80+ column : More format issues, Away fans, 7s return

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


Another strong performance by Leinster in Europe for us to wrap in the latest Sunday pod, and also another strong performance by both my guests Mark Jackson and Conor Cronin as they highlighted the positives but also acknowledged the things that we need to work on for the latter stages of the competition.

If you missed the pod, check it out here or on most major platforms.


For this week’s ‘bonus clip’ we harped on the career of Cian ‘Proper Church’ Healy who made his 100th appearance in Europe for Leinster, becoming only the 5th player in the history of the competition to do so.  The other four are also Irish as I say in the clip, which probably should come with the caveat that in the first years of the competition the provinces were nominated by the IRFU as opposed to qualifying as did the English and French clubs which is why they don’t have names as high up on the list, but it still counts as an honourable milestone in Healy’s career and as I also say in the clip, it’s not like he’s finished quite yet. 

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.


Munster and Connacht both had good wins on Saturday, maybe one was a tad more comfortable than the other, but still good to see both on the way to the knockouts.

As for Ulster…they really can’t buy a bit of luck these days, can they.  How could Leinster fans in particular have anything but empathy for them as they were desperately trying to hold out La Rochelle in the dying minutes after what had been a torrential slog up to that point and they obviously considered themselves unlucky not to have been even further ahead by that point anyway.

Thing is though, they can still qualify for the knockouts with a decent win over Sale at the weekend, and maybe there’s a strong possibility their “reward” will be a trip to the Aviva in the last 16, but still a good performance against the Premiership outfit could well be the kick start they need for their season and I wish them all the best as we always want to see all four progressing beyond the pool stages whatever the format.


It’s still a bone of contention with many on HCC weekends; I have pushed back against the complaints before on these pages but I feel I must again.  Once more I agree it’s not ideal, but I do wonder if the flaws people keep finding in it are necessarily solved by going back to the way the tournament used to be run?

Like I said in the previous segment about Ulster, even though they have lost all three of their matches, the fact that they picked up some BPs along the way means that with a win over Sale at the Kingspan on Saturday they can move into the top 8 and reach the last 16.  Pretty much everyone giving out about the format says this “one win to qualify” thing is a negative, yet without it, this match against the Sharks could be a dead rubber so I’d argue it can at least be looked at from both directions.

When you compare this format to the previous one, the round of 16 is effectively replacing pool rounds 5 and 6 so I really don’t think it’s all that ridiculous for it to be easier to qualify.  And even if you do scrape through with one win, it means you probably have to travel to the home of a team that has won all four, which means you’re either going to go no further OR you have to produce one of the all time great results in the competition.

Also, while I presume all the competing clubs knew the rules from the outset, one or two are just coming to light this week when it comes to the general public.  

First we have a stipulation that if a South African team reaches the semifinals, they must give up home advantage even if they have earned it through the seeding from the pool stages.  Again this is far from ideal from a fairness perspective, but right from the moment I first heard they were joining the competition I wondered what the organisers were going to do to limit the amount of travel, and this appears to be it.

Clearly that does put the SA teams at a disadvantage, but I should also point out something about this season’s competition that does work in their favour.  With the Springboks not being involved in the Six Nations (yet?), this means that from the end of the pool stage to the knockouts they know none of their players are going to be involved in any test matches.  Sure, there may be a few URC rounds in that time, but at least there they have control.   The European clubs have none.

Just to be clear, I’m not pointing out the “no 6N thing” because I think it somehow cancels out the “no home SF” thing; on the contrary I reckon they are two wrongs which do not make a right.  Still, I don’t see anyone else making the point about the 6N so I felt I’d do it here.

I will always contend that the one format tweak that would come closest to a “silver bullet” to fix all the problems we keep pointing out would be to play the tournament from start to finish in successive weeks.  Or to put it another way, “It’s the calendar, stupid”.


…well, I’m not! 

Caolan Scully, who has appeared on the pod a few times, pointed out on Twitter a little quirk in the method the HCC uses to rank teams in the pool stages.  If two or more teams are tied on match points, points difference AND tries scored, the next thing to be looked at is apparently the amount of suspensions incurred by the clubs.

