Welcome to my 80+ column, a weekly post featuring final thoughts from the week of rugby just gone.
FANZO GUINNESS PINT PREDICTOR LEAGUE RESULT
Well, this got awkward…
“Back in the day” we used to hold competitions under a format I called “the unriggable raffle” where we got 100 entrants to earn a square on to a 10×10 grid and the winner would be determined by the final score of our feature rugby match of the weekend. We only stopped doing them because the admin became too much but one thing you can say for sure was that I had no possible say in the winner.
Since those times we have had a few more conventional competitions and the latest one was in conjunction with the FANZO app which ran a prediction league for the Six Nations. There were pints on offer for getting individual results right but you also won points on a league table so over the five weeks we were working towards an overall winner.
HOWEVER…to encourage people to join the league even after the Six Nations kicked off, we had an extra prize for Best Score In A Single Round and going into Super Saturday it looked like Andrew Byrne had posted an unassailable 67 in round 3. As I was in town celebrating the Grand Slam a mate texted me to point out that I had gotten TWO of that Saturday’s winning margins bang on (including Ireland’s) which meant not only had I jumped to the bronze medal slot in the overall league, I also won the bonus prize with my score of 70!!!!!!!
Now the reason my mate was interested in letting me know was that he could also tell me that he actually jumped to second overall ahead of me!!! And in a final twist to the whole thing the overall winner was actually fellow content creator Stephen “Master of None” Murphy, who also won his own Fanzo competition!!!
We plugged the competition with lines like “see if you can beat the experts”…I suppose with the exception of Ken, ye couldn’t ha ha ha….and just in case I need proof of my predictions here they are…
Seriously though, many thanks again to the FANZO crowd for getting involved it definitely added to the experience over the past couple of months.
Please get involved in the actual raffle below, an awesome prize for an extremely worthy cause.
WRAP OF A WRAP
Obviously it was an even greater pleasure to wrap last weekend’s match, and many thanks to Conor & Kino for being on hand to help me do so. It was great to be able to say the words “Grand Slam” out loud on the pod again although shortly before recording I came up with a loophole for future years…once I make it clear that I’m actually talking about an elderly relative’s cooking, ie “Gran’s Lamb”, then I should be able to say it freely in future years.
If you missed it, check it out here or on most major platforms.
HARPIN ON…SIMON EASTERBY & IRELAND’S DEFENCE
For the bonus clip this week we looked at what I consider to be the bedrock of Ireland’s success and wait until you get a load of the stat Kino highlights about tries conceded…it’s mind-blowing.
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.
IRELAND’S RWC CHANCES TIK TOK
Two TikToks to share this week, first a great point made by Kino as he wrapped up his pod contributions…
…and this other one I’ll just link to (click here) I vowed to break my “Grand Slam” embargo as soon as possible after full time if we won so what you see is a rather drunk me talking to my phone outside a pub on King’s Street Dublin between 7 and 7:30 Saturday evening…
Much has been said about that Freddie Steward red card all over social media I know, including by yours truly on the pod, but I still have a few final points to make.
First, while I try to be open minded and take in views from the other side on decisions like this one, I now have a policy whereby should I hear something like “that was no way intentional” then I just stop reading or listening. It’s not about intent. It’s about duty of care. And reckless can also be red.
Finally I’d like to show receipts from my views expressed on the pod. When we see Twitter clips of the Steward/Keenan collision they always make it look like the two players’ starting positions were just feet apart, with the implication being that Steward had little or no time to react.
IMO this photo tells a different story. Steward came from a good bit away and Keenan was always his man so he had a lot more time to prepare for the collision than many are letting on. And again…to be very clear, that doesn’t mean he set out to clatter him in the head, I’m just saying he had more time to prepare better for contact.
You could even argue that those saying he had little time to react are effectively saying he’s a shit full back because one of the most important roles they play is seeing all that is happening in front of them!
I mean, even if he WAS just “bracing for impact” like he claims, you can do that in many different ways and when you do it by turning your elbow you put yourself in a position to cause damage. THIS is why the decision is red, in the hope that he, and others looking on, will change their behaviour in future. But that objective becomes trickier when a host of commentators, including decorated former players like Matt Dawson, try to make it out like nothing was wrong about it.
UPDATE : the commission ruling has since dropped…
The player denied that he had committed an act of foul play worthy of a red card as described in Law 9.11. Having reviewed all the evidence, the Committee decided that: (i) head contact with an opposing player had occurred; (ii) there had been an act of foul play in breach of Law 9.11 in that the Player had been reckless in his actions and in his upright positioning as he approached and came into highly dangerous contact with the other player; and (iii) there were sufficient mitigating factors including the late change in the dynamics and positioning of the opposing player which should have resulted in the issue of a yellow card rather than a red card.
