The 80+ column : Munster week, URC shields, HCC format

Welcome to my 80+ column, a new weekly post featuring final thoughts from the week of rugby just gone.


Talk about making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear…Conor & Mark did an excellent job on our main pod this week pointing out key things to look out for in what looked like a forgettable contest.

What intrigued me most was our lineouts.  Although we have managed to win all our matches, we have still been shown just how critical the success of this set piece is to our chances.  Against Benetton the jumper was being hit again and again and again which led to a significant victory.  On Friday both Niall Murray and Gavin Thornbury were doing excellent jobs disrupting our rhythm and it kept the home side close right up to the closing stages.  Maybe in some ways it looks risky to be putting so much stock in one aspect of the game, and should we face an opposition that manages to stifle us BEFORE we manage to create a lead to defend, I hope we’ll be able to either fix it early or go an alternative route.


Always, always, love Munster week no matter what the form book says, and besides, we’re bound to hear several times over the coming days about how said book “goes out the window” anyway.

They will no doubt be pumped up after that win over the Bulls, but that said, travelling to the Aviva might not be their ideal place to build on that confidence.  As I type, the injury report is yet to be released but I do see that Gerry “Thorinho” Thornley has already posted that although Sexton is poised to feature, the same cannot be said for Messrs Gibson-Park, Keenan and Lowe.

Here’s hoping the two lineups can be as strong as possible since it is rare we get to see that with these two great rivals.


Speaking of interprovincials, a thought occurred to me during the week…you know the way the URC awards a trophy to the winner of each of the four regional divisions, Ireland, Wales, South Africa and the ever-clunky Scots/Italian?

Well the table they use to decide those winners is based on the overall URC league table, which means for example if a team finishes 1st like Leinster did last season, then they automatically win the shield as well.

Just a suggestion…why not instead award the prize to the team that finishes first in a table created only from matches between the clubs?  Six matches each.  If that were happening in the Irish Shield now, the league would look like this so far…

Leinster P 2 Pts 8

Ulster  P 2 Pts 6

Connacht P 3 Pts 4

Munster P 1 Pts 0

Might raise the profile of the Shields a bit, especially as they will eventually no longer lead to HCC qualification anyway.  

Hey, even the Welsh might enjoy it.  Nah that’s pushing it, I guess.


Speaking of re-inventing competitions, and also speaking of Welsh anti-URC feeling, I see there are kites being flown all over the English media with suggestions of what to do with the Premiership after the demise of Worcester and Wasps (the latter’s administration being announced as I type) , with others reported to follow.

Much has been said about the obvious tragedy of these situations for the clubs, their staff and their fans, but it also has to be considered that the Premiership itself has to make drastic changes to its structure in order to prevent the possibility of similar things happening in the future.

One suggestion that was floating around was a 10-team Premiership, and as soon as I saw this I had only one thought on my mind which, naturally, had to go straight to the twitter machine…

I have to say I was surprised this got the reaction it did, but it is a point that cannot be ignored.

But going back to the Prem itself, I reckon the 10-team structure would work, provided there was also a league of 10 or more teams below it with some kind of promotion/relegation mechanism in place.  

Under this scenario, I can imagine Welsh ears pricking up thinking it might be a route for them to their Promised Land as I’m sure a lot of their fans would much prefer playing in a Premiership second tier instead of currently existing in a de-facto URC one.  Not so sure the RFU would see it that way though.

Whatever they plan to do, I really hope they sort something out soon because this season’s competition with all its cancellations, not exactly a million years after Saracens’ demotion I might add, really does make it look farcical.


Going back to that tweet posted above on the Premiership for a moment, a word or two on the current HCC format. 

I agree it is very confusing, but it also seems to be something the EPCR is determined to stick with.  Rather than the tried and tested pools of four leading to eight quarterfinalists, we now have two pools of 12 where everyone’s schedule is different.  Each plays two others from the pool home and away and the final table is made from just those four matches, with the top 8 making it into the knockouts.

One aspect of this that makes it seem really weird for European rugby is that for the format to work they need a specific number of teams. 20 wouldn’t fit so they had to expand to 24, even though just a few years ago many went to great lengths to explain to us that the two-dozen figure was too big.

So why do it this way?  Why indeed.  Well, I distinctly remember reading that UEFA wanted to employ a similar model for its flagship tournament the Champions League.  For them it would be an even bigger, clunkier competition with two pools of EIGHTEEN and each team playing six matches, home and away against three different clubs in each case.

The key element for this in a football sense is that it would provide a mechanism for the “elite” clubs, ie the Barcelonas, Citys and Bayerns, to avoid each other completely in the group stage and give them (theoretically) easier routes to the knockouts.

So why is rugby doing it?  Here’s where the smoking hot take of mine comes in, so hot that I probably need to be wearing a tin foil hat as I type it.  What if we were taking that format for a “test drive” for our round ball counterparts?  It was so unpopular last season in the HCC (albeit with COVID cancellations also playing a factor) that you’d assume EPCR would go back to the old way but they seem determined to stick with it.

