Welcome to my 80+ column, a weekly post featuring final thoughts from the week of rugby just gone.
WRAP OF A WRAP
For this week’s wrap pod I was honoured to be joined by the Westmeath/Meath coaching combo of Mark Jackson & Tom Coleman and they did their usual excellent job of analysing what went on at the Aviva on Friday. They actually kind of apologised when we finished recording for harpin’ on for longer than usual but the thing about that is all that does is provide me with extra content so I’m not exactly compaining! As you can see below I managed a second bonus clip out of it.
If you missed the pod, check it out here or on most major platforms.
HARPIN ON…JIMMY O’BRIEN & LEINSTER’S SUCCESS
Like I said the lads gave me enough material for two bonus clips. The one we planned for was about Jimmy O’Brien – for the second week in a row I disagreed with the Star of the Match selection, not that Ringer played badly of course and scoring the first two tries was always going to put him up there, it’s just I felt JOB had so much opportunity to show off why he has not only cemented himself in Leinster’s European lineup but has even broken into Andy Farrell’s top tier as well.
Also for our Front Five segment at the start of the show I chose two articles which I felt covered areas usually left out of the discussion over the supposed “unfairness” regarding Leinster’s success – the first one actually turns the spotlight back on the other Irish provinces and their internal issues, while the second tries to appreciate the actual hard work put in across the 12 counties (which, I should probably point out, does not mean it’s ALL down to our hard work).
If you’re playing the clips 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.
DEFENCE MANIPULATION & HIGH BALL CATCHING TIK TOKS
I was also able to produce two TikToks for the pod – the first might get taken down at some point as I used footage from the match but I wanted to highlight the amazing work done under the high ball. I actually planned to just do the Leinster catches but there were so many by the Tigers as well I had to do the lot, eleven altogether.
For the second TikTok I went our more traditional route by picking a quote from the pod and the second I heard Tom say “if you freeze it there…” I knew this was going to be my clip this was a perfect explanation of how Leinster were finding gaps in the second half.
AI = AVIVA INDIGNATION
Every week I have to react to more whinging and moaning about perceived advantages enjoyed by Leinster & Ireland, and this time I thought an extra YouTube clip from the pod would cover it for this column, yet in between producing that and writing this there has been yet more of it.
Now it’s over the possibility that all of Leinster’s knockout matches could well be in the Aviva Stadium. Is that an advantage for us? Well of course it is. But the way it’s being presented in the Birdhouse is making it look like the organisers of the Champions Cup went out of their way to make it so and that is simply not the case.
Many seem to be selectively ignoring these facts…
* Leinster earned home adv in L16 & QF AND SF from pool stage, and the pool stage draw itself was earned from reaching the final four of last season’s URC.
* Semifinal venues meant to be “neutral” yes, but to stage an event you know you can get a crowd of 50k+ anywhere smaller would be madness, especially if anyone is actually suggesting taking it off the island of Ireland. Leinster’s only viable options are the Aviva & Croke Park, with the latter kind of tied up with other sports besides it’s also in Dublin anyway.
* The Final venue changes every year, and rarely has it been in Ireland.
I suppose the question I have to ask myself is…would I be complaining if this were happening with another country? I do know we spent a lot of time talking about how referees seemed to show favouritism towards the All Blacks when they were conquering all before them? Is this what it looks like from the other side and if so, which side is actually right?
Maybe it’s a bit of both, but one thing is for sure, the endless griping after every win does get really boring.
For all my talk of whining after another Leinster win last Friday, to be fair I have to share this DM I got from Mike Cooper who hosts the great Leicester Tigers pod Rolling Maul. This is how you respond to a defeat in my book.
Just to say mate, what a privilege it was to see your boys execute in the second half. I was so proud of our chaps in the first 40, I felt we negated your power and carrying game (your ‘plan A’) – hopefully you were impressed by George Martin and Tommy Reffell! – but in the second 40, the switch of style to exploit our weakness out-wide was – on a second (painful) watch – breathtaking. The constant isolation of Potter (poor bastard, not the game to play your 4th pro game at 13!) was honestly the best accuracy and clarity I’ve seen at club level. Cullen/Lancaster, whoever pulled that trigger at half time, it is so, so impressive. I will still say some pundits (including your guest in the preview!) were not fair on where Leicester could trouble Leinster (and I thought that showed in the first half), but ultimately the quality and cohesion of your lads shone through in a big way. A privilege to watch Ringrose, too. Best of luck for the rest of the tourny – one of the best club sides I’ve ever seen!! Happy for you to throw this into your pod as “opposition feedback!”.
