Lions Selection 

Posted: April 19, 2017 in Uncategorized

At 12.05pm today, thumbs across Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales were tapping furiously on Twitter to share their thoughts on Warren Gatland’s latest Lions’ squad. Most were pleased, with Scotland fans being the opposite. Justifiably so.

The following players will, touch wood, board a flight to New Zealand in the coming weeks:

The most notable omission for me was Joe Launchbury. He’s been in spectacular form for club and country of late, and can feel aggrieved that George Kruis (who didn’t play a minute of Six Nations rugby this year) will wear the jersey instead. The Wasps captain will use that disappointment to fuel the end of the domestic season, and will probably be first to be called upon if injury strikes the second row.

Simon Zebo is the second. He’s playing the rugby of his life for Munster at the moment, but it’s his international scoring record that has let him down. Unfortunate, as Ireland’s style of play does not suit the Corkman. But such is life.

It’s that lack of try scoring that has opened the door for Jack Nowell. The Exeter player is nothing short of electric, and you need five and seven pointers to beat the All Blacks. Threes aren’t enough. 

Ben Te’o can count himself lucky to be on the plane. He is not a creative presence in midfield, and crash balls only offer so much. Hopefully he keeps the elbows down.

However the squad, as a whole, is very strong. 

Warburton is the right choice for captain. He won a Lions’ tour as captain four years ago and obviously has a good working relationship with Gatland. He leads by example in every game, and is sure to continue that trend. With Warburton’s place in the Test team now guaranteed bar injury, I reckon he’ll play 7, with CJ Stander and big Billy Vunipola at 6 and 8 respectively. 

Jared Payne is a super inclusion. He knows what it takes to get over the line against New Zealand, he is incredibly versatile with the ability to play 13, wing, and 15, and is a defensive organiser of the highest degree. His inclusion was a masterstroke. 

Dylan Hartley became the third England captain in a row to miss out on a Lions’ spot (Borthwick and Robshaw being the other two) and it’s no harm. He’s not even the best hooker in England. Rory Best would be my starting hooker, and the Ulsterman is a leader that everyone can follow.

The backs possess a plethora of talent. There was plenty of talk that Jonathan Joseph wouldn’t tour, and I’m delighted it was unfounded. If he can play in the same manner in which he played against Scotland in all three Tests, the midfield will tick over. 

Sexton should start at 10, with Farrell at 12. Having two kicking options is a huge plus, but both are world class playmakers. Add that to Conor Murray’s standard of box-kicking and distribution and you’re laughing. 

The back three players selected are all very clever choices. Eliot Daly is going from strength to strength, George North has won a Lion’s Series before, Seymour’s on fire, and Jack Nowell is a great finisher. Halfpenny and Hogg will go head to head for the 15 position. And Liam Williams can go wing or 15. But Hogg, Williams and Daly would be my choice of back three starters.

All in all, with all the stick Gatland gets, he has selected a very strong squad. He’s never going to please everyone, but that’s not the name of the game. 

Prediction: 2-1 to New Zealand. 


“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”. 

This phrase encapsulates a mantra all teams live by. Just like Tiger Woods changing his swing when he was World Number 1, a team at their peak must change their game in order to stay on top. 

The Heineken Cup ended three seasons ago, and thus, the Champions Cup was born. Throughout its infancy, there has been many complaints about the new-look European competition. Being honest, last year’s competition failed to excite me in any real way. But this year is different.

In the penultimate round of this year’s competition, every game seems to be bringing about a change in the top eight. The qualification table has changed a number of times since Friday evening and will continue to do so until the final game is played next week. This is what the fans of European rugby want; a competition in which their team must continue to produce at the highest level in order to qualify.

But there are still a couple of problems in this competition, problems which can be easily eradicated to both the players’ and fans’ benefit and enjoyment.

I’ve long campaigned that Treviso and Zebre should not have a place in the Champions Cup unless it has been earned through merit, and this has been more obvious than ever this weekend.

Connacht have suffered a high number of injuries this season. So many, in fact, that I reckoned that Zebre (after conceding seventy points to Leinster the week previous) may be in with a shout in their second European meeting. Connacht proved me to be magnificently wrong.

