Welcome to my 80+ column, a weekly post featuring final thoughts from the week of rugby just gone.
FANZO GUINNESS PINT PREDICTOR LEAGUE
First things first…a reminder of the prestigious Harpin Guinness Pint Predictor League.
Our leader in the “Best Score In One Round” category is still Andrew Byrne’s 67 in round three – I have a funny feeling that the big Welsh victory in Rome did for most people last weekend which meant nobody got near it. The prize will be a signed copy of Brian Moylett’s “The Book On How You Become A Pro Rugby Player”. Meanwhile in the overall league, Jack Fogarty’s lead has been cut to just three points so that too is all to play for.
REMEMBER YOU CAN STILL JOIN THE LEAGUE AND WIN PRIZES we’re accepting entrants right up to the final round so you can still beat Andrew’s Round 3 score, also every Six Nations match gives you the chance to win a free pint so by all means download the app and enter the league using the code HARPIN and see how you get on.
WRAP OF A WRAP
Because of the Sunday afternoon kickoff in Murrayfield we shifted our wrap recording to Monday night and as you can see we had to go with just one guest but I reckon between myself and Rich we did an ok job for what was quite an eventful match. I normally let the guests describe the actual tries so it was something of a novelty to do it myself although being a creature of habit I’ll be happy to get back to normal next week!
If you missed it, check it out here or on most major platforms.
HARPIN ON…A SHOT OF WHISKEY
For the latest bonus clip we tried to walk the tightrope between acknowledging the importance of Jamison Gibson-Park to this Irish setup and not putting down Conor Murray’s considerable achievements over the years, including this one. Did we succeed? Check out for yourself.
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.
ANDY FARRELL TIK TOK
The theme of our win in Murrayfield was “triumph over adversity” and in his summary Rich nailed that. Although the Schmidt era achieved a lot, and I mean, A LOT, the two RWC failures left behind a checklist of demands from fans that included a more attacking outlook, stronger depth and an ability to overcome match day hurdles. I think we can safely say he has ticked those boxes so far and long may it continue.
NEW BALL GATE
We spoke about it on the pod but I have to say I’m still struggling with what can be done to fix it. We want the quick throw to speed up the game, and I can totally appreciate the requirement to use the same ball that went out of play.
All of which means that while it sounds simple to say “well, the Scots took the throw so we should be entitled to play on if they fuck it up”, it’s absolutely not that simple. The hooker and the officials should all be clued in to which ball is being used, but in this case, nobody picked it up in time. That we went on to get the ball down over the line is circumstantial.
What I’m saying is that I don’t think the try should have been allowed because technically, once the ball left Turner’s hands, none of the action was real. They were playing with a dead ball. HOWEVER, if the Laws can put the onus on the thrower, he could be penalised for trying to gain advantage from a quick throw illegally and thus a free kick or lineout can be awarded to the opposition, which would have been decent compensation. Those are my two cents.
DON’T FORGET THE WOLFPUPPIES!!!
We’ve gotten used to the Under 20s playing on Fridays for the past while, and YE GODS they’ve been putting on a show for us averaging over 50pts per match. But whatever happens in the Aviva on Saturday evening, whether we’re celebrating or not, be sure to keep 5pm free on the Sunday to watch them playing their English counterparts as there are similar prizes on the line for them.
IN FOR A PENNY, IN FOR A BIG MAC
Tuesday saw some big announcements from Leinster Rugby, first that the above two players had put pen to paper, and also that Andrew Smith was moving to Connacht. To some that might look like a mixed bag of news but I see it as all positive.
Of course I’d love to see every possible player staying at Leinster, who wouldn’t when you look at the amazing talent coming out of our Academy. But it’s all about the big picture and we have to accept that if this player didn’t make a move, it would have been another one because even with our massive player pool (I make it 55 we’ve used this season so far) there has to be a line drawn somewhere and I wish Andrew all the best out west.
I know it pains a lot of Irish rugby fans that Leinster is producing so much talent, especially when so much of it is not only ready for provincial level but also for test in many cases. But I’m not sure what it supposed to be done about it? If (when?) the Leinster Schools system churns out another rake of prospects this season should they be denied the opportunity to play their way to the senior blue and green jerseys just for the sake of balance?
The way I see it is that there are top level athletes emerging all over the island. But there are also many different sports competing for those athletes, with the GAA and soccer top amongst them as well as rugby and say what you like about the societal rights and wrongs of the private school system (which I definitely could, just not on these pages) the fact remains that the gravitational pull for these particular kids when they come of age is still strongest towards rugby, especially in Leinster.
And to suggest that rugby hasn’t done anything to encourage more from around the country to take up the sport is absurd. Of course there will always be more ways to try to compete with the other codes but the fact remains they are trying to get these players too and we’re going to lose some times.
Sorry I know this was meant to be about Scott & Joe signing but I got a bit sidetracked…I was reminded of the bru ha ha surrounding Penny’s call up a few weeks ago so I needed to vent a bit more on it!!!
UPDATE : Spotted this article after I posted the above so I’ll share it since it’s relevant > Munster announce plans for Centre of Excellence in Limerick · The42
REC FINALS DAY/BONUS POD
At the time of writing I have a chat scheduled with Francisco Issac who spoke to us earlier in the season about the Super Cup; now we’re having him back on to tell us about Rugby Europe’s other feature competition, the RE Championship which was formerly known as Six Nations B but now has gotten a revamp in both name and format with the finals day to come on Sunday so I look forward to hearing all about it.
