Welcome to my 80+ column, a weekly post featuring final thoughts from the week of rugby just gone.
WRAP OF A WRAP
My “cold open” to start the latest wrap pod was a true story about a neighbour who spoiled me on the result of the Bulls v Leinster match before I had a chance to catch up. To be fair, he didn’t exactly make it clear just how heavy a defeat it was.
Anyway it all meant I had to make a few tweaks to the format of the pod and thankfully both Conor and Nathan were willing to play along and did a bang up job both with the match and a review of the other sides in the competition. Another enjoyable hour of recording that I hope comes across.
If you missed it, check it out here or on most major platforms.
HARPIN ON…LEINSTER’S URC HIGHLIGHTS SO FAR
To further the cause of my desire to harp on positive Leinster topics after us getting a hiding in URC Rd 18, I asked Conor & Nathan to help me come up with six highlights from Rds 1-17 and you’ll see them in the clip below. Mine were Ross Molony’s overall contribution plus our win at Thomond Park on St Stephen’s Day.
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.
SHARKS QF TIK TOK
So it’s the Sharks up next for Leinster (at the Aviva BTW on account of The Boss at the RDS that weekend) and we will of course be covering it in full next week but for now Nathan has offered a mini-preview for our latest TikTok.
POSTERS AT MUSGRAVE PARK
So here’s the thing…I’m definitely 100% behind the cause for better governance and standards for Irish women’s rugby. But when I heard about this protest involving banners at Musgrave Park, let’s just say I was probably closer to 80% on this particular method.
And it wasn’t because I have anything against protest, far from it, it’s just that I had a feeling it would give the “powers that be” the opportunity to make it all about the F word, which in fact they did, with some from the media joining in the spin by referring to organisers as “nutcases”.
Look. The sooner we get away from this two sides nonsense the better. We all want the Irish women’s team to succeed. Instead of honing in on the means being used to protest maybe we should ask ourselves what the protest is actually all about. And nothing highlights the disparity between the background support for men’s and women’s rugby more than what has been happening on the pitch in recent weeks. Men = Grand Slam senior & U20 PLUS all four provinces in final 8 of URC. Women = very likely wooden spoon in Six Nations, meaning a bottom tier seeding in the new WXV tournament later in the year.
Stop spinning and punishing and instead LISTEN.
AI : WOMEN’S RUGBY ISSUES
For the next while I’m going to play around with this ChatGPT app I have and see what it spits out when asked rugby related questions. Further to the previous segment, here’s what I asked it this week. I think the ‘WNL’ it’s referring to has something to do with the women’s soccer league, so it’s clear the technology needs a bit of work.
Write 500 words on the issues facing Irish women’s rugby.
Over the past years, Irish women’s rugby has steadily grown, with the national team winning a Grand Slam in the Six Nations Championships, and Leinster women’s team winning the first ever interprovincial title. However, there are still various issues facing women’s rugby in Ireland.
One of the primary issues facing women’s rugby is funding. Despite the success of the national team, women’s rugby still receives less funding, commercial support and media coverage than men’s rugby. This inequality in funding is an issue that many women’s rugby teams around the world face, and it hinders the development of the game. The lack of financial support means that women’s teams struggle to afford facilities, equipment, and travel costs for national and international competitions.
Another significant issue is attracting and retaining players. Rugby is a high-impact sport that requires participants to be physically fit and strong, and unfortunately, not all women are confident enough to participate due to the physical demands of the sport. Women’s rugby teams need to create an awareness of the benefits of playing rugby and encourage more women to start playing rugby. Other factors that could be driving players away include the lack of facilities, early retirement, limited opportunities for support and development, and balancing rugby with personal life.
Moreover, there is a lack of coaching support available in women’s rugby. While there are many rugby clubs in Ireland, there are not enough female coaches, and many women’s teams are coached by men. The shortage of female coaches means that women players lack the right mentors and role models, which can lead to less development and less interest in pursuing rugby as a career. Furthermore, it is often harder for women to find a role in rugby coaching as it can be much more competitive, with limited job opportunities on offer.
The diversity of the women’s rugby team is also a vital issue. Historically, rugby is a sport played predominantly by white people, and this is reflected in the makeup of most of the women’s rugby teams in Ireland. It is, however, important to note that there is nothing to suggest that women of colour or ethnic minorities are less interested in playing rugby. Irish rugby should endeavour to create a more inclusive environment and invest time and resources to encourage more diversity in women’s rugby.
