Welcome to my 80+ column, a weekly post featuring final thoughts from the week of rugby just gone.
WRAP OF A WRAP
Our preview show ahead of Saturday’s match at the Aviva was our 250th pod since we posted our first back on July 5, 2019. Obviously there have been a lot more this season since we switched from article- to pod-based format, and going right the way back to the preseason friendly against Harlequins in September 2022, our “wrap pod” recorded on Sunday night at 8pm at Harpin Manor has only once featured a defeat for either Leinster or Ireland, namely the tanking against the Bulls which as we all know had no real consequence when it came to our final position.
So this latest one, our 40th this season, was the very first one where we had to suck it up and literally admit defeat for up to an hour. And I have to say Tom and Rich did an excellent job stepping up to the plate, especially since I dare anyone, and I mean ANYONE to say they were in any way complaining about how the match wen
If you missed it, check it out here or on most major platforms.
HARPIN ON…THE FRANK MURPHY DEBATE
I decided to set a bit of a trap with the bonus clip this week. Like I said in the above segment, a lot of Munster and probably also ABL fans are likely to expect a lot of whinging by Leinster fans, so I thought maybe this headline would make them think that’s what we’re doing when it comes to the discussion over Frank Murphy’s performance. As you can see from the actual discussion, which includes a video insert from Keego, it was anything but.
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.
URC FINAL TIK TOK
The common theme from Leinster fans that I have seen around the ruggersphere since the final whistle has been “Fair play Munster, now go on and win it.” For the clip I use for TikTok to promote the wrap pod, I chose this snippet from Rich where he goes a bit further…
THE BEN HEALY KICK NONSENSE
First of all, as we said on the pod, it should be ok to mention Ben Healy going 3 seconds over the kick clock without being accused of creating outrage as if it led directly to the Munster win. It should be easy enough for the TMO to police this and offer a ten second warning to the ref which he can pass on to the kicker.
Second of all, to the Munster fans claiming Leinster are grumbling over this, can I just ask how they’d react if it were Johnny Sexton going over the clock by a nano-second and nothing was done and the boys in blue won by a point? 😜
Might as well share this set of “fun facts” sent around by EPCR ahead of Saturday’s final….
• Holders, Stade Rochelais, have reached the Heineken Champions Cup final for the third season in a row, and having qualified for the 2019 Challenge Cup decider, the club’s appearance at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday will be their fourth EPCR final in five years.
• Stade Toulousain in 2003, 2004 and 2005, and RC Toulon (2013, 2014, 2015) are the only other clubs to have qualified for three consecutive Heineken Champions Cup finals.
• Leinster Rugby will be appearing in a seventh Heineken Champions Cup final and will be looking to equal Stade Toulousain’s record of five titles.
• If Cian Healy is selected in Leinster’s match day 23 for the final, and if the Irish province are victorious, he will become the first player in history to win the tournament five times.
• Healy could also set a new tournament record of seven final appearances surpassing his total of six which he shares with Leinster teammate, Johnny Sexton, and Cédric Heymans of CA Brive and Stade Toulousain.
• The Stade Rochelais captain, Greg Alldritt, has made the most carries this season with 112 from his seven matches to date.
• The final will be the sixth between Irish and French clubs with the Irish currently leading the way with four victories to one.
• Antoine Hastoy of Stade Rochelais is this season’s leading scorer with 85 points, four ahead of Leinster’s Ross Byrne on 81. Josh van der Flier is the top try scorer with six while Tawera Kerr-Barlow has crossed for five.
• If they are named in their respective match day 23s, both Tadgh Furlong and Brice Dulin will make their 50th Heineken Champions Cup appearances on Saturday.
• Players from eight different countries – Argentina, Australia, Fiji, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Samoa and South Africa – are likely to feature in Saturday’s showpiece match which will be watched by TV viewers in close to 200 countries worldwide.
• Leinster’s Jimmy O’Brien is the tournament’s top metre maker on 449 and he also has made the most line breaks with 13.
CENTRES OF ATTENTION
Charlie Ngatai has been really impressive for the most part over the past few weeks. I thought maybe he made a couple of wrong decisions in that final fifteen minute spell last Saturday when he kicked the ball away when he didn’t really have to, which for him is strange to say because he’s very much a “keep the ball in hand” kinda 12. But I chose not to say it on the pod because I didn’t want it to take from his overall performance.