Obviously a long list from the weekend, although the reports from Monday were definitely more encouraging than expected. It was no surprise to see Garry Ringrose and Iain Henderson ruled out for a while, yet to at least see names like Doris, Sheehan and Kelleher still in the overall training squad gave us hope. Congrats to Ross Molony and Tom Stewart for their call-ups, both were well deserved.
Here’s a 23 we could see on Saturday, with the most confusion over the hooker position of course so I have put my candidates in order of preference.
Keenan, Hansen, Henshaw, Aki, Lowe, Sexton, Gibson-Park
Porter, (DS/RK/RH), Furlong, Baird, Ryan, O’Mahony, JVDF, (Doris/Conan)
(RK/RH/TS), Healy, O’Toole, Treadwell, (Conan/Prendergast), Murray, Byrne, O’Brien.
(note – the above team is purely from my imagination, it’s certainly not one of those quasi-leaked Thornley teams which are always 22 out of 23 correct)
The Bateman Cup final took place at the weekend, which was impressive because as you can see by the above tweet, the hosts Terenure had to do a lot of rallying to get Lakelands Park ready after the snow during the week.
In the end it was a comfortable enough victory for them as they ran out 71-13 winners over Buccaneers, which leads me to wonder if the competition could switch to a “proper” All Ireland knockout competition with all 50 AIL clubs joined by 14 qualifying junior clubs in an FA Cup style format with everyone going into the hat for each round, as opposed to the four provincial winners squaring off and trying to find a free weekend during the Six Nations.
Maybe they could play it to a finish in the opening weeks of the season and do the provincial competitions in the spring when the wider rugby audience is distracted elsewhere? This might generate a bit of a buzz on the club game in the early parts of the season. Just a thought.
Anyway the AIL has another weekend off so we’ll have a closer look in the next 80+ column, where I also plan to feature the race at the top of Div 1B.
MAR 25 (all 2:30pm)
Clontarf v Ballynahinch
Cork Con v Shannon
Dublin Univ v Lansdowne
Terenure v Garryowen
Young Munster v UCD
For reasons I have yet to find on the internet, the 2022/23 World Series Sevens circuit is making two visits to Hong Kong, at least for the men.
But anyway while the next round doesn’t take place until the end of March, the draws have been made for the pools so I can update you on that for now…
The Irish men, who nudged up one place to 9th after a final four appearance in Vancouver, got themselves a stinker of a pool draw with New Zealand, South Africa and Kenya all finding their way into the deathiest of pools of death with us.
Meanwhile the women, still fifth despite a poor outing in Canada by their standards, don’t have it too much easier with Fiji, Australia and Brazil on the horizon.
My choice of MLR action to watch via the free Rugby Network platform was easy this week, with the only two undefeated sides Seattle and Houston meeting at the Starfire Stadium.
Just to clarify I’ll be following this competition for this column over the coming months not just to comment on the rugby itself, but also on the overall presentation to the US public in the hope that they’re doing all they can to introduce them to the joys of egg-chasing as best as they can.
But to go to the action on the pitch first, this was a very scrappy 80 minutes with Houston’s attempts to win the battle up front thanks to their towering South African number 8 Gideon van Wyk thwarted by poor lineouts & discipline, plus the home side’s own big no8 Ricky Hattingh plus a pacy back three especially full back Duncan Matthews. In the end although the teams got two tries each it was a series of penalties from Seattle 10 AJ Alatimu that kept them in front for the most part as they ran out 24-12 winners to stay 100%.
Now to the presentation…first the venue – the good news is that there seemed to be a decent crowd – the Seattle Major League Soccer team averages over 30k but it makes sense to aim low so this is a ground shared with some amateur level soccer teams and it was nice to see a full stand even if it was just on one side of the 4k-capacity ground. Bad news is the clearly visible soccer markings, I know this can’t be helped and at least it’s not the “gridiron” lines which can really get in the way of the action, but it’s still worth mentioning.
I’d also like to mention the water- or “hydration-break” as they call it. A lot of fans this side of the pond seem to view it as hell on earth but tbh it doesn’t bother me as much and for the MLR in particular, it provides a decent quarter break that US fans will be well used to and it also allows broadcasters to take in a few ad bucks.
And speaking of ads, I know as viewers we tend to want less of them I reckon for a league like this it has to be good to see so many companies willing to hitch their wagon to the rugby product so again I don’t mind it as much when watching, especially when I remember that I’m not being charged for the privilege neither in replay nor live.
Finally on the officiating, while there were several TMO stoppages I still got the sense that the overall plan was to let the play flow as much as possible. And that’s definitely a good thing for the most part, even if the skill levels for this comp might not be good enough for too many worldie free-flowing tries just yet.
More on the league next week.
NEFJ 34-31 OGDC
CHI 26-27 TOR
SD 22-0 DAL
SEA 24-12 HOU
NOLA 31-5 RNYI
NOLA V UTAH
ATL V SD
OGDC V TOR
CHI V DAL
NYI V NEFJ
THE NEXT BATCH OF HARPIN’
Like I said further up the page, we have a midweek bonus pod about the REC Grand final which should post on Thursday, then, of course, we will turn our attention fully to the big match in the Aviva with a preview show before, a wrap pod after and also all the other usual features in between so be sure to follow us on any or all of our social media platforms to keep up with it all. In the meantime, be sure to enjoy your rugby wherever you are. JLP