Playing with a scrum-half in the outhalf position, Connacht put 66 points past a poor Zebre side to go from third in their group to first and stormed their way into the qualification table. Between their two clashes, Connacht won 118-28. Not to mention Zebre also shipped 82 points to Wasps in their opening round.

I’m not here to poke fun at Zebre’s ability, but I am highlighting that the Italian teams are way out of their depth in this competition. As Andy Goode tweeted this week, this competition is for the European elite, and having poor Italian teams included just belittles the competition. 

Fine, you can argue that Northampton and Montpellier both shipped big losses to Leinster this season too, but it’s not the same argument. Neither side have been consistently poor in Europe.

The Champions Cup organizers need to change the qualification process for the Pro 12 teams. Including Zebre because they finished above Treviso in the league isn’t saying the stronger Italian team is being included; it’s saying the better loser is.

Both teams should be included in the Challenge Cup until strong enough to compete with the European elite. Simple as. This would strengthen the competition and avoid more embarrassment to players who, you can be assured, are doing their best. It would also end the idea that teams lucky enough to draw an Italian team are guaranteed circa ten points.

Zebre may not even be a team next year, as a centralized team in Rome is the aim for Italian club rugby  at the moment. But that newly-formed team, whenever it may come, should be forced to prove itself in the Chllange Cup before gaining entry into the Challenge Cup. Organizers should be learning from mistakes.

The second problem is the division of games between Sky Sports and BT Sports.

As I type this, I am missing Toulon v Sale, a game which has some of the world’s best players on show. Why? Because I’ve already paid a subscription to one sports channel.

European rugby is an expensive business for fans. New jerseys seem to be coming out every year, meaning parents are under pressure when their kids see their idols’ new uniforms. Away games can mean expenses such as plane tickets, accommodation, match tickets, food, etc. Home games aren’t cheap either. But that’s accepted. It’s part and parcel. 

What’s unacceptable is that fans who stay home are forced to fork out two subscriptions to two different channels in order to watch one competition. 

Champions Cup organizers should not divide the rights to the competition. It adds an extra cost to fans who already give their all to follow their teams, and put simply, it is unfair to impose that extra cost on fans to pay the wages of pundits they never wanted in the first place. 

The TV rights are up for renewal this summer and apparently they will not be shared again between two subscription channels. This needs to be imposed in order to continue to win over the public. It would be a very simple solution to what is a big issue.

The Champions Cup has been going from strength to strength and is finally capturing the imagination of fans again. But there are changes to be made. After all, to change is to improve.

Ireland’s Young Guns

Posted: November 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

Before the last Rugby World Cup, the New Zealand coaching staff had a huge decision to make. Nehe Milner-Skudder was tearing it up in Super Rugby, had earned two international caps, and Hansen had to decide whether he was worthy of selecting him over previous World Cup winner, Israel Dagg. The phrase “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough” prevailed, and Dagg was omitted. Veteran Cory Jane also missed out.

Milner-Skudder went on to score four tries in the RWC before getting injured, and was also awarded World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year. The risk paid off.

In the same World Cup, Ireland reached the knockout stages. They suffered a few injuries, one player was suspended, and they lacked the strength in depth to overcome Argentina. Competition over.

The upshot is that Ireland coach Joe Schmidt took from that experience. There’s a saying, coined by Albert Einstein, that states “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Schmidt is far from insane.

On Saturday, the 5th of November, Schmidt coached an Irish team to arguably their biggest win in their history against New Zealand. They put 40 points on the scoreboard. An unbelievable performance that was hailed by Steve Hansen himself.

Ireland won that game without Sean O’Brien, Mike Ross, or Peter O’Mahony. Tadhg Furlong, 24, started at tighthead. Jordi Murphy, 25, started at seven, and, when he injured himself, was replaced by 23 year old Josh van der Flier. 21 year old Joey Carbery debuted from the bench.

Of the 23 man squad that made history, nine were 25 years of age or younger. To think that most of these players achieved something the likes of Paul O’Connell, Brian O’Driscoll, or Keith Wood could never achieve on their first try is amazing. Granted, Ringrose and Marmion didn’t make an appearance, but still, the future is bright.

