Welcome to my 80+ column, a weekly post featuring final thoughts from the week of rugby just gone.
WRAP OF A WRAP
Friday, June 12, 2012 is when Keego posted his first article on the old HarpinOnRugby.net website, titled “Keego on…Kidney & Kryptonite”. Then on Friday, March 1, 2013 we got the first offering from Cian “RugbyKino” O’Muilleoir, titled “Stat of the Nation Address”. For over 10 years they have both added their own brand of awesome content and it was great to have two “old school” contributors help me wrap the win over the Sharks for our latest pod.
If you missed it, check it out on Spotify here or on most major platforms.
HARPIN ON…LEINSTER’S SQUAD MANAGEMENT
For our bonus clip we harped on Leinster’s enviable headache of keeping a 60-strong squad of players happy, over the season as a whole and particularly over this period of weekly knockout fixtures.
One point I forgot to mention was the critical cultivation of what I call “switch hitting props”, a kind of crude adaptation of baseball terminology but I still like to use it. Allowing the likes of Andrew Porter and Cian Healy to be match ready on both sides of the front row has played a major role in Leinster’s ability to react to injuries over the course of a match AND a season over the past couple of years.
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.
JORDAN LARMOUR TRY TIK TOK
Might have been against 14 (or as Kino pointed out just before this TikTok clip, essentially 13 due to an injury to du Toit) but Harry Byrne’s crossfield kick to Larmour for our third try was still a joy to watch.
“WHY WE LOVE RUGBY” 🤢
I’m sorry but this really, really, REALLY bugs me. Just to be clear, I don’t mean the sporting act itself, rather the fact that people try to make out that you only see things like this in rugby. NOT. THE. CASE. It really is very simple – first, there are examples of good sportsmanship in all sports but also, it’s not like rugby is perfectly clean all the time either. The whole concept of “rugby values” never really sat well with me, partly because it’s not sport-specific but also there’s a tinge of elitism to it as well.
Can we not just say this was a nice thing to do and move on?
I’m calling it “Avivapalooza”, namely the festival of rugby at Irish HQ that goes way back to Ireland’s Grand Slam victory. From March 18 until now there have been 8 weekends, with 5 of them having Leinster/Ireland at the Aviva, 1 at the RDS and the other two literally in the other half of the world. All this with two and possibly three more to come over the next few weeks. Is this me complaining? Absolutely not. Am I agreeing with those ABL factions on social media who claim the sport is rigged? Also absolutely not – with the exception of the HCC final for which Ireland was due, home advantage is earned and Leinster have definitely done that on the pitch. Still worth noting how often we’re going to the venue these days, though. Reminds me of the 2012/13 season when a similar series of quirky happenings saw the RDS host 5 weeks of matches in a row. Not the easiest to sell when you live in a house where you’re the only egg-chasing nut!!!!
DOING THE DOUBLE
While I’m on the subject of Leinster’s knockout rugby fetish, I might as well take the excuse to bring up my constant bugbear over the structure of the European rugby season. I have said for a long, long time that it needs an overhaul to an extent where the two major competitions that every club can win each season are played in separate blocks over the season.
That way not only can a club be rewarded for being on form in the earlier half of the season, but also it would remove what I think is a ridiculous requirement for coaches to pick and choose which matches they want to prioritize over the course of a season. The ideal should be for coaches to select their best available squad for every weekend and while I know this can’t ALWAYS be done, the status quo rules it out altogether and just because it has been normalised over decades doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be changed as far as I’m concerned.
I know Leicester, Wasps, Toulouse, Exeter and Sarries have all managed to “do the double” over the years (although one or two of the more recent ones do come with COVID/salary cap asterisks) but as things stand right now I have to wonder if Leinster are the only team that could possibly have the resources to come close to winning both if something doesn’t change. I mean as much as that fact pleases me as a fan of the province, it certainly doesn’t when I look at it as a fan of the sport.
There’s a lot in this Indo interview with the IRFU CEO but one sentence caught my eye on first read…I’ve mentioned the HCC format quite a bit on this column throughout the season, how it doesn’t bother me as much as it seems to bother a lot of fans, but it looks like we’re going to have it for the next campaign too which of course would mean more complaints.
“EPCR is so important to Irish Rugby and the provinces. Getting its structure right is critical,” he adds, stating that he is involved in a consultation process with EPCR to update the structures from 2024/’25.”
