This weekend threw up some interesting results in the Pro14. These have caused me to reconsider a few of my early season predictions. I also have an update on the Irish team and their injuries heading into the November Test series and who might have played themselves into contention. I will also be talking about the controversial comments made by Lions, Ireland, and Leinster back row Sean O’Brien regarding the tour of New Zealand from last summer.
Let’s start with the Pro14, which threw up some surprise results and brought the Irish provinces right back down to earth. The exception was Ulster, who maintained their perfect start to the season with a 52-25 slaying of Bernard Jackman’s Dragons. The star was number 8, Nick Timoney who grabbed himself two tries and a man of the match trophy in the process. Jacob Stockdale and Stuart McCloskey also found themselves on the scoresheet as Stockdale continued his meteoric rise and the 25-year-old showed well in his quest to regain the Irish jersey that he has only worn once so far.
Meanwhile, the Cheetahs finally found their teeth and gave a lesson in attacking rugby to Leinster’s young guns, coming out as the 38-19 winners despite Barry Daly’s hat trick. Munster also had the wheels of their bandwagon punctured, this time on the road in Glasgow as they fell to a 37-10 defeat. This was a very impressive win from the Glaswegians given the lack of internationals in the Scottish side.
The surprise of the weekend no doubt came from Treviso as they clipped the wings of the hapless Ospreys 16-6. The Welsh side’s title challenge has looked to have ended before it even began this season. The Southern Kings appear to be out of their depth also as they suffered a spanking at home to Italian minnows Zebre 17-43. The Cheetahs might be competitive and seem capable of at least turning their home into a fortress, but it’s looking bleak for the Port Elizabeth outfit.
Connacht saw all their early promise slip from their grasp in a home defeat to the Cardiff Blues 15-17, who needed the boost in a big way, while the Scarlets continued to play like champions as they put Edinburgh to the sword 28-8. All I can say is that Glasgow has announced their intentions and that the Irish provinces won’t have it all their own way, which will make for a much more competitive league.
Ireland injury update.
It has been confirmed that Garry Ringrose will miss the Guinness series in November, so opportunity beckons for one or more of newly qualified Irishman Bundee Aki, or the previously mentioned McCloskey and Daly. Daly, in particular, has had an excellent start to the season, though I feel the physicality of Test rugby might be 12 months too soon for him.
Fullback Rob Kearney insists that he will be fit in time for the first Test against the Springboks. The experienced Leinsterman has been plagued by injury and – amazingly made more starts last season for Ireland with seven than he did for Leinster with six. Kearney though might not even be selected given Tiernan O’Halloran’s tremendous form and Jared Payne’s defensive and attacking nous amongst the backs.
The best Kearney can hope for is a squad place where he can use his experience around the training pitch to help the players. This might be especially important given the hamstring injury to Irish captain Rory Best, who is in a race against time to be fit. Dan Leavy is a definite absentee from the side in November, so his chances to get time to show Joe Schmidt what he can do ahead of the Six Nations will be limited.
Sean O’Brien Controversy
Let me start this by saying that anyone who knows Sean on this island knows that he is not a troublemaker. It’s just not in the makeup of his personality. On the pitch he’s an absolute superstar and a brute of a man. Even the mighty All Blacks fear him and know his name, which is the ultimate compliment in New Zealand. Off it though, he’s a quiet country boy from Tullow, County Carlow, where the first thing he bought upon signing his first professional contract was a tractor for his farm! What I’m getting at here is that Sean is the type of player who, when he speaks in the dressing room, you damn well listen.
So for Sean to come out in his first real public appearance since the Lions tour and say the coaching simply wasn’t good enough, well there must be some truth behind it. Sean has always been an ambitious player and he – along with many others in New Zealand – went intending to win the series and made no secret of that goal. How the coaches mindsets differed from the players, from my point of view, in hindsight was the way they spoke to the press.
The coaches all talked about how tough the task was and how brilliant the opposition would be. The players all talked about how they had the quality to beat anyone and how they just wanted to play their own game. They wanted to take the match to the All Blacks and when they did, they were brilliant. The coaches wanted to contain the opposition, and it is not beyond the realm of possibility to think the players weren’t on board with this plan. I think the interviews after the series confirm this as well.
The players talked about how the drawn series wasn’t the result they wanted and even captain and Gatland favourite Sam Warburton said they were ready for extra time and a decisive finish while the coaches talked about how it was a massive achievement to just get a draw. For Sean to come out and say the coaches gave them triple sessions the Thursday before the 1st and 3rd tests and that Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell took the attacking side of the game into their own hands, it is very difficult to fathom what Rob Howley was doing with all the time he had the players at his disposal.
If these allegations are true, then O’Brien has every right as a professional to question the mindset of the coaches and say that they were both “set in their ways” and that “they have a lot to answer for”. Look at the evidence and draw your own conclusions on this one.
What do you think about the news from this week? Let us know in the comments!
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