The All Blacks will never instill the same fear in these players that they do others; these Irish players know the All Blacks are not untouchable. Don’t get me wrong, they’ll respect them. But fear won’t enter the equasion. As CJ Stander said:

I won’t say there has always been a mental block but now that barrier is broken, we have to start thinking about what we can achieve as a team, to put in a shift, make it two from two – that would be stuff you can write in your book one day.

A week later, 23 players were named to face Canada. Of these 23 players, 13 were 25 years old or younger. Not only that, but eight of the 23 man squad earned their first cap. Young Ultan Dillane earned Man of the Match. Ireland put 52 points on the scoreboard. Not too bad either.

Schmidt was often criticized for Ireland’s lack of running rugby and Heaslip’s try against Iraly in the Six Nations was probably the most exciting try Ireland scored for a while. Yet in their last two games, one of them being against back-to-back world champions, they scored a total of 92 points, scoring 13 tries.

On Saturday, Ireland will face the All Blacks again. Win or lose, it’s the performance that matters most. A win would be an awesome achievement, but you can guarantee Ireland will push themselves to the limit. But let’s look at some of the younger players, starting with the pack.

Jordi Murphy can deem himself extremely unlucky to be ruled out for an extended period. He was rewarded with the seven jersey by Joe Schmidt for a great summer tour. Although he has a lengthy spell ahead in rehab, he will come back swinging. 

Josh van der Flier has had a fantastic couple of seasons with Leinster, and when he replaced Murphy against the All Blacks, the red scrum cap could be seen all over the pitch as he tackled everything that moved. 

Ultan Dillane, who won the Pro 12 with Connacht last season, made an appearance off the bench against the All Blacks, and carried very well. The Kerryman went on to win Man of the Match against Canada the following week, putting his hand up for selection against the All Blacks. I’d select him.

Finlay Bealham, another Pro 12 winner, played 23 minutes against New Zealand, and was very impressive against Canada, offloading beautifully to set up a Tiernan O’Halloran try. Not to mention the hits he put in.

Tadhg Furlong became the master of the choke tackle and was praised nationally. Jack O’Donoghue, James Tracy, and Dan Leavy were all impressive against Canada. John Ryan is having a monster season for Munster and got his reward versus Canada. 

Moving on to the backs, and Robbie Henshaw scored the try that out the nail in the All Black coffin. He was also very impressive in the last World Cup. He is still only 23.

Joey Carbery had the debut one could only dream of, beating the All Blacks in his first international appearance. Nine games previous, he was playing for Clontarf RFC in the AIL. Quite a rise, but as Steve Hansen will tell you, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. And trust me, he’s good enough. 

We were forced to wait to see Garry Ringrose on the international stage, and I’m sure he was itching to get the opportunity. He played well against Canada, ghosting around defenders at times and certainly didn’t look out of place. I’m even willing to forgive him for the fact I bet on him to score twice. I’m sure the idea of moving Payne to 15 to open up a spot for him will cross Schmidt’s mind more than once this week.

All in all, these young players stepped up to the plate and performed. Creating history wasn’t a daunting prospect, and scoring fifty plus against Canada, although scrappy at times, was not out of their reach.

Carbery is improving with every passing week, and is now the third choice 10 behind Sexton and Jackson. Henshaw is one of the first names on the teamsheet, and Ringrose will continue to knock on the door. Nine remains a problem, as there is still too big a gap between Murray and Marmion, but give it time. I’m especially excited to see Niyi Adeolokun, another Pro 12 champion, get more game time. He’s electric, and a fantastic finisher.

The depth in the Irish pack is impressive. To quote Neil Treacy, Ireland have so many quality looseheads you could probably find one down the side of your couch. The ever present Mike Ross is now third choice tighthead. We have a plethora of second row and back row players, so many that Joe Schmidt will have a serious headache selecting a seven to join Stander and Heaslip in the backrow.