On that basis, the Committee did not uphold the red card and the player is free to play again immediately.
Guinness Six Nations press release
Obviously social media is going to be full of “I told you so’s” over the next few days but FWIW I still hold my own opinion expressed above and I’m really not sure what this outcome does to help the overall intent of these guidelines which I thought were designed to change behaviour. It also makes a mockery of Jaco Peyper’s on-field interpretation.
GRAND SLAM GROAN SLUMP
Can we not just have at least a couple of days to be happy about a double Grand Slam??????? I mean, is that too much to ask???
To be fair, I expected the taunts from outside of Ireland, like the “bet you still won’t get past the RWC quarterfinals”, so that isn’t included here.
But to see tweets from Irish fans, clearly still upset that so many from the 23 were from Leinster no matter what the achievements of the team, drudging up the age old debates about provincial selections and “private schools” and such was really really disheartening.
I mean, let’s be clear, those debates are worth having, but no matter what the composition of the team at the weekend, it was still Ireland, and they won the tournament comfortably which makes the selection process extremely difficult to argue against.
Even on the subject of supposed favouritism towards Leinster, which I already harped on last week’s version of this column, there is news of change going forward with the proposed Munster Centre of Excellence, so maybe if it’s balance we’re looking for we could also bring it to the discussion from the other side as well.
One area where I didn’t mind a spot of post-Grand Slam negativity was with women’s rugby. Things in general are improving for the Irish team and I wish Nichola and all the squad the best of luck in their Six Nations campaign which kicks off next weekend.
But there are still a host of issues which have yet to be addressed and one of these is that members of the heroic 2013 Grand Slam squad were unbelievably without tickets for Saturday’s decider despite their being celebrated during the week. Also there was an article in the Indo by John Cronin outline many of the outstanding problems (here’s the link though it’s unfortunately behind a paywall) so clearly it’s a case of some things done, more still to do.
WORLD RUGBY BLUEPRINTS
An exclusive this morning in the Telegraph about World Rugby’s plans for the future, also behind a paywall, but above you see the main points. Here’s what I thought about it.
WINS AS A TIEBREAKER
Many congrats again to Richie Murphy and his Under 20s or “Wolfuppies” team that also won the Grand Slam with their own convincing win over England at the weekend, the similarities in that game in Cork and Saturday’s in Dublin were uncanny.
But on the competition overall I’d just like to find a tiny kernel of fault if I may…as you can see from the table below, the Italian Under 20s did an amazing job in finishing 3rd on the overall table and I have no doubt that it will do the sport there a world of good and we can hope that these underage squads will go on to serve their test performances well in the years to come.
However, as much as we Irish fans would much prefer to see Italy above England in any league table, I wonder if it’s fair that they got ahead of them here. All I’m saying is that when we’re using bonus points, while I get why points difference is an important tie breaker, I’m not so sure it should be the first on the list behind matches won. Sorry, but IMO England’s 3 wins should beat Italy’s 2 and I reckon we’d be shouting from the rooftops if an Irish team missed out this way, especially in the senior Six Nations where the financial difference between 3rd and 4th is great.
WORLD CUP DRAW
Here’s a pair of tweets I agree with, despite the fact that they contradict each other. In the first one, a Leicester Tigers podster shares my view that we might be making too much of this “World Cup draw” situation. Is it a fiasco? Yes. Is there anything we can do about it before RWC2023? No.
That said, it was interesting to see this mock up of how the RWC2023 draw would look had the rankings been based on current standings, although I do wonder if the draw would allow for three from the six nations to be in the same pool.
Biggest downers from Saturday for Ireland but more immediately Leinster were the early withdrawals of Messrs Keenan & Sexton, and the injury reports do not look good although neither were ever going to feature in the the top of the table URC clash on Friday against the reigning champion Stormers.
