As you can see it was quite the season. Just the two defeats, one to the Grand Slam champions and one to a team we beat three other times over the course of the campaign. Oh, and now we're number one in the World Rankings, which of course means they matter too 😜.
Now obviously what you see above is a list of matches from just the men's senior team. Here at Harpin Manor they and the Leinster senior men are the only teams we have the time to give full week-in, week-out coverage throughout the season, but we also do what we can to support rugby at all levels across Irish rugby, the four provinces and club level as best as we can.
So here is also a brief summary of how we saw some of the other Irish squads over the past 12 months. It wasn't all good by a long shot, but still I think it's safe to say all the different programmes are definitely headed in the right direction.
Towards the end of Leinster men's season opener against the Bulls, we were winning comfortably so I could turn my attention to the Irish women in their World Cup qualifier against Scotland, and as we all know, it did not go well for them.
Unfortunately it wasn't just this one result that represented a low point for the women's game here at the time, there were issues all the way down through the system. We spoke to @IrishWomens on our podcast about what needed to be done and it seemed clear that massive change was required all the way up to the very top, where the job of running the Women's game was shared with that governing sevens rugby for both genders.
As often has been the case when there are issues within the game here, a report was commissioned with much debate about transparency surrounding it. But eventually there was a commitment to appoint a dedicated head of Women's rugby for the IRFU and also to produce full time contracts for a number of players in the 15s code.
Naturally all of this change meant that performances on the pitch were likely to stagnate for a time, although November test victories over the USA and Japan offered a decent start when it came to putting the WRWC disappointments behind us.
Then came the Six Nations, now in its own slot on the calendar, and while it began with a disappointing defeat at home to Wales plus even bigger losses away to France and England, there was a win over a decent Italian side plus some measure of revenge against the Scots to round off the season.
When it comes to personnel, we now have Nichola Fryday leading the side and forming an excellent engine room with Sam Monaghan, plus Linda Djougang doing an excellent job of taking over the number 1 jersey from the legendary Lindsay Peat. That's to name just three players, and there are many more but one of the issues the side has had is a difficulty in preventing players from moving back and forth between 15s and 7s.
Hopefully the new head of Women's rugby will bring more consistency to the selection, and with that appointment, plus the contracts and the ambitious tour to Japan towards the end of August, there seems to be a lot to look forward to and hopefully the support from the general fan base will reflect this.
IRELAND MEN V MAORI AB'S
Apparently the IRFU kind of fell between two stools in organising the New Zealand tour...at first there was just to be the three tests while many were crying out for squad development, yet when the two matches against the Maoris were added to the schedule, it turned out we hadn't brought enough players!
It probably didn't help that so many were injured in the opening match which, like the first test, ended in victory for the home side, but in the end the midweek team bounced back every bit as much as the seniors and comfortably won the rematch in Wellington, with several players getting good game time in green, most notably perhaps from a Leinster perspective Ciarán Frawley at 10, even if that may not have been the intention when the squad was originally named.
UNDER 20'S MEN
Grand Slam. Need I say more? Well I guess I probably should...
Led by Reuben Crothers and with stellar performances from the likes of James Culhane, we posted significant margins of victory over Wales, Italy, England and Scotland but it was the 79th minute try by Ben Brownlee brilliantly converted by Charlie Tector pinching us a 1-point win over France in Aix-en-Provence that was the stand out result of the campaign.
With the Junior World Championships still off the table there was a Summer Series organised in June over in Italy, and although we sent a squad leaning more towards next season's crop of prospects and shipped a couple of defeats to France and South Africa, they also found some mettle to beat England by a point before winning their final match against the Scots.
Plenty of talent coming up the pipeline for all the provinces to look forward to breaking through at senior level very soon.
SEVENS WOMEN & MEN
Sevens weekends should become a staple diet for us rugby-mad fans. When Irish teams are involved, there are often up to a dozen different matches over the course of a couple of days, each of which only last about twenty minutes and most of which are available to watch for free on YouTube.
Naturally the ideal scenario would be for there to eventually be a World Series leg held in Ireland annually, but until that happens I hope we can collectively do more to be present to keep up with all the action for both women and men, as there has been much success over the past few years, culminating in qualification for the top tier in both genders as well as the World Cup to be held in South Africa this September.
Right, that's enough harpin' on last season. The URC fixtures were released last week so it's time to start looking ahead to 22/23 and as I have said several times on these pages recently, we'll be making some changes to our routine and we'll be working on that over the next few weeks and hopefully be able to start sharing it with you towards the end of the month.
In the meantime I'll be keeping up with the latest news on the Twitter machine so by all means join the discussion, that's what it's for. JLP
PS : last week we did a similar post covering Leinster men's 2021/22 season, click here