The game against Argentina in the last World Cup was a step too far because Ireland lacked the strength in depth needed. That weakness is now being assessed with every passing Test, with players stepping up when asked to.

Schmidt isn’t doing the same thing over and over again, hoping something will change. He’s ensuring that history doesn’t repeat itself. 

A special shout out has to go to Billy Holland. He may not be a young man, but he worked tirelessly to achieve his dream. Congratulations, Billy. It’s well earned. Enjoy it.

Before this weekend’s Champions Cup fixtures kick off, we remember what the competition brought us last week, thanks to @RugbyScribbler.

You may remember me writing an article at the tail end of the last season about how it was a record season in Europe for the Pro12- the first time that not one team from the competition has qualifi…

Source: A good start for the Pro12 in Europe

Zebre kicked off their Champions Cup campaign against Wasps the past weekend in the Ricoh Arena, Coventry. The Champions Cup is a competition in which the best clubs in Europe get to compete against each other for the ultimate prize in northern hemisphere club rugby. Yet it includes a team that has struggled to compete in its own league since joining.

Zebre scored two tries against Wasps: a driving maul when they had a forward in the bin (which is slightly worrying for Wasps when they face a higher calibre of opposition) and an interception. But they also conceded twelve.

History in the competition proves that a group containing an Italian side usually produces the best runner up for the knockout phases of the competition. This is a very polite way of saying the Italian teams are the whipping boys of the competition. 

Many people took to Twitter saying these teams shouldn’t be involved in the competition, which proves it’s not just an afterthought on a Saturday afternoon. It’s a genuine problem.

I asked earlier in the day if having one centralised team would improve the situation, such as the Jaguares in Argentina. Most agreed, few didn’t.

One argument was that many said the same of Connacht for years; they were once the whipping boys of the Celtic and Magners league, but look at them now. Surely Zebre and Treviso could come alive in the same manner as Connacht? I agree; maybe one of them could. But not both. Another argued that a number of weeks ago, Zebre very nearly beat the current Pro 12 champions in Italy. Which is also true. But unfortunately for them, the game was called off, and all the history books will say is that the game was called off to be replayed. Nothing more.

Zebre will have learned a couple of lessons on Saturday: their defence needs work, they need to be fitter, they have to work harder than their opposition to have any sort of chance. All very glaringly obvious lessons. But these lessons they learn week in, week out, in the Pro 12. What happened was that Wasps simply embarrassed them. Considering they also have Connacht and Toulouse in their group, it’s not like they’ll be reaching the knockout stages this year.

Before anyone jumps on me for counting unhatched chickens, I know European miracles happen. I was at the Munster Gloucester Miracle Match. I’ll never forget the second-half comeback by Leinster in their final against Northampton. Even Saracens win away to Toulon on Saturday could be chalked up. But we’re not comparing like with like.

Munster, at that stage, were a team well versed in grinding out victories. Leinster were a team peppered with Grand Slam winners and international stars. Saracens did the double last year. Zebre? They almost beat Connacht.

I understand the necessity of having an Italian team in the competition; it is a European cup; it has to include them. But the Challenge Cup is also European.

The winners of last year’s Challenge Cup, Montpellier, narrowly lost out to Northampton on Saturday. The other finalists from last year, Harlequins, hammered Stade Francais on Friday night in the Challenge Cup (to add to the argument, Stade were the French Top 14 champions just a couple of years ago).

In my eyes and the eyes countless others, there’s no way Wasps would have put 12 tries past either Harlequins or Montpellier, no matter how good or bad a day either team were having.

Maybe I’m being tough focusing on Zebre alone, so a quick mention on Treviso this weekend-they conceded 41 points to La Rochelle in the Challenge Cup. Hardly inspiring either.

I want to point out that I am not laying the blame at all on Zebre or Treviso. Their players, coaching staff, and backroom staff, do their very best every weekend, and of course they’re going to take the opportunity to play amongst Europe’s elite when offered. Why wouldn’t they?

But it simply isn’t fair to them or to teams not drawn in their group. Wasps against Zebre and Gloucester (who hammered Bayonne) against Treviso just shouts “5 points! Get your five points here!”, with other clubs fighting on a weekly basis to qualify.