The reason I bring it up here is because as vital a cog as he has been for us this season, it simply cannot be overstated how much better it is for Leinster to have Henshaw and Ringrose back together this weekend, which is what I’m assuming will happen. Ngatai’s crash carries may have generated a bunch of go-forward ball against Munster, but it also served to limit Robbie’s effectiveness over the 80 minutes, and with the Jenkins try we saw just how effective he can be, an exception that proved the rule if you will.
Now with him and Garry back together (I’m assuming, see predicted 23 below) not only do we have a solid defensive cornerstone partnership but it also adds a host of options to our attack, and anyone who saw last year’s final will know it’s our attack which we’re going to need the most.
All that said, Charlie could come in very handy off the bench for Leinster.
There has been a few grumblings around the place about the URC playoff system over the past few weeks, long before the result on Saturday at the Aviva too. The suggestion seems to be that 8 might be too many qualifiers for the knockout stages.
I see where that idea is coming from, but I still disagree. It’s a 5-nations, 16-team competition that is surely going to look to expand so I reckon it’s important to keep the interest levels up as much as possible. I know Champions Cup qualification is also a reward for top 8 (especially now as they’ve finally removed the whole Shield nonsense) but I still think it’s ok to have playoffs as a reward for this season’s squad who actually achieved the position.
So what I would propose is a playoff system similar to that used in both Aussie Rugby League & Rules. Basically it gives the higher-finishing team a “double chance”. Instead of a straight knockout system like we have now where the QFs are 1v8 2v7 3v6 and 4v5, it could go like this…
A : 1 V 4
B : 2 V 3
C : 5 V 8
D : 6 V 7
E : Highest ranked loser A/B v lowest ranked winner C/D
F : Lowest ranked loser A/B v highest ranked winner C/D
G : Highest ranked winner A/B v lowest ranked winner E/F
H : Lowest ranked winner A/B v highest ranked winner E/F
I : Winner G v Winner H
It would need an extra weekend to be found on the calendar but I reckon it would be worth it as a bit more of a reward for the top 4 finishers than home advantage. I’m sure there are drawbacks to this system as well but I guess my overall point is that I’d be inclined to retain 8 qualifiers, especially if more teams are going to be joining the league down the line.
Very, very concerning news surrounding London Irish’s financial viability on the back of Wasps and Worcester’s woes earlier in the season. Obviously the most important concern is over the future of all the jobs which appear to be at risk.
On the rugby fallout, they actually had a decent season on the pitch and their 5th place finish makes them candidates for Leinster to meet in the Champions Cup pool stage, as things stand it would be either them or Harlequins. Should Irish not be able to compete, I’m assuming that Bristol would make it to the HCC despite having finished 3rd from bottom of the Prem, and it would be Exeter that could be our HCC opponents.
It goes without saying that the entire rugby family is hoping that none of those contingencies are needed.
HCC AS GUINEA PIGS?
Speaking of the makeup of the HCC,its much-maligned format came back into the news yesterday as the European football governing body UEFA announced it’s plans to overhaul it’s Champions League from an 8-pools of 4 method to a clunky 1 league of THIRTY-SIX with 8 matches each and as many as 24 qualifying for the knockout rounds. It’s so similar to that used by the Heineken Cup I’m almost tin-foil hatted enough to wonder if we have been used as guinea pigs for the past few seasons?
Apparently the HCC format is to be reviewed after the 23/24 season so we’ll see what they come up with. Expect another year of complaining in the meantime though.
With the obvious high-profile exceptions of Will Connors and Johnny Sexton, this was overall a really good injury report for Leinster in the week leading up to a Champions Cup final. It was a pleasure to type out that possible 23.
Some might argue that Doris can play 6 with Conan at 8 and Baird at 20, but I think this formation is better for Leinster which would make Conan the unlucky one yet still ready to make a massive impact from the bench.
For me the real debate is over 22 & 23. First, do we go for a 6/2 split to give us extra beef against the La Rochelle pack? It certainly didn’t hurt Munster last Saturday. If so I’d probably go for Deegan as the extra man with Frawley’s versatility getting the nod over Harry.
I still think it’s more likely we go for a 5/3. Personally I’d stick with Frawley as 22 with the hope that Ross can play a full 80, and that would leave us with a question of Ngatai or Larmour as the 23. Either would be great, but FWIW I’m thinking we need an out and out winger in reserve so I’d probably go for Larmour.
On the subject of squad selection, should we have picked a full team for last Saturday? It’s easy to say yes now, but remember we WERE NOT HAMMERED by Munster as many seem to suggest. There was just the one point in it and it could easily have gone the other way.