It was however extremely good news that Tommy O’Brien and Ed Byrne are back available for selection and while I have a feeling there won’t be too many changes to Leinster’s 23 than the one from Edinburgh, they could feature on the bench…
POSSIBLE 23 FOR FRIDAY
Cosgrove, Larmour, Turner, Frawley, Kearney, H Byrne, McGrath
Barron, E Byrne, Clarkson, Deeny, Connors, N McCarthy, Tector, T O’Brien/Russell
(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:
Tommy O’Brien: has returned to full training after recovering from an ACL injury
Ed Byrne: has returned to full training after recovering from a knee injury
INJURY UPDATE – FURTHER ASSESSMENT REQUIRED:
Garry Ringrose: will continue to follow the Graduated Return to Play Protocols with Leinster Rugby
Hugo Keenan: will continue to follow the Graduated Return to Play Protocols with Leinster Rugby
Caelan Doris: will continue to follow the Graduated Return to Play Protocols with Leinster Rugby
INJURY UPDATE – UNAVAILABLE FOR SELECTION:
Johnny Sexton: will have a scan today on a groin injury picked up in Saturday’s game against England
Jamie Osborne: Sustained a knee ligament injury in the game against Edinburgh and will be unavailable for a number of weeks
There are no further updates on:
Rónan Kelleher (shoulder), Joe McCarthy (ankle), Cormac Foley (hamstring), Martin Moloney (knee) and Charlie Ngatai (hamstring)
Meanwhile on the Stormers side of things I hear they could well be bringing a few Springboks to the RDS so that should make it a very interesting occasion indeed.
This week I decided to check in on the Eastern Conference for once and no better match than the rivalry between the New York Ironworkers and the New England Free Jacks.
The Irish interest in the lineups wasn’t as strong as I thought it would be all I could see was the New England scrum half John Poland who played for Ire U20s and had a cap for Munster before moving stateside – on the New York side there was just their Aussie-born outhalf Sam Windsor who has 8 Ulster caps from the 2015-16 season.
It was played at the Memorial Stadium at Mount Vernon in New York – I winced at the sight of both gridiron and soccer lines on the pitch but in the end it wasn’t too bad.
Overall although New York led a couple of times including as late as 55m, the visitors were always in control as their halfbacks Poland and Jayson Potroz always seemed to have a score in them and once they got back the lead going into the final quarter there was only to be one winner and they will be more than happy with a 5-0 points split away from home, especially as the teams went into the game level at the top of the conference.
More on the league next week.
NOLA 37-14 UTAH
ATL 10-35 SD
OGDC 29-3 TOR
CHI 24-22 DAL
NYI 18-33 NEFJ
OGDC v NOLA
NEFJ V DAL
UTAH V TOR
HOU V ATL
CHI V SEA
HARPIN’ PREDICTION LEAGUE
Obviously there has been no change in the league since the last time I included it in this column but I thought I’d post the table again anyway as there are just three rounds left and it’s getting close at the top, if not so much at the bottom!!!
THE NEXT BATCH OF HARPIN’
The original plan was to have a bonus pod to look back over the Six Nations but I chose instead to give myself the week off; this has been an enjoyable period for content creating here at Harpin Manor of course but also very hectic admin wise so we could do with the few extra days without another pod to process.
Then we turn our focus back to the URC and the visit of the Stormers 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
Ryan Baird immense ..kudos must go to all coaches n staff and squad
10 tries conceeded in 2 6 Nations campaigns combined telling stat..hats off to Simon Easterby for defensive work especially
England brought physicality but not a lot of game nous. Ireland, while not always as precise as in previous games, matched their physicality but in addition, had good game management and made good decisions at crucial times. Delighted for the entire squad; a fully deserved slam.
Not a good Irish performance but always great to get a slam.
Up for discussion is where rugby is going. A red card should be for a malicious act, not for what steward did. His offence was a yellow at most.
Tim Stickland Congratulations Ireland. Great shift from Johnny Sexton. RWC looks fantastic with the French in great form too.
Conor Cronin The wins in the previous 3 rounds with a big injury list, outdone by getting through that game in spite of the injuries.
We allowed the scots to dictate big parts of that game but once we took charge we’d 2 quick tries and that was it. raging for James Ryan not to get the score or the assist with that fine supporting run, and not to have got the BP.
Players really stood up and were counted, and while there were mistakes it’s the attitude of getting up and getting the next phase right that is the core of this team right now.
James Griffin What a very special group of men! To play through so much adversity and win is why they have the ranking they have. Speedy recovery to the injured.
Mark Jackson Think that covers most contingencies ..struggling to come up w new ones ..maybe Hugo Keenan as a LO jumper…Jukebox finally kicking for goal.
Kevin Kelehan Dogged in the extreme, not much more could have gone against them, the disallowed first try, the smashing of Doris in the air in the line out and no sanction, then Sheehan and then Henderson so early in the game. Today was proof that even a much improved Scotland with tails up in front of a noisy crowd could not derail Ireland seriously discommoded by injuries. Time to nail Farrell and Catt down for a contract extension before the World Cup!
Lee O Farrell They always talk about the rub of the green but the lads today made their own luck.