Is there a way around it?

The Italian federation could amalgamate both teams, with a central base in Rome. With money invested the correct way, and guidance from a Graham Henry type figure (much like was done in Argentina) on the structures that should be in place academy wise, they’d become a much stronger force. There is bound to be a ground in Rome willing to share a venue, and the gate would probably take in a substantial amount. But that’s a pipe dream.

Another idea, presented by @TheBlack_n_Red, and I’m sure shared by others, suggested that all Champions Cup spots be down to league position and not preassigned spots to include every country. This would mean teams are qualifying off their own success every time. I don’t think many would be too happy with that system, as four Irish teams finished in the top six last year, which would have left only two places for Wales, Scotland, and Italy.

But how about having Zebre and Treviso compete in the Challenge Cup until such a time that they can compete with the big boys. I know the Champions Cup wouldn’t have an Italian representative, but it would make it more what it’s meant to be, which is a competition of Europe’s elite. And the Italian teams would still be competing in a European competition.

To fill the void of the missing team, both finalists of the Challenge Cup should qualify (or have the opportunity to qualify) for the Champions Cup, rather than just the one.

It would make the Champions Cup more competitive, eliminate the “easy points” in certain groups, and both Italian teams would be learning more, rather than being embarrassed by teams like Wasps.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe a miracle will happen and I’ll be forced to admit defeat. But as they say, David and Goliath was a once off; the smart money is always on the giant.

Ag breathnú ar Nua-Shéalainn ag an deireadh seachtaine a bhí mé agus thosaigh mé ag ceistiú cén fáth a bhíonn an bua acu níos minice ná aon fhoireann eile. Fiú in aghaidh An Aifric Theas ar an Satharn; níor imir siad go hiontach, ach fós scóráil siad breis is daithead pointe. An bhféadfadh aon fhoireann eile é sin a dhéanamh? 

Seo liosta gearr a bhreathnaíonn ar na scileanna ‘is na tréithe is fearr atá acu.

1. Scileanna na dTosaithe

Is feidir tosaithe ar bith a n-imríonn rugbaí idirnáisiúnta breith ar an liathróid, ach an féidir leo pas a chaitheamh tríocha slat agus iad ag rith gan stad? Rinne Dane Coles é seo agus fós tá ionadh ar dhaoine gur tharla sé. Ach sula bhfuair Coles an liathróid, ba nascaire a chaith an pas chuige. Ba chuma le Ryan Crotty gurb tosaithe a bhí sa líne chúlaithe; bhí fios aige go raibh siad in ann an jab a dhéanamh.

Breathnú ar an bpas anseo. 

2. Foighne

Níl aon bhrú ar na himreoirí agus iad ag imirt; fanann siad go dtí go gcruthaíonn siad spás nó go dtí go ndéanann an fhoireann eile botúin. Is cuma leo má thógann sé nóimeád amháin nó trí nóimeád, tá siad breá sásta fanacht agus breá compórdach le seilbh na peile. 

3. An Cic

Dúirt Cory Jane ina leabhar nach raibh cúlaithe Nua-Shéalainne sásta an liathróid a chiceál muna raibh siad in ann seilbh na peile a fháil ar ais go luath théis nó muna raibh buntáiste éagsúil mar thoradh. Agus maireann an stíl imeartha sin fós inniu. Níl an fhoireann sásta an liathróid a thabhairt don fhoireann eile muna tharlaíonn sé ar a dtearmaí, is níos minice ná a chéile, faigheann siad úd nó fearann as.

4. An Taobh Caoch

Is breá le hAaron Smith an taobh seo, agus bíonn sé i gcónaí ag faire ar seans chun é a shaothrú. Imreoir thar a bheith cliste é, agus má aithníonn sé go bhfuil spás ann, athraíonn sé an ionsaí ar an bpointe boise agus ar aghaidh leis, fiú más rud é nach bhfuil ach tosaithe lasmuigh dó  (ag teacht ar as go scileanna na dtosaithe).

