Welcome to my 80+ column, a weekly post featuring final thoughts from the week of rugby just gone.
WRAP OF A WRAP
As it got closer to kickoff time I was getting more and more concerned that Leinster’s Heineken Champions Cup opener against Racing 92 wouldn’t go the way I hoped. That may sound odd to a non-Leinster fan given our record this season but actually that’s more than likely the reality for most fans of any team no matter how successful. But especially so in this age where a red card can make a difference to a contest, although of course even that didn’t hurt us last week!
But as it turned out, I needn’t have worried because much like last year we appear to be kicking off our European campaign in determined mood, yes I know we were helped a lot by Racing’s own disciplinary issues but still we were solid especially on set piece as you can see by the numbers.
One teeny tiny final point I’d like to make, when it came to “Star of the Match”, I’d have gone for JVDF over Doris – that’s nothing against the latter he certainly had some key involvements yet he did ship a couple of penalties as well, one at a breakdown I was sure he’d get carded for, so while I don’t believe in simply giving the gong to the guy who got the most tries on the day, I reckon we all know Josh does way more than that, right? Again it’s not crucial but hey it’s my opinion and sharing it is kinda what this column is for.
It was another match which was a pleasure to wrap up on our Sunday pod, with super contributions as always by Messrs Jackson & Mifsud, plus a “roving report” by Tom Coleman. If you missed it, check it out here or on most major platforms.
HARPIN’ ON…THAT RINGROSE TRY
If you haven’t listened to our weekly wrap pod yet, first of all, why the hell not???? Especially if you’re reading this column!!! Seriously though…what we do is harp our way through the timeline of the match from start to finish, focusing on the major incidents of course, but also pointing out the minor ones as well that the pundits may have missed like the ref giving out to Leinster’s players for celebrating a knock on!!!
For this week’s YouTube clip I used Mark’s analysis of the Garry Ringrose try, although personally I was equally impressed by the one that came before it because it had three components to it which were world class yet things we take for granted from the players in question…JGP finding the final lock picking pass, Dan Sheehan lurking in the wide channel and being able to force his way over the line, and finally Ross “Mr Touchline” Byrne popping over the most difficult placekick for a right-footer like it was nothing to him.
If you’re playing the clip above maybe pop over and subscribe to the channel too? That’s where we post our Preview Show as well as other content throughout the week.
You may have noticed that our wrap pod was episode 199 which means the next one is a milestone so to mark it I asked three of the contributors to join me for a “season so far” quiz where I tested their knowledge of the twelve matches we have covered this season before the Champions Cup kicked off.
During the week I’ll publish the episode in such a way as you the listener can have a go at the questions as well, see how many you can get!
IN DEFENCE OF THE HCC FORMAT
Now I want to be careful how I word this point so that I’m absolutely clear on where I stand. A lot of people have complained about the format for the Champions Cup and I want to push back, however this does not mean I am totally in favour of it. Let me explain.
If you offered me just two choices for how the Champions Cup pool stage can be run, (1) the current way, or (2) the old way with pools of 4 playing home and away leading to quarterfinals, I would always always choose 2.
However, while the backlash against the current way seems to be 100% by most people, I’d probably put mine around the 70-80% mark, because I can actually see some benefits in the current way, while also some of the drawbacks maybe aren’t as bad as many point out.
First we should have a go at explaining the system. There are 24 qualifiers, 8 from each league. They are drawn into 2 pools of 12, everyone plays four matches, and the top 8 on each table go through to the knockout phase.
For starters, I’m not, nor have I ever been, totally committed to the “everyone must play everyone” concept to a league competition. In an ideal world yes, but in reality we have to be open to alternatives due to time and travel constraints, and if a competition is ultimately decided by knockout rounds, then that should allow for anyone who got lucky with the schedule to be “found out”.
And to balance out the smaller amount of matches, with the extra round of 16 it’s actually easier to advance out of the pool phase, meaning rather than rounds 5 and 6 in the past when you’d have many “dead rubbers”, you now have a round 5 which is completely cup rugby, although of course the 6th match is gone altogether.
I also must admit I do like the symmetry of this system. Maybe every team has different opponents but they are definitely not chosen by random. Last season, when Leinster were Pro14 champions, we got a schedule that had teams finishing 7th or 8th in the Top14 and Premiership. So our domestic record was duly rewarded.
This season, since we failed to reach the 21/22 URC final, things were a bit tougher as we were pitted against teams finishing 5th and 6th at home. And despite the result last weekend, Racing are still doing well this season as are Gloucester.
One more positive about the fixtures is that with this system you are always playing a team from a different league in the pool phase, which is kind of what the competition is meant to be all about. Often under the old format you’d be playing home and away against a team you’re already down to face twice in your domestic league.
Finally in defence of the four-match system, while many think it was done this way purely because of COVID so why keep it now, I think it also helps to facilitate the introduction of the South African clubs. Under the old system with three blocks of two matches each home and away, that would inflict a hell of a lot of travelling on everyone, so doing it this way means anyone travelling after round 4 at least knows it’s at the business end of the competition and thus is easier to market. Having to fly thousands of miles for a dead rubber should be avoided at all costs.