Granted, it’s HIGHLY unlikely this will ever actually need to be used, but it’s still a very curious thing to have as a possibility – imagine if two clubs vying for top 2/4/8 spots ended up tied on everything else while one of them was waiting on a citing during the week, meaning effectively the ruling from the commission would determine the final standings?

Unlikely or not, I would NOT want that to be even possible.  In fact, I’m not too wild about the next criterion down on the list either, namely the tossing of a coin.  My suggestion would be come up with a ranking system for all European clubs based on previous performance (similar to UEFA’s coefficient) and this ranking will force a separation between ALL clubs which means you can get a result no matter what the eventuality.

Apologies for the nerdery here, but I guess overthinking comes with the territory when you run a rugby website/podcast!!!


I see there’s a debate on the twitter machine about the possibility of ensuring all the away fans are together in a ground on match days.  

Personally, I think it’s a good idea overall, since in many cases they would have travelled quite a way to get there and also it gives the visiting team’s players somewhere to aim at after the final whistle to show their appreciation.  But that said, mixing isn’t the worst thing either and I’ve often had great chats during the match whether I’m for the hosts or the visitors.

What I want to point out here isn’t so much about the debate itself, rather the attitudes of some in the tweets on the topic.  “We don’t want this in our sport, it’s too much like football”.  You have no idea how much I dislike that narrative and I will always call it out when it rears its ugly head, and for this topic it was always going to.

The way I see it, if there’s anything that’s going to “ruin the values” of “our sport”, it’s outright snobbery.


For once I actually agreed with the TV broadcaster’s choice of Player (or ‘Star’ in HCC matches) of the Match, even it is was a previous holder of the Leinster 12 shirt who awarded it, there’s no doubt Jamie stood out as Conor explains in the TikTok below.


This is another point that’s more about Twitter opinion than the topic itself.  Owen Farrell was cited for a tackle, although given both his history and his profile there was chatter and GIFs all over social media minutes after it actually happened.

All of which meant there was always going to be scrutiny over the decision, and what do you know, it turns out he was banned in such a way as to make him eligible for England’s Six Nations opener.

Which leads me to a simple question…are we REALLY that surprised?   And while he’s hardly a big hit with Irish fans (despite his aul fella doing so well with our test team) I reckon we have to remind ourselves of the biggest factor behind this particular decision, namely the fact that the top rugby unions all retain a great deal of control over their own affairs.

So maybe when we see the RFU orchestrating an advantage out of some adversity, we should ask ourselves if there are other areas of the game’s administration where the IRFU does as well?  Not to mention all the other unions?  If we’re not going to have a central administrative body that regulates the majority of systems in an attempt to create a level playing field, then these stories will continue to happen, it’s as simple as that.


To be honest, nothing that happens with this guy surprises me anymore, and if anything his taking over of the Wallabies ahead of RWC2023 makes that side of the draw even more interesting.  Remember – we have NZL, FRA & RSA to contend with on our side, while it’s likely one from ENG WAL & AUS will reach the final, so to watch them go at it with new coaches plus a lot of recent history will make it worth getting some extra popcorn for sure.


Unfortunately Leinster fell short in what was always likely to be a decider in the Women’s interpros at the weekend, but it has to be said that Tania Rosser’s remit as coach was more about giving the squad game time at this level than it was results and she seems to be doing a bang up job so far by all accounts.

It may have taken them a while to get on the scoreboard in the opener against Connacht last week but given she has included so many different clubs in the wider squad there was bound to be a bedding in period and again I say this will benefit them in the long run.  Best wishes to them against Ulster in the final round this weekend.

As I said in the preview pod it was a real shame that their big match in Musgrave Park had to clash with the men’s Heineken Cup match on Saturday, I certainly don’t want to quibble about which was “more important”, simply because we really shouldn’t be forced into making a decision like that.  To be a little fair, given all four Irish men’s provinces were playing that day, some allowances had to be made – with the women not being full professionals (yet, hopefully) I’d say Saturday would be the best day over the weekend for everyone to be available.  Still, I’d hope the overlaps can be avoided in future.