An incredible performance. One of the things that sets this group apart from previous Irish teams is the headspace. And these lads have it in spades!
Andrew Potts Every benefit of the doubt was given to Scotland by the Ref.
Even the fact he was joking around when Ringrose was being attended to for a serious injury was completely tone deaf.
Brian Nisbet Grand Slam still very much on. 7-22 in Edinburgh. Very scrappy match and concerning injuries, but still, it’s a win and any issues will be forgotten after the fifth win next weekend.
Marc Fritsche The players will be in nothing but ice baths for the week, that was extremely physical
For the latest dip into the Harpin archives we go back to when we played Italy in 2018, maybe not the perfect choice ahead of Saturday’s clash in Rome since 1) we were at home then and 2) we’re ‘outlawing’ the full use of the GS phrase on the Harpin platform for the forseeable future, but I thought it was interesting in that there are kind of parallels with Robbie H & Tadhg F picking up injury concerns. Plus it’s an opportunity to compare the Farrell and Schmidt eras, not necessarily to see which one was better, rather to notice the differences.
O what we wouldn’t give to see Robbie still able to do that with a rugby ball right now! And to have Tadhg Furlong fit and ready to face Wales. AND to have prevented the Italians posting their highest ever points total at the Aviva Stadium.
Yet here at Harpin Manor we seem to have something of a reputation for accentuating the positive, so I don’t see any reason for changing when it comes to this match. Much better to focus on the 56 points more than the 19, the eight tries for more than the three against and the quality of our performances more than the quantity of our injuries.
I mean, when all is said and done, this result is overall a good thing for Ireland? Right? Time to scatter a few headings down the page and tack on a few paragraphs to each…
Loads of Irish online comments were negative at full time, but I’m wondering how much of that was down to the fact that our second half, and thus the most recent in the memory, was far inferior to the first. Yet even that forty minutes was won 28-19 with a bonus point won even not counting any scores from the first half.
But when taken in isolation, I’m not sure we could possibly hope for a better demonstration of the way Joe Schmidt wants test rugby played than minutes one through forty. Fine, maybe the opposition wasn’t exactly world beating, but do I really have to dig up the phrase ‘you can only play what’s in front of you’? I guess I do.
The Italians took the opening kickoff and right off the bat we were able to settle into our familiar pattern, getting front foot ball here, creating space for the backline there, before we get all the way to the visitor’s 22. Yes, they were soon able to clear, but the resulting lineout being still in their half was very much a contingency of our initial exit strategy.
Over the next couple of minutes, some things didn’t go to plan – a knockon from Aki running a hard line for example – but when that happened and Italy tried to get going, we were able to seamlessly revert to defensive mode and it wouldn’t be long before we were on the attack again.
Before long we’re winning a penalty, getting back into their 22 and then we’re hammering away at their line…Conor Murray gets over and is held up but not to worry, after the following scrum Robbie Henshaw is running a line with more than enough momentum to get him over.
Just 11 minutes gone, it’s already 7-0 and just four minutes later Sexton is already lining up another conversion after some great link play between Stockdale and Conan puts Murray over in the corner…and not surprisingly our star outhalf made light work of the touchline extras.
By the end of the first quarter, we’ve a third try in the bag after maul gets to the line and Bundee Aki gets his first for Ireland with a similar line to that of Robbie earlier, now it’s 21-0 and time for the game’s longest spell without a score – eleven whole minutes!!!
During that time Conor O’Shea’s men tried to make some headway yet found yards after the tackle extremely hard to come by until eventually Dan Leavy burrows the ball out of a ruck before putting Aki through and with Earls in support it becomes an easy finish. It hardly feels like we’ve broken sweat and we’ve the try bonus wrapped up already.
Whatever the opposition, that was a dream first half. They won’t come oftenat test level but when they do it should be applauded. The only drawback in that time of course was the early removal of Furlong but it came as no surprise to Leinster fans in particular that Andrew Porter was ready to step in and put in a decent shift in his place.
Is there any chance I can suggest Robbie Henshaw deserved man of the match without anyone thinking I’m only saying that because he’s Leinster and the actual winner Conor Murray is Munster? Well I guess I’ll just have to take that risk but in my defence I was tweeting the opinion as he was being stretchered off before the award was given.
The guy has world-class ability, world-class work rate, world-class knowledge of the game, and he is clearly getting world-class coaching. I sincerely hope nobody has him in their ideal XVs at full-back anymore…he belongs in the centre and is first choice there when fit.
However – since he’s now unavailable for a while, we need to crack on. If we really think we can reach the final four of a World Cup, we have to be able to handle absences like this. So who do we go for?