That said, you can definitely make an argument for having a policy that our strongest team gets picked for any and every semifinal. To play your best side in the showpiece is of course the ideal, but first you must make it there and when you’re as close as the final four better to give yourself the best chance and let the injury chips fall where they may.
POSSIBLE 23 V LA ROCHELLE
Keenan, J O’Brien, Ringrose, Henshaw, Lowe, R Byrne, Gibson-Park
Porter, Sheehan, Furlong, Molony, Ryan (c), Baird, JVDF, Doris
Kelleher, Healy, Ala’alatoa, Jenkins, Conan, McGrath, Frawley/H Byrne, Ngatai/Larmour/Deegan/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)
OFFICIAL INJURY REPORT
Cian Healy came through the game at the weekend with no issues after his recovery from an ankle injury.
Rónan Kelleher came through the game at the weekend with no issues after his recovery from a shoulder injury.
Robbie Henshaw came through the game at the weekend with no issues after recovering from a quad issue.
James Lowe was part of the extended match day squad at the weekend and will train as normal this week.
Scott Penny has come through the Graduated Return to Play Protocols and will be available for selection this week.
Will Connors has entered the Graduated Return to Play Protocols and will be unavailable for selection this week.
There are no further updates on:
Vakhtang Abdaladze (neck), Ed Byrne (tricep), Rhys Ruddock (hamstring), Johnny Sexton (groin), Jamie Osborne (knee), Martin Moloney (knee)
Both Irish teams were involved in Toulouse at the weekend, and both made the quarterfinals on the way to a 6th place finish, but the headlines was always going to be for Lucy Mullhall’s women’s squad who earned enough points to qualify directly for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. Obviously it’s a wonderful achievement and just what the women’s game here needed what with all the recent doom and gloom.
And it’s not like they didn’t earn it – I watched most of their games over the weekend (hat-tip to Google Calendar reminders) and from the very first match against the hosts France they were magnificent, especially on defence. A lot of star names in that squad like Mulhall, Higgins, Flood, Parsons, Aimee Lee Murphy Crowe ( or “Lawfirm” as our contributor Mark Jackson calls her)…the whole team played well throughout and as it turned out were unlucky to meet Australia twice otherwise they may have finished higher.
Still when it came to Olympic qualification it ended up as a straight shootout between ourselves and Fiji – the winner qualifies for Paris, the loser has to wait and try again another day. And our defence was tip top for this one as two Lawfirm tries were enough to win 10-5 which mean the celebrations could begin and that was awesome to see. Certainly lifted my spirits on Sunday morning after all that had gone on the evening before!!!!!
As for the men well like I say they also finished 6th in Toulouse but it wasn’t enough to prevent them from having to go through further Olympic qualifiers but still there have been many highlights for them this season particularly the silver medal in Dubai.
Still one round to go for them in London this weekend hopefully they can finish in style.
SATURDAY MAY 23
10:23AM – IRELAND MEN V FIJI
1:31PM – IRELAND MEN V JAPAN
5:35PM – IRELAND MEN V ARGENTINA
I’ve been keeping tabs on the MLR this season, adopting the New England Free Jacks as “my team” and in the latest round they travelled to Loudon, Virginia to face Old Glory DC. It was billed as a battle of 1st vs 2nd in the Eastern Conference but in the first half it was more a case of men v boys as the Free Jacks halfback pairing of Poland and Portroz led the side to a 28-7 lead at the break with the try bonus point in the bag.
DC fought back a bit to get a BP of their own but the visitors were pretty much coasting throughout and in the end it was a 42-24 victory which extends their lead in the East. Referee for the day was Argentinian Federico Anselmi, who has officiated at test level and wasn’t taking any back chat from the players on the day, that’s for sure.
There’s highlights in the tweet below and the build up to my favourite Free Jacks try comes 17s into the clip.
Meanwhile out in the west, San Diego’s win over New Orleans was their 11th out of 12 and they remain 9 pts clear of Seattle with Houston and Utah seeming to be in a two horse race for the third playoff spot.
More on the league next week.
TOR 34-34 ATL
NOLA 12-26 SD
HOU 17-34 SEA
DAL 26-36 UTAH
OGDC 24-42 NEFJ
CHI 20-21 NYI
TOR V OGDC
ATL V DAL
UTAH V HOU
SEA V CHI
NEFJ V NOLA
HARPIN’ PREDICTION LEAGUE
NGL I really, really did consider predicting a Munster win to try and make up some ground. And I know many will think of that as “arrogance” but the fact remains Leinster were 10 point favourites with the bookies so the prediction really would have been a gamble. Instead I went for both semifinals as 7-point home wins and, well, that didn’t happen!!! So it looks like I’m going to finish 3rd, which is a hell of a lot better than the wooden spoon last season I suppose.