Sometimes I don’t need to add much to the headline to get my message across, apart from the fact that both men and women are in action for the next two weekends in New Zealand and Australia respectively.  Also it’s great to see Billy Dardis & Terry Kennedy back in the men’s squad.  Below you see the schedule for their pool matches in NZ, if possible be sure to watch them for free via the World Rugby site and tweet your full support to show we’re ready to host a leg here asap.

Friday, January 20 –

  • Ireland Men v Uruguay, 8.54pm Irish time
  • Ireland Women v Brazil, 9.38pm Irish time

Saturday, January 21 –

  • Ireland Men v USA, 12.44am Irish time
  • Ireland Women v Spain, 1.18am Irish time
  • Ireland Men v Japan, 3.50am Irish time
  • Ireland Women v USA, 4.12am Irish time

Saturday, January 21 –

  • Play-off matches.


Always good to see no new injuries after a weekend, also the five returnees will all benefit the wider squad in many ways.  I’m particularly pleased to see Will Connors is close to a return and I really hope he gets a good healthy run he certainly deserves it.

Still, that’s a lot of quality languishing in the “no further report” column although reports are coming through as I type that Sexton took part in training on Monday and hopefully he’ll at least be recovered in time for the Six Nations.

Here’s a possible matchday squad for the Aviva next weekend, would like to see Tadhg F get a few minutes in his boots if possible…

15 Keenan 14 Larmour 13 Ringrose (c) 12 Osborne 11 O’Brien 10 R Byrne 9 Gibson-Park

1 Porter 2 Sheehan 3 Ala’alatoa 4 Molony 5 Ryan 6 Baird 7 van der Flier 8 Doris

16 Kelleher 17 Healy 18 Furlong 19 J McCarthy 20 Conan 21 McGrath 22 H Byrne 23 Turner


Will Connors: is expected to train fully this week after recovering from a bicep injury

Thomas Clarkson: is expected to train fully this week after recovering from an arm injury

Max Deegan: is expected to train fully this week after recovering from an ankle injury

Luke McGrath: is expected to train fully this week after recovering from an ankle injury

Joe McCarthy: is expected to train fully this week after recovering from an ankle injury


There was no new injury news from the game against Gloucester at the weekend

There are no further updates on:

Johnny Sexton (cheek bone), Tadhg Furlong (calf), Charlie Ngatai (hamstring), Ed Byrne (knee), Jason Jenkins (hamstring), Robbie Henshaw (wrist), Martin Moloney (knee), Ciarán Frawley (knee), Charlie Ryan (knee) and Tommy O’Brien (knee)


The AIL has moved into the second half of its regular season, with some interesting results in Round 10.

Nure & Tarf both got wins over Munster opposition to keep themselves in the top 2, while Cork Con got the better of Trinity to move ahead of them into 3rd.  Meanwhile at the bottom Charlie Tector guided Lansdowne to a crucial win over Shannon which allowed them hop two places with Ballynahinch’s whitewash of the Students at “the Bowl” actually putting them into the playoff picture.

There are some big matches in Round 11 with the top four playing each other plus there’s bound to be a lot of Leinster involvement on the back pitch at the Aviva as Lansdowne face UCD in a relegation battle.

Men’s AIL

Garryowen 13-19 Clontarf

Cork Con 32-27 Dublin University

Shannon 24-34 Lansdowne

Terenure 21-11 Young Munster

UCD 0-24 Ballynahinch

Fri Jan 20

Lansdowne v UCD

Sat Jan 21

Ballynahinch v Garryowen

Clontarf v Cork Con

Dublin University v Terenure

Young Munster v Shannon


Next up it’s Racing at the Aviva; we will of course be giving it the full Harpin treatment with a preview featuring Keego on Friday, a wrap with Tom Coleman & Nathan Johns on Sunday as well as all the usual features in between.  Follow us and/or subscribe to all our social media channels to keep in touch and get involved in the conversation when the mood takes you.

In the meantime, be sure to enjoy your rugby wherever you are.  JLP

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