Here’s another Irish starter at the peak of his powers. It would have been more surprising if Earls WASN’T among the tries when we got as many as eight, but his contribution will be most remembered for ‘that tackle’ at the very end.
Is there any chance I can suggest that Mattia Bellini missed a trick in his run that could have resulted in a try without anyone thinking I’m trying to take the shine off of yet another Munster player’s achievement? Well I guess I’ll just have to take that risk.
Actually I think Earls did everything he could do to catch the Italian, picking where he thought his prey would be caught in a straight line, and setting off at full pace hoping the sight of him in the rear view would cause Bellini to panic. For me, that’s exactly what happened – a quick step at the 22 could well have gotten around Keith but the overall intimidation factor plus the actual tackle which still had to be made were a delight to watch.
Perhaps Chris Farrell is a more ‘like for like’ replacement for Robbie in the 13 jumper against Wales but my instincts tell me Earls is the way to go, assuming Ringrose won’t be ready of course. He has played there before for Ireland, he has already spent about half an hour there with Aki, he has two whole weeks to prepare, and he’s in the form of his life right now. Plus, we have plenty of wingers to take his place.
BEST OF THE REST
Bundee Aki looked like he belongs in Joe Schmidt centre pairing from the opening minutes against the Springboks, and he seems even more settled as he goes along. I still think ‘Henrose’ is our ideal pairing but like I say it’s all about having alternatives and Aki is a huge part of our plans for the rest of this championship.
Jacob Stockdale played like someone who was keen to put Paris behind him, especially the way he took his second try. I was delighted he got another chance to start and now I see no reason why he should relinquish his starting jersey just yet. And towards the end we got a little taste of what Jordan Larmour can bring though I really do believe he needs to playing in a more central position to fully display his talents.
And I have one more of these…is there any chance I can suggest that Luke McGrath is a better option to play with Joey Carbery off the bench without making it look like I can’t let go of my Leinster bias? I guess I’ll have to take that risk. The pair of replacement halfbacks started well when they came on but I just feel Luke has done better with his test chances than Marmion.
Meanwhile our pack was relatively quiet by their standards, with only captain Rory Best getting his name on the scoresheet among them, though as I suggested earlier it was the prolonged cameo from young Andrew Porter which was the highlight. The decision to swap him to tight head might go down as one of the more important ones in recent Irish rugby history if he keeps going the way he has been.
Also once the numbers were crunched we were 8/8 in scrums, 15/15 in lineouts, a mere six tackles missed in total and just three penalties conceded so if that’s not a good day at the office for the forwards I don’t know what is.
OKAY NOW FOR THE NEGATIVES
Of course we can’t ignore the mini Italian fightback, one which very nearly earned them an unlikely try bonus point. The likes of Leavy, Larmour and Stockdale will all have defensive questions to answer at the DVD session on Monday, but I’d much rather let Joe handle those technicalities, especially when we had as many as six converted tries on the board before our guests had as much as one.
But can I make one point about those three Italian tries…I really do think they should have seen yellow at some point and I very much doubt their score gets near 19 if that happens. It’s like we had a homer ref in Paris and one sympathetic to an inferior away side in Dublin.
Devin Toner had two knock ons in the space of a few minutes at the start of the second half…I point that out not because I wish to have a pop at him, rather than because overall errors were so few and far between that his were head and shoulders above most of the others [pun intended] although neither really cost us.
After the injuries, the only other negative I can think of from this match is that the poor quality of opposition made it difficult to prepare for the Triple Crown contests that lie ahead for us, but that’s hardly our fault.
THREE TO GO
Now it’s time to evaluate where this leaves us in the Championship. Two wins out of two and nine match points out of ten is exactly where we want to be. And I really don’t know what to say to those who look at our displays against France and Italy and say ‘Well you wouldn’t want to do that against Wales or England’ because the simple fact of the matter is that we’ll be set up differently on those days.
Elsewhere on the second weekend, England had some great individual performances yet overall were as vulnerable at Twickenham as I have seen them in a long while, Wales should be forgetting that ‘try that should have been’ and instead ask themselves why the couldn’t get over the line with their other chances, while Scotland will be on a high after a slew of second half penalties seem to have eliminated the French.
All of the above tells me the road ahead for Ireland is only going to get tougher as we travel along, as if we didn’t know that going into this Six Nations. We will need to make the most of the two-week break but on the evidence of these opening matches, I have seen plenty to make me believe that we have a squad of players that are up to the task, with the right coaching staff at the helm. Bring on those Welsh. JLP