Finally, The Women’s National League (WNL) has been lauded for its success, but it still struggles for funding, airtime, and visibility in the Irish sports scene. Despite having some fantastic talents, both homegrown and overseas, the WNL barely reaches any audience, making it difficult to attract new investors or sponsors.
In conclusion, Irish women’s rugby has developed positively over the years, but there is still a long way to go. The issues facing women’s rugby in Ireland are similar to those worldwide. Irish women’s rugby has a considerable potential for growth, and it will require the collective effort of everyone involved in the sport to tackle the challenges and make progress towards true gender equality in rugby.
SHIELD WINNERS QUALIFYING FOR HCC
Just a quick follow up on something I mentioned last week – I was delighted to learn that the URC was switching to just derby results to determined the winners of the four geographical shields, and I still am, but the point I want to make is about the whole “Shield winners qualifying for HCC” thing.
There’s a lot of backlash against this by rugby fans, and for the most part, rightly so. Cardiff getting into the top tier competition despite finishing 10th isn’t exactly ideal. However, I’d just like to push back a tiny bit – there’s a very good reason the leagues do this, and it’s certainly not because it looks unfair.
It’s all to do with media markets. The EPCR wants there to be interest in as many of them as possible and this system is no different than that employed by US sports for decades. As it turned out, it just wasn’t a good fit for European fans and I get that. But it still comes from a place that makes some sense when you look at it a certain way.
All of that said, the rate players are leaving the Welsh regions at the moment I have a feeling Cardiff’s appearance in the 23/24 comp could be the last one for a while…
WHICH IS IT EWAN???
You have to believe me – I’d really, really, REALLY rather not have to mention the name Ewan McKenna on these pages, yet despite having unfollowed him ages ago, Elon Musk still insists on shoving him in my face by way of my “For You” timeline. Now I KNOW I could always just block him, but my core belief is that blocking has to be the last resort as you should always at least be willing to take in views you don’t agree with so I tolerate his stuff for the most part.
This weekend however I wonder if he tripped himself up with his own fabricated narratives. I think in his mind he’s on a safe footing having a pop both at rugby as a whole, and at Dublin GAA in particular, as both will get him attention among similar groups of rage-tweeters.
Yet have a look at the two classic EMcK offerings below, one where he effectively says “why can’t we just say the Irish women’s team is shit?” while just 24 hours later he’s saying a men’s team lost to Dublin because of a lack of funding. Which is it mate?
Just further proof that he’s an agenda-driven spoofer who clearly must be devastated that his idol Tucker Carlson got fired (and yes, he even tweeted about that though I won’t share it).
My title for this segment has two meanings.
First and foremost for a rugby site, it of course has to do with the fact that the 2024 Champions and Challenge Cup finals are due to be played at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. I have been there, and have to say it really is an impressive arena.
The problem many fans seem to have with the announcement is that a lot of finals have been staged in England over recent years, which is ironic because there has been a lot of complaints from across the water in recent weeks about the amount of matches the Aviva have been hosting lately.
I will push back a tiny bit however in this case…THFC were promised the event in 2021 only for COVID to intervene, so it was kind of inevitable for them to get it sooner rather than later. Maybe we can say the finals are being held too often in England but we should allow at least a bit of understanding when it comes to pandemic-related issues.
My second reason for the heading brings me to some full disclosure when it comes to this issue. For over 40 years Tottenham have been my favourite “top” football club. I know that makes me a laughing stock now (and trust me I have heard EVERY joke especially the one about the rugby meaning there will finally be a trophy in the stadium!) so FWIW I’ll briefly explain how I came to support them.
When I moved to Ireland from the USA I started boy’s school here in 3rd class and while rugby was the main sport everybody was playing, they also all seemed to be following an English soccer team so I felt pressure to find one for myself as my family had no allegiances whatsoever. Around the time I was in the market for a team, Tottenham made the headlines even on Irish TV when they won a match by 9 goals to 0, with a player named Colin Lee (my mother’s maiden name) scoring four of the goals.
So that was it for me. Tottenham till I die. And to be fair they DID go on to win a few trophies over the next few years so that kind of cemented it. Now all they do is have my sons cursing me for passing the fandom on to them….
Mixed bag of news from the report…first it’s a pain that James Lowe won’t make it especially considering how he picked up the injury (skipping in celebration as JGP was dotting down against Leicester). The upside is that it gives Jordan Larmour a perfect opportunity to remind us what he can do on a big European stage.
