Welcome to my 80+ column, a new weekly post featuring my final thoughts from the week of rugby just gone.
Obviously, it was a good weekend to be a Leinster fan, no win in Belfast comes easily although we just about deserved the one we got on Friday. Had a great chat as always harpin’ on it with the lads on Sunday, check out the pod if you missed it, and while you’re at it maybe subscribe to the feed too if you don’t mind.
MUNSTER’S SEASON & LEINSTER’S LINEOUTS
I try to keep the pods to under an hour but often that means leaving out material I really want to keep in. That was definitely the case on Sunday night as during the “Front Five” section, where I try to keep things brief to get to the main topic quickly, Tom & Mark went off on an excellent riff about Munster’s season so far, so while I cut it from the main pod I thought I’d add it here as something of a bonus. There’s also a bit more to the audio as I put in a question I asked them about Leinster’s lineouts v Ulster as opposed to those against Benetton the week before.
BEST LEAGUE GETTING EVEN BETTER
I’ll harp on our contributors’ prediction league further down the column but apart from the banter it provides it also makes me focus even more on the full slate of matches every weekend and I have to say it has been a cracking competition so far, even just 23 matches in.
Normally I’m something of a “defensive purist” and multiple scorelines where the losing side has over 30pts isn’t always my idea of perfect, but it’s more about the sides that were towards the end of the table last season doing well, like Zebre and Dragons, both of which have already given top 8 opposition a serious run for their money.
Absolutely no match is a given and that’s as it should be. Who needs relegation eh?
I was obviously delighted with the Leinster win on Friday night but I always had soft spot for Ulster and I have said many a time over the years that they have had a continued run of shocking luck.
From losing key players for various reasons beyond the provincial branch’s control, to having controversial decisions go against them in big matches, to my personal favourite – in the one year they actually finish top of the Celtic League and earn a home final, that’s also the year they have to switch it to Dublin…and who do they happen to be playing???
And I know they deservedly did the double over us last season but in real terms that didn’t get them anything more than bragging rights as we ended up finishing first anyway, and even this weekend, the trademark Friday night downpour didn’t hit until after we had built a lead.
I was sure to bring that up when I was a guest on the Red Hand podcast on Saturday, check out the episode here.
Not much I can add to Tom’s evaluation of the touring side’s opening fixture last Friday, only that perhaps the Griquas were playing as though they had been sampling some free Windhoek Draught courtesy of their sponsors. That’s not to take anything away from our lads of course, as the saying goes you can only play what’s in front of you, and it is true that as the game wore on they really started to gel nicely with Jack Crowley pulling the strings.
Obviously from a Leinster POV it was a shame that Ciarán Frawley was unavailable as he really does need some time in a 10 jersey so he can realise the potential we all know he has. Still, there’s always room for another quality 10 with the initials JC in a green jersey!!!
Not a whole lot in the line of good news in this week’s report, would wish for the likes of Messrs Keenan and Lowe to be moving up the list soon. Also the withdrawals of Kelleher before kickoff in Belfast and Dave Kearney during halftime are both concerns, and with Sheehan getting so much game time the past couple of weekends I can’t imagine him also starting against the Sharks at the RDS on Saturday.
INJURY UPDATE – AVAILABLE FOR SELECTION:
James Ryan: came through the game at the weekend with no issues after recovering from a hamstring injury
Will Connors: came through the game at the weekend with no issues after recovering from a back injury
Liam Turner: has recovered from a toe injury and will return to full training this week
INJURY UPDATE – FURTHER ASSESSMENT REQUIRED:
Caelan Doris: was withdrawn for a Head Injury Assessment in the first half against Benetton Rugby and will continue to be assessed this week as he comes through the Graduated Return to Play Protocols
Rónan Kelleher: was a late withdrawal from the Leinster Rugby match day 23 with a hamstring injury and will be further assessed this week
Dave Kearney: was withdrawn at half time against Ulster Rugby with an adductor injury and will be further assessed this week
INJURY UPDATE – UNAVAILABLE FOR SELECTION:
Jamison Gibson-Park: picked up a hamstring injury in training last week and will be unavailable for selection this week
There are no further updates on:
Ciarán Frawley (shoulder), Hugo Keenan (abdominal & knee injury), James Lowe (calf), James Tracy (neck), Charlie Ryan (knee), Tommy O’Brien (knee)
ALL HAIL THE AIL
The Women’s All Ireland League kicked off a few weeks ago, with Old Belvedere leading the way, while the men returned to action the weekend just gone, with champions Clontarf beginning their defence of the title with a win over UCD. There were also wins for Trinity, Terenure, Ballynahinch & Cork Con.
I always say it – I would LOVE to be able to give the club game more coverage, we tried it a good few years ago with a series called “Roots & All” where we reached out to 5 different clubs throughout the season but it became too time consuming. What I’ll do instead is offer regular updates in this column, paying particular attention to players in the Leinster provincial system as I go.
For example, Charlie Tector was playing at 10 for Lansdowne as they were edged out by “The Hinch” on the Aviva back pitch, while the Terenure side that scored an impressive 39-3 win at Shannon included Marcus Hanan, as well as some familiar names from days gone by like Harrison Brewer, Jordan Coghlan & Cathal Marsh.
So in Superbru whoever earned the most points in a week gets a “yellow cap” but despite the fact I have yet to earn one in the three rounds of the URC I am still somehow top of the Harpin League. I guess it’s a classic case of “slow and steady wins the race” or at least “leads the race after 1/6th of the race”…but like I’ve said before, this league is not about finishing first, it’s about not finishing last and having to wear The Jersey Of Doom and so far it’s Keego who sits in that position. He actually did really well on Friday, predicting the Ulster v Leinster margin on the button, but I think going for a Zebre win by 3 at Musgrave Park might have been a risk too far…
THE NEXT BATCH OF HARPIN’
Sharks are up next for Leinster, at the RDS on Saturday evening. I’ll be talking to AP Cronje about their squad during the week, then on Friday I’ll have Keego with me for The Preview Show, with the usual wrapup recorded on Sunday evening and of course all the regular features during the week, stay tuned to any or all of our social media platforms. In the meantime, be sure to enjoy your rugby wherever you are. JLP