AI RUGBY : LEINSTER V SHARKS DRY RUN
My inner nerd loves doing it so whether you like it or not, this will become a regular Harpin’ feature. On Friday once the team is announced I’ll be feeding the two matchday squads into ChatGPT using the prompt below to see what it comes up with.
On our Preview Show the score will update throughout the pod and I’ll provide the actual receipts here in the 80+. As you can see below, the AI felt Leinster would also win well, albeit with a few more tries from our guests.
Imagine a game of 15-a-side rugby union between Leinster Rugby and Cell C Sharks over two halves of 40 minutes with the two lineups outlined below, taking into account the current reputation and form of all the players involved.
Leinster : 15. Hugo Keenan 14. Jordan Larmour 13. Ciarán Frawley 12. Charlie Ngatai 11. Dave Kearney 10. Harry Byrne 9. Luke McGrath > CAPTAIN
1. Michael Milne 2. Dan Sheehan 3. Tadhg Furlong 4. Ryan Baird 5. Jason Jenkins 6. Max Deegan 7. Scott Penny 8. Caelan Doris
16. John McKee 17. Andrew Porter 18. Cian Healy 19. Joe McCarthy 20. Jack Conan 21. Jamison Gibson-Park 22. Ross Byrne 23. Liam Turner
Cell C Sharks : 15 Aphelele Fassi 14 Marnus Potgieter 13 Lukhanyo Am (c) 12 Ben Tapuai 11 Makazole Mapimpi 10 Boeta Chamberlain 9 Grant Williams
1 Ox Nche 2 Bongi Mbonambi 3 Thomas du Toit 4 Corne Rahl 5 Gerbrandt Grobler 6 James Venter 7 Vincent Tshituka 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe
16 Fez Mbatha 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu 18 Carlu Sadie 19 Jeandre Labuschagne 20 Phepsi Buthelezi 21 Cameron Wright 22 Nevaldo Fleurs 23 Rohan Janse van Rensburg
Write 2000 words on the progress of the match in the form of a timeline (no conclusion, just the timeline only) reporting incidents like tries, conversions, penalties, injuries and yellow or red cards.
0-10 minutes: The game starts with a lot of back-and-forth action as both teams try to find their footing. However, it is Leinster who strikes first as winger Jordan Larmour breaks through the Sharks’ defense to score a try. Harry Byrne converts the try to give Leinster an early 7-0 lead.
10-20 minutes: The Sharks respond with a try of their own as winger Makazole Mapimpi finishes off a counter-attack. Boeta Chamberlain’s conversion levels the scores at 7-7.
20-30 minutes: Leinster regains their lead as Charlie Ngatai scores a clever try following a quick tap penalty. Byrne once again adds the extras to make it 14-7 in favor of the home team.
30-40 minutes: The Sharks turn up the pressure and win a penalty that Chamberlain successfully kicks to reduce Leinster’s lead to 14-10.
40-45 minutes: Just before half-time, Leinster scores a third try as lock Ryan Baird crashes over the try line. Byrne’s conversion gives the home team a 21-10 lead at the break.
Half-time: Leinster 21-10 Sharks
45-55 minutes: The Sharks start the second half strongly and score two tries in quick succession through Aphelele Fassi and captain Lukhanyo Am. However, Chamberlain misses both conversion attempts, leaving the score at 21-20 in favor of Leinster.
55-62 minutes: Leinster fights back and scores their fourth try of the match through prop Tadhg Furlong. Byrne’s successful conversion increases Leinster’s lead to 28-20.
62-67 minutes: Sharks’ winger Marnus Potgieter is shown a yellow card for a high tackle on Larmour.
67-75 minutes: Leinster capitalizes on their numerical advantage and scores two more tries through replacement scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park and flanker Caelan Doris. Byrne converts both tries to extend Leinster’s lead to 42-20.
75-80 minutes: The Sharks score a consolation try through reserve center Rohan Janse van Rensburg, but it is too little too late as Leinster runs out comfortable 42-27 winners.
Full-time: Leinster 42-27 Sharks
Some decent news this week, still makes for an interesting selection at the weekend though….
POSSIBLE 23 V MUNSTER
Frawley, Kearney, Ngatai, Ringrose, T O’Brien, McGrath, H Byrne
Milne, Kelleher, Ala’alatoa, Molony, Jenkins, Baird, Connors, Deegan
McKee, Porter, Clarkson, McCarthy, Conan, JGP, R Byrne, Larmour
(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)
Joe McCarthy came through the game at the weekend against Cell C Sharks with no issues after his recovery from an ankle injury.