AI = AIRLINE IRRITATION
Have to say I expected more from the Sharks and Stormers last weekend in Europe, especially the latter. Again there has been griping about the amount of travel they’ve had to do over the course of the season, and I guess that’s fair despite the similar distances in Super Rugby because our calendar is a lot more punishing in that regard.
That said, if we’re going to talk about perceived advantages in Europe when it comes to the South African teams, it’s worth pointing out something I have flagged here since it was announced they were joining the HCC – between the pool phase and the knockouts the European clubs all had to pray that their top players survived the Six Nations while the South Africans had no such test involvement.
Overall the answer to most of these cries of injustice is that rugby union is and always will be perfectly imperfect and trying to level the playing field in one area will generally make it more crooked in another.
AI = ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
Since I’m on an AI theme for some of my headings in this column, I thought I’d share this experiment I did on Sunday morning when I downloading a ChatGPT app – I asked it to come up with a 500-word report on Leinster’s win over the Tigers and I didn’t give it the final score. As you can see, while it did have the scoreline right a lot of the details in the report were a tad wide of the mark, with a few retired and injured players put in the lineup plus the misconception that it was a pool game. But this definitely sounds like a match I would have like to have seen anyway!!!
“Leinster secured their place in the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup with a resounding 55-24 win over Leicester Tigers at the RDS Arena in Dublin on Saturday. The Irish team ran in eight tries to Leicester’s three to extend their lead at the top of Pool Five.
Leinster took the lead in the 12th minute through winger James Lowe, who collected a cross-field kick from fly-half Johnny Sexton and touched down in the corner. Sexton missed the conversion but made amends five minutes later with a penalty to extend Leinster’s lead to eight points.
Leicester responded with a try of their own in the 21st minute, with winger Kobus van Wyk finishing off a flowing move from the Tigers. But Leinster hit back almost immediately with a try from prop Tadhg Furlong, who powered over the line from close range.
The home side continued to dominate and added two more tries before half-time, with Jamie Heaslip and Garry Ringrose both crossing the whitewash. Sexton converted both tries to give Leinster a commanding 27-7 lead at the break.
The second half was a more even affair, with Leicester scoring two tries through Dan Cole and Jonny May. But Leinster had too much firepower and responded with tries from Ringrose, Jack Conan and a brace from replacement hooker Sean Cronin.
Leinster’s performance was impressive, with their attacking play causing Leicester all sorts of problems. Sexton was outstanding, controlling the game with his kicking and passing, while Lowe and Ringrose were a constant threat on the wings.
Leicester, on the other hand, were disappointing, with their defence leaking too many tries. They did show some attacking intent, but were unable to match Leinster’s intensity and skill.
The win means that Leinster are guaranteed a place in the knockout stages of the Champions Cup, with a home quarter-final looking increasingly likely. They will be considered one of the favorites to lift the trophy, given their dominant performances in the competition so far.
Leicester, on the other hand, have little chance of progressing to the quarter-finals, with only a slim chance of qualifying as one of the best runners-up. They will be looking to bounce back in domestic competitions, with the aim of qualifying for next year’s Champions Cup.
Overall, it was a thoroughly entertaining game of rugby, with Leinster’s class shining through. They will look to take this momentum into their remaining Champions Cup games, as they aim to lift the trophy for the fifth time in their history.”
“KILLING THE GAME” TWEET
I don’t always agree with Tim’s Twitter takes but I’m right there with him here…one of the best responses to the “killing the game” nonsense I have seen. PEOPLE HAVE DIED FROM HEAD INJURIES SUSTAINED IN RUGBY. Many others have experienced life-altering repercussions. Why oh why oh why are we allowing this debate to continue in such a way as to give so much oxygen to those who’s only inconvenience is to sit in their armchairs a bit longer while the officials review a call. The real debate is happening among people who actually want to save the game, not kill it.
AI = ACTUAL INJURY (REPORT)
Obviously the worries from Friday mostly surround Ryan Baird and James Lowe, although following the Leinster report I’ve heard rumblings that Baird’s injury may not be as bad as first thought. As for Lowe, well if he misses knockouts because of a skip of delight following a try then I’ll challenge anyone who tries to say we’re getting all the luck!
At time of writing the squad hasn’t been announced for Leinster’s South African trek although I see Jason Jenkins was put front and centre for a presser so I’m thinking he might be one of the top tier players travelling, along with Luke McGrath and possibly Jordan Larmour.