The big dilemma seems to be in the back row. Baird/JVDF/Doris with Conan on bench seems to be our preferred selection but with two of those doubtful it throws open a rake of possibilities to our selection for Saturday, including Caelan Doris involved in different believable scenarios where he could be 6, 7 or 8.
POSSIBLE 23 V TOULOUSE
Keenan, Larmour, Ringrose, Henshaw, J O’Brien, R Byrne, Gibson-Park
Porter, Sheehan, Furlong, Molony, Ryan (c), Baird/Doris, van der Flier/Doris/Penny, Doris/Conan
McKee, Healy, Ala’alatoa, Jenkins, Conan/Deegan, McGrath, H Byrne, Frawley.
(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 – FURTHER ASSESSMENT REQUIRED:
Ryan Baird: will step up his rehabilitation this week as he recovers from a shoulder injury and a final decision will be made on his availability later in the week
Josh van der Flier: will step up his rehabilitation this week as he recovers from an ankle injury and a final decision will be made on his availability later in the week
Vakhtang Abdaladze: was withdrawn from the game against the Emirates Lions with a neck injury and will be further assessed this week before a final decision is made on availability
Michael Milne: has entered the Graduated Return to Play Protocols and will be assessed as the week progresses
Tommy O’Brien: injured his shoulder in the first half against Vodacom Bulls and will be further assessed this week
Cormac Foley: returned to training last week following a hamstring injury and will be further assessed this week before a final decision is made on availability
Charlie Ngatai: returned to training last week following a hamstring injury and will be further assessed this week before a final decision is made on availability
INJURY UPDATE – UNAVAILABLE FOR SELECTION:
Ed Byrne: injured his tricep in the second half against Vodacom Bulls and will be unavailable for selection this week
Rhys Ruddock: injured his hamstring against the Emirates Lions and had a procedure at the weekend
There are no further updates on:
James Lowe (calf), Johnny Sexton (groin), Jamie Osborne (knee), Rónan Kelleher (shoulder), Joe McCarthy (ankle) and Martin Moloney (knee)
Big semifinal weekend all across the five division as well as across the island, with some interesting results. The Tarf v Nure final was to be expected but Young Munster sure ran their hosts close at Castle Avenue that’s for sure. And just to show these matches don’t always go with seeding, Highfield provided an upset by overturning Belvo to leave the promotion playoff an all-Munster affair. If they can overcome Shannon in a couple of weeks then they will replace them in the top flight.
Once again I’d like to point out that while it was great that many of these club matches were available for streaming, it’s still a shame that they had to clash on the calendar with both W6N & URC fixtures.
DIVISION 1A SEMIFINALS
Clontarf 13-12 Young Munster
Terenure 30-12 Cork Con
DIV 1B PROMOTION SEMIFINALS
Old Belvedere 17-19 Highfield
Shannon 24-6 Old Wesley
I could have watched a match from Week 10 and reported on it here. Or, I could have just summarized what happened for you in Week 10 and looked ahead to Week 11. But even if I had, you wouldn’t have noticed my reports anyway because the only thing from Major League Rugby last weekend was the brawl in the video below, so I might as well just share it.
More on the league next week.
TOR 27-36 SEA
NYI 27-34 HOU
CHI 24-37 NOLA
DAL 38-47 SD
OGDC 36-22 UTAH
NEFJ 23-13 ATL
SEA V DAL
NEFJ V NYI
NOLA V TOR
SD V HOU
HARPIN’ PREDICTION LEAGUE
My spell back in first place lasted just one week, mostly because I forgot that Lions v Zebre kicked off at 12 on Saturday, thus leaving out my prediction which would have earned me a point to keep me ahead of Kino.
Still looking back over past 80+ columns earlier in the season I realised that both myself and Kino have scored exactly 100 points since Round 5, but it should be pointed out that even with just 7 matches left to forecast, we’re definitely not the only two still in contention for the crown. And special mention to Kristian Ross for a top notch performance in the second half of the season.
THE NEXT BATCH OF HARPIN’
Just to warn you, I’m going to be typing this a lot for the next few days > 🚽🚽
In case you haven’t been clued into the joke, those emojis represent Toulouse, not because we think they stink or anything, rather a play on “two loos”.
Anyway…we will of course be giving the big semifinal at the Aviva the full Harpin treatment, with a preview with Keego recording on Friday a wrap pod featuring our Westmeath/Meath coaching combo of Mark J & Tom C on Sunday, plus a whole lot more in between.
In the meantime, be sure to enjoy your rugby wherever you are. JLP