Are we doing UEFA a favour?  If so, what are we getting in return?  Yeah, crazy I know, but this wouldn’t be a blog if I didn’t at least have one crackpot theory on the go every now and again, right?


While I’m harping on things football related, in case you needed reminding we have the crazy situation where their World Cup is taking place in November.

Now I know a lot of people, even hardcore fans, are talking about boycotting the competition altogether, yet while there are people like myself who are so into rugby they write blogs and produce podcasts, and there are also people like yourself, who are so into rugby they read blogs and listen to podcasts, are definitely going to follow the egg-chasing no matter what else is on, we have to remember that our sport is also keen to attract those who might have their attention snaffled by a football World Cup.

So I’ve been interested to see how Leinster’s home matches go up against the competition schedule and here’s what I found…

Saturday, November 26, 3:15 pm : Leinster v Glasgow Warriors, RDS

clashes with : France v Denmark 4pm

Saturday, December 3, 7:35pm : Leinster v Ulster, RDS

clashes with : Rd of 16 match 1Cv2D (possibly Argentina v Denmark) 7pm

Thankfully these are the only times our home games come in any kind of conflict so hopefully it won’t be too much of an issue.


As I said on the pod, I really enjoyed the big match in the Women’s World Cup at the weekend.  It was clear that England were the better side but the French were really well prepared to make thighs difficult for them to play and when they had a chance to score themselves they took it to make it a very close one.


Good news about Messrs Doris, Frawley & Kearney, also nice to see Hugo Keenan’s name at least escaping the dreaded “no further news” section right at the end.

The one line that has three massive names from both blue and green camps, Conan, Ryan & JVDF, looks like it could go either way so we’ll see.

Connors out for 12 weeks and Kelleher out for 8 is a pain in the you know where.

Caelan Doris came through the game at the weekend with no issues following his return from the Graduated Return to Play Protocols and it was a similar update for Ciarán Frawley who came through the game with no problems after his own return from a shoulder injury.

In other positive news, Dave Kearney is expected to return to full training this week following his return from an adductor injury suffered against Ulster Rugby.

There are a number of players that require further assessment this week before a final decision will be made on their involvement against Munster Rugby.

Luke McGrath, Rhys Ruddock and Ryan Baird will continue to follow the Graduated Return to Play Protocols this week and subject to coming through, will be available for selection.

Hugo Keenan will also step up his rehabilitation this week from abdominal and knee injuries.

From the game at the weekend against Connacht Rugby, Jack Conan (eye), James Ryan (knee) and Josh van der Flier (ankle) require further assessment this week.

Unfortunately, there was less positive news on a number of other players.

Will Connors had a procedure last week for a bicep injury suffered against the Cell C Sharks and will be unavailable for up to 12 weeks.

While Rónan Kelleher and Harry Byrne both suffered hamstring injuries and will be unavailable for up to eight weeks.

There were no further updates on:

James Lowe (calf), James Tracy (neck), Charlie Ryan (knee) and Tommy O’Brien (knee)


Normally when you want to do a brief feature on the AIL you would lead off with what’s happening in Division 1A, but even if the Tullow Tank hadn’t had his unfortunate injury in his debut for Naas in the next tier down, I reckon that match would still have grabbed the headlines.  I hope it’s not too bad, but as we all know hamstrings can definitely have you out for quite a while.

Meanwhile back in the elite division, Terenure with their host of names which would be known to Leinster fans like Marcus Hanan, Jordan Coughlan, Cathal Marsh and Adam La Grue, made it a maximum 15 pts from 15 with a third bonus point victory, this time on the very difficult trip to Dooradoyle to face Garryowen.

They now hold a 1-point lead over Clontarf and Trinity, both of whom also had way victories at the weekend against Hinch and Lansdowne respectively, with Harry Byrne now out for a number of weeks after being a late withdrawal for the Bulls last time out.

Down at the bottom of the table there is an unusual situation in that it’s not often you see as many as four clubs with 0% records in a 10-team divisions after 3 rounds but that is the case with Lansdowne, UCD, Garryowen and Shannon all having the dubious honour.

Over in the Women’s AIL, it is also a trio of 100% Leinster clubs leading the way, with Belvo at the top having played a game more than Railway Union and Rock behind them.


OK first let me be absolutely clear – I have finally accepted that Those Pesky Birds (the Ospreys) do not play rugby for their fans, nor for the love of the sport, rather for the SOLE PURPOSE of screwing up my Superbru.  The evidence is indisputable.  A draw with the Stormers?   Really???

Seriously though, it was a bad week for me in the Harpin Prediction League with my lead evaporating and master statistician RugbyKino climbing to the summit.  In a way I am just happy to be far from last place where it is more than a wooden spoon waiting for whomever should sit there when all is said and done, but having been at the top for a few weeks I have to admit I was starting to feel comfortable!

It looks like there are three separate mini-battles going on in this league but much can change as we are only at round 5 of 18, with the playoffs as well in the mix.  Again I will say this kind of competition really does give following rugby over the weekend an extra edge.


As mentioned earlier, Munster week awaits…  I’ll be talking to Caolán Scully about their squad and season so far 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

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