UPDATE : Leinster have since announced the touring squad and with the likes of Larmour, Frawley and McGrath left behind so below is a revised possible 23…
POSSIBLE 23 V LIONS
Cosgrove, Russell, T O’Brien, Turner, Kearney, Tector, McCarthy
E Byrne, Barron, Ala’alatoa, Deeny, Jenkins, Ruddock, Connors, Deegan
McElroy, Milne, Clarkson, Soroka, Culhane, Murphy/Gunne, Prendergast, King
(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)
INJURY UPDATE – AVAILABLE FOR SELECTION:
Caelan Doris: came through the game at the weekend with no issues after his return from the Graduated Return to Play Protocols
Garry Ringrose: came through the game at the weekend with no issues after his return from the Graduated Return to Play Protocols
INJURY UPDATE – FURTHER ASSESSMENT REQUIRED:
INJURY UPDATE – UNAVAILABLE FOR SELECTION:
Ryan Baird: injured his shoulder in the first half against Leicester Tigers and will be unavailable for a few weeks
James Lowe: injured his calf in the second half against Leicester Tigers and will be further assessed this week
There are no further updates on:
Josh van der Flier (ankle), Johnny Sexton (groin), Jamie Osborne (knee), Rónan Kelleher (shoulder), Joe McCarthy (ankle), Cormac Foley (hamstring), Martin Moloney (knee) and Charlie Ngatai (hamstring)
AI = ALL-IRELAND (LEAGUE UPDATE)
The good news for AIL fans is that all five matches in the final round robin stage have playoff/relegation implications. Even though the top four sides are decided the actual rankings and home advantages are still up for grabs. Tarf aren’t quite mathematically sure of 1st place yet although I reckon Terenure are a bit more concerned with overcoming relegation-playoff–threatened Shannon in case they get caught by Cork Con who travel to play the Cookies. And should Shannon cause an upset at Lakelands, the two Dublin universities will need wins although UCD have a tad more difficult task at Castle Avenue as Trinity host the bottom side Garryowen. Should be an interesting couple of hours from 2:30 on Saturday for sure.
Meanwhile in 1B there’s a three way race to qualify for the promotion playoff between Belvo, who have a tricky Dublin derby at Mary’s, Highfield who face Banbridge down the bottom of the table, and Buccaneers who host the newly crowned champions City of Armagh.
Ballynahinch v Lansdowne
Clontarf v UCD
Dublin University v Garryowen
Terenure College v Shannon
Young Munster v Cork Con
Banbridge v Highfield
Buccaneers v City of Armagh
Naas v Old Wesley
St Mary’s v Old Belvedere
UCC v Malone
The Irish men’s side really had a Sevens stinker in Singapore for sure, losing five on the bounce finishing a dead last 16th to pick up just one point in the series. That knocks us out of the top eight and we’ll need a decent showing in the final two rounds to claw our way back up. We have definitely stumbled since our silver medal early in the season. The circuit resumes in May with men’s and women’s events in Toulouse before the final men’s one in London.
For the past few weeks I’ve been featuring an MLR game for this column but with Easter and school midterm and all I just don’t have the time for this round. Stand out result from Round 8 was definitely the San Diego Legion toppling previously unbeaten Seattle making the Western Conference table look pretty interesting.
One thing I have yet to do for this feature is select a team to follow. Coming from the Bay Area of California as I do, there’s no natural choice although I do have quite a few relatives in New England as well so the Free Jacks seem the obvious alternative so maybe I’ll go for them, we’ll see.
More on the league next week.
HOU 24-30 UTAH
SEA 20-23 SD
ATL 35-27 OGDC
TOR V NYI
NEFJ 31-19 CHI
TOR V NEFJ
NOLA V ATL
HOU V DAL
UTAH V SEA
OGDC V NYI
SD V CHI
HARPIN’ PREDICTION LEAGUE
I know you’re all dying to be reminded of how the HPL stands going into the next round of the URC…there are only 23 more matches left for us to forecast and as you can see below, while the Jersey of Shame has long been decided, the top spot is very much up for grabs with up to four still in with a reasonable shout.
THE NEXT BATCH OF HARPIN’
It’s back to the URC for us and we will of course be giving Saturday’s match in Jo’burg the full Harpin’ treatment with a preview before, a wrap pod after and all the usual features in between. In the meantime, be sure to enjoy your rugby wherever you are. JLP