Also, one thing about the “old way” that always grated with me a lot was the “best runnersup” system where three teams got knockout rugby often because they got a much easier draw. That said, I did really, really, like rounds 3 and 4 with the home and away fixtures in December, that always gave the return matches a bit of extra edge. And when they had the two-legged round of 16 last season I thought that was a way of holding onto that so in a way it’s a shame they have taken even that away this season.
Right that’s enough of that, I reckon that’s enough pushback but like I said, I would hardly grumble if we changed back, although if it were down to me I’d ditch both for something else altogether, best leave that for another week’s column!!!
Another interesting weekend for the Irish Sevens programmes, with the women doing better this time around, getting all the way to the semifinals where they were outclassed by New Zealand. Although we didn’t get a medal from the event, the points were enough to move us up to 5th on the overall table.
Meanwhile in the men’s draw, after a confident start we then had a nightmare against Uruguay, a team we should be beating handily, where a rush of blood to the head by Mark Roche saw him get a second yellow card, thus a red, in the first half which left us a man short (def not good with only 7 in total) and while we were actually doing ok for a while, a second yellow left us with 5 and no hope and the defeat put us down in the competition for 9th place so we failed to build on the silver medal in Dubai, dropping down to 9th on the overall table.
If you’d like to keep up of their progress when these tournaments are on, one thing you can do is go to this link and click the “Add To Calendar” button and make sure you specify it’s just Ireland’s matches you want, and you’ll need to do it separately for men’s and women’s. Then you’ll get a 15m reminder before every match when you can decide whether or not you’re free to watch live on the World Rugby player.
Remember, the more we make it clear Irish fans are following the action, hopefully the more chance we have of getting a leg added to the tour for us to go and
get pissed at enjoy.
Both series resume with the Canadian leg in the New Year.
Arguably the best injury report of the season!!! Obviously not for those in the bottom list but definitely good to see the one above it being empty. Even if Messrs Sexton & Furlong can’t get fit in time for Friday, I’m sure the RDS crowd would have no complaints welcoming back the 23 that did so well in Le Havre.
INJURY UPDATE – AVAILABLE FOR SELECTION:
Charlie Ngatai: came through the game at the weekend against Racing 92 with no issues after his return from a shoulder injury
INJURY UPDATE – FURTHER ASSESSMENT REQUIRED:
Johnny Sexton: increased his training load towards the end of last week and will be further assessed this week for a calf injury ahead of a final decision later in the week
Tadhg Furlong: increased his training load towards the end of last week and will be further assessed this week for an ankle injury ahead of a final decision later in the week
INJURY UPDATE – UNAVAILABLE FOR SELECTION:
There are no further updates on:
Robbie Henshaw (wrist), Martin Moloney (knee), Ciarán Frawley (knee), Will Connors (bicep), James Tracy (neck), Charlie Ryan (knee) and Tommy O’Brien (knee)
Such a shame the cold snap put paid to so many club fixtures at the weekend, most of all the women’s AIL final which was due to get exposure on TG4, although they did well to reschedule it so quickly while still retaining the coverage. And added bonus might be that players like Beibhinn Parsons, who was of course in Cape Town with the 7s last weekend, might be able to take part, we’ll have to see.
Also in the women’s AIL there was the “Conference final” – this was a mini competition for teams finishing 5th through 8th so very much a consolation prize, but considering it was won by Wicklow RFC, who were being unfairly ridiculed last season for a couple of blow out results, that definitely makes this a worthwhile achievement to bring up on these pages.
Meanwhile over in the men’s, again the postponements were quickly rearranged as you can see below, but the weather couldn’t prevent Terenure College’s 100% start from coming to an end as they were downed 24-18 by Young Munster. Fair play to the Cookies for not only the result but also for getting the match played.
As you can see there’s a fascinating tussle for the top four positions developing between three Leinster sides and two Munster ones, meaning pretty much every match in the second half of the campaign should have meaning.
Wicklow RFC 22-17 Galwegians
Saturday, December 17
Blackrock College v Railway Union 2pm
Ballynahinch PPD UCD
Clontarf 36-10 Garryowen
Dublin University PPD Cork Con
Lansdowne PPD Shannon
Young Munster 24-18 Terenure
Sat Dec 17
Lansdowne v Shannon
Sat Jan 7
Ballynahinch v UCD
Dublin University v Cork Con
THE NEXT BATCH OF HARPIN’
Like I said we’ve a quiz edition of the podcast during the week to celebrate the 200th episode, why not have a listen to see how well you’ve been paying attention to Leinster & Ireland’s season so far. Then we have Tom Coleman on episode 201 to tell us how he got on travelling to Le Havre and also to preview the visit of Gloucester, with of course the wrap of that match to do on Sunday, with all the usual features in between.
In the meantime, be sure to enjoy your rugby wherever you are. JLP