Rónan Kelleher was involved in the wider match day squad at the weekend and will be available to train fully this week after his recovery from a shoulder injury.
Scott Penny has entered the Graduated Return to Play Protocols and will be further assessed as the week progresses.
Robbie Henshaw is expected to step up his rehabilitation from a minor quad issue this week and will be further assessed as the week progresses.
James Lowe is expected to step up his rehabilitation from a calf injury and will be further assessed as the week progresses.
Cian Healy picked up an ankle injury against Cell C Sharks and will be further assessed as the week progresses.
There are no further updates on:
Vakhtang Abdaladze (neck), Ed Byrne (tricep), Rhys Ruddock (hamstring), Johnny Sexton (groin), Jamie Osborne (knee), Martin Moloney (knee)
We’ve been updating this segment all season so even though we covered the AIL final on the pod, I’d still like to offer congrats to all involved at Terenure College RFC for capping off a fine campaign with the championship. It was a comprehensive win on the day for sure but overall after starting the league with a long unbeaten run it was no more than they deserve.
There were of course a host of other matches over the weekend as the promotion and relegation issues across the five AIL divisions were sorted out. Shannon’s win over Highfield means they remain in the top flight with City of Armagh being the only newcomers next season. Also congrats to my “alma mater” Blackrock College who beat MU Barnhall at Stradbrook to more them up to the second tier.
Clontarf 24 Terenure 50
DIVISION 1A PROMOTION/RELEGATION PLAY-OFF FINAL:
Shannon 32 Highfield 12
DIVISION 1B PROMOTION PLAY-OFF FINAL:
Blackrock College 29 MU Barnhall 21
DIVISION 2A PROMOTION/RELEGATION PLAY-OFF FINAL:
UL Bohemians 20 Dungannon 16
DIVISION 2B PROMOTION PLAY-OFF FINAL:
Skerries 30 Bruff 15
The Sevens circuit kicks back into gear this weekend and for the women Toulouse is actually the final tournament of the series. The way the standings look I very much doubt we can crack the top four but we should be anxiously looking over our shoulders at both Fiji and GB behind us so we’ll need a strong showing with Brazil, Australia and hosts France in our pool.
Meanwhile for the men it is the penultimate leg of the series with Twickers still to come the following weekend. A shocker of a Singapore leg has us down in 9th on the ladder, a big drop since our excellent silver in Dubai at the start of the season. If we can click over the next two weeks however we can more up a place or two and we’re up against Samoa, Oz & Japan this weekend.
FRIDAY MAY 12
10:28AM IRELAND WOMEN V FRANCE
11:45AM IRELAND MEN V SAMOA
4:04PM IRELAND MEN V AUSTRALIA
7:05PM IRELAND WOMEN V AUSTRALIA
SATURDAY MAY 13
9:43AM IRELAND WOMEN V BRAZIL
10:37AM IRELAND MEN V JAPAN
1:42PM WOMEN’S PLAYOFFS BEGIN
3:10PM MEN’S PLAYOFFS BEGIN
Not going to be able to watch a game back this week, although that’s ok because as I said before I have adopted the New England Free Jacks as my team for this season and they were off for this round.
But even with the bye week they remain a healthy 9pts clear in the East, and they can extend that lead even further if they win next weekend against Old Glory. Meanwhile out West the San Diego’s win in Utak means they also have a cushion with Seattle and Houston, who meet next weekend, also in the playoff positions for now.
ATL 27-12 CHI
DAL 3-7 OGDC
UTAH 16-26 SD
NYI 54-19 NOLA
TOR V ATL
NOLA V SD
HOU V SEA
DAL V UTAH
OGDC V NE
CHI V NYI
HARPIN’ PREDICTION LEAGUE
Well. All season 1st place in the HPL has switched back and forth between myself and RugbyKino, only for Mark Jackson to leap over both of us into top spot with just three matches left to predict!!! Like I have always said I’m mostly happy not to be the cellar dweller this season (that honour was clinched by Keego literally months ago) but still to have come so close it’s a bit of a pain to drop to 3rd towards the end. My biggest errors recently were forgetting one match altogether in the last round, and not believing in Munster wanting victory more than Glasgow in this one.
THE NEXT BATCH OF HARPIN’
It’s all about Munster now. Things should be relatively normal for the coming week so be sure to stay tuned to all our usual corners of social media to keep up with our latest content.
In the meantime, be sure to enjoy your rugby wherever you are. JLP