As for this year’s title it’s now between Mark Jackson & RugbyKino with MJ in pole position. I’d expect him to play it safe with the final and go for the Stormers and if I were Kino I’d go for Munster but we’ll see what they go for on the day.
Meanwhile I will have the “Jersey Of Shame” packed and ready to post to Keego when the final whistle blows in the final as I can’t really see him clawing back that deficit somehow…
AI RUGBY : LEINSTER V MUNSTER ‘DRY RUN’
What did AI know???? Maybe the match finished a lot closer in reality, but when I fed the two teams into the ChatGPT app it did come up with a win for our Southern cousins. We’ll see what it says about LEIvLAR this Friday…
Imagine a game of 15-a-side rugby union between Leinster Rugby and Munster Rugby 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. Jimmy O’Brien 14. Tommy O’Brien 13. Robbie Henshaw 12. Charlie Ngatai 11. Dave Kearney 10. Harry Byrne 9. Luke McGrath CAPTAIN
1. Michael Milne 2. Rónan Kelleher 3. Michael Ala’alatoa 4. Ryan Baird 5. Jason Jenkins 6. Max Deegan 7. Will Connors 8. Jack Conan
16. John McKee 17. Cian Healy 18. Thomas Clarkson 19. Joe McCarthy 20. Josh van der Flier 21. Nick McCarthy 22. Ciarán Frawley 23. Liam Turner
Munster: 15 Mike Haley; 14 Keith Earls, 13 Antoine Frisch, 12 Jack Crowley, 11 Shane Daly; 10 Ben Healy, 9 Craig Casey
1 Jeremy Loughman, 2 Diarmuid Barron, 3 Stephen Archer; 4 Jean Kleyn, 5 Tadhg Beirne; 6 Peter O’Mahony (C), 7 John Hodnett, 8 Gavin Coombes.
16 Niall Scannell, 17 Josh Wycherley, 18 Roman Salanoa, 19 Fineen Wycherley, 20 Jack O’Donoghue, 21 Neil Cronin, 22 Rory Scannell, 23 Alex Kendellen
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 intensity from both teams as they try to stamp their authority. There are some physical exchanges in the early minutes with both teams making their tackles count.
10-20 minutes: Leinster draws first blood with a try from winger Tommy O’Brien following some slick handling in the backline. Harry Byrne makes no mistake with the conversion.
20-30 minutes: Munster responds with a try from winger Keith Earls, who ghosts past a couple of defenders to cross over the try line. Ben Healy adds the extras to level the scores.
30-40 minutes: Leinster applies some sustained pressure to Munster’s defense, but they struggle to break through. Harry Byrne kicks a penalty towards the end of the half to give Leinster a slender 10-7 lead.
Half-time: Leinster 10-7 Munster
45-55 minutes: Munster comes out firing in the second half and takes the lead with two tries in quick succession – one from Peter O’Mahony and the other from Craig Casey. Healy adds the extras from both tries to give Munster a 21-10 lead.
55-60 minutes: Leinster hits back with a try from prop Michael Ala’alatoa following a series of pick-and-gos close to the Munster try line. Byrne’s conversion leaves the score at 21-17 in Munster’s favor.
60-70 minutes: Munster extends its lead with tries from center Jack Crowley and replacement hooker Niall Scannell. Healy successfully converts both tries to put Munster in the driving seat with a 35-17 lead.Yellow card: 66th minute – Munster’s Tadhg Beirne for a high tackle.
70-75 minutes: Leinster scores a quick try from flanker Will Connors to keep the game alive, but they are still trailing by 35-24 with less than 10 minutes to go.
75-80 minutes: Leinster pushes hard for another score, but Munster defends resolutely, thwarting any attacking opportunities. The game ends with Munster coming out on top, 35-24.
Full-time: Leinster 24-35 Munster
THE NEXT BATCH OF HARPIN’
One teeny tiny advantage from Saturday’s result has been that it allows me to give myself the week off following the Champions Cup final. So during the week we will of course be giving the showpiece the full Harpin treatment with a preview on Friday, the last wrap pod of the season on Sunday, and a whole lot in between. The gloom is slowly but surely turning into nervous but still excited anticipation so I hope you’ll join me along the way by any or all of our social media platforms.
In the meantime, be sure to enjoy your rugby wherever you are. JLP