5. Beauden Barrett

Céard is féidir linn rá faoin lad seo. Sár-imreoir ab ea é do na Hurricanes i mbliana, agus thóg sé é sin leis go dtí an Croabhchomórtas Rugbaí. Tá sé sciopthai agus is féidir leis dul tríd bearna ar bith gan rabhadh ar bith. Gan dabht, an t-imreoir is fearr ar domhan ag an nóimeád in aice le Coles.


Billy Holland

How’s the squad and atmosphere, Rassie in 8 weeks, is it building up, everybody ready to go?

‘There’s been a really good vibe abound the place last two months. We all trained together in Limerick for the first time ever so between that and Rassie and Jaq coming on board and Felix coming back in, there’s been a really good buzz around the place you know a positive vibe around the place which has been exciting so we’re just really looking forward to getting stuck into the games. We played Zebre the other night in horrendous conditions so that wasn’t the most enjoyable of preseason games but, we’re all really looking forward to getting stuck into the season.

A limerick training base, all together, how has that been?

‘We’re moving into our one centre I think next week or the week after but for preseason we’ve all been training together in Limerick for the first time ever, as I said which, has been really good because, not alone do you get more face time with the coaches and more time on the pitch with the coaches, things like Dave Foley had myself and a few of the Cork lads over for a BBQ last week, I’ve played with Dave Foley for years and it’s the first time I’ve ever been in his house so things like that a really important for squad morale and getting to know guys better.’

‘People use the whole Cork/Limerick split as an excuse but it can’t be an excuse over the years because Munster have won 2 European cups in that set up. But as the game has progressed and become more professional it is more important for us to spend more time together like every other club so it’s a really exciting time. It’s a huge commitment, 12 lads have moved from Cork to Limerick with their families, young fellas, old fellas like Thomas O’Leary has moved his wife and child up and then there a few guys who are still remaining in Cork but spend a few nights a week in Limerick, they have kids and families and wives who have jobs in Cork so it’s been a really positive step for Munster rugby’

How much has the pressure ramped up this season after last year’s struggles?

‘The last two games of the season last year where we played Scarlets and Edinburgh were two of the hardest games I’ve and other lads have played in pressure wise because you were in a situation where if you lose you’re not in Europe and “Shame Munster Rugby” and if you win you come 6th and “Shame Munster Rugby” but I think it was a real no win situation but I think we learned a lot about ourselves. We scored 10 tries and got 10 points in those two games, we sold out Musgrave Park, Thomond Park was nearly full, and they were really positive events for us despite where we finished up. I think guys like Johnny Holland and Rory Scannell came through as being really important for us. They came of age in those games, for two young fellas, they were outstanding.

‘In terms of training this year we’ve tried to look back on last season and see where “where and why” we were poor and take confidence that we can be really good when we had to be at the end of the season and for us it’s just being able to do that more consistently at home.’

From inside the group are you noticing a big change in the approach to maybe the wider game plan that Rassie is trying to implement?

‘Yeah he [Rassie] has made a few changes to our attack structure and how we’re trying to attack. Rugby is quite a simple game at the end of the day so you can’t try and reinvent the wheel but he’s making few subtle changes that will hopefully benefit players that we have. We have a lot of really exciting backs that we want to give good ball to and I think the pack have to take a lot of responsibility. [The] scrum, line out, mall last year at times weren’t up to scratch and you’ve got guys like Keith Earls and Simon Zebo, some of the best back three players in the world, you get them the ball with time and space and they’ll do the job for you so, yes, he has brought in a few changes, we haven’t reinvented the wheel. That’s why having Axel staying on board was so important because Rassie has learned a huge amount off him. Axel is one of the most passionate and intelligent, knowledgeable rugby people you will ever meet, so as head coach he’s now getting a lot more face time with guys, with players, he’s spending a lot more time reviewing trainings, reviewing games with fellas. For example Gavin Coombes, he’s 18, he was training with us for the preseason, he’s first cousins with the O’Dovavan brothers, the rowers. He has had a lot of work with Axel in preseason which he wouldn’t have had last year because Axel was off dealing with you lot and other bits a pieces so it frees up him to do more coaching and as you can see Rassie deals with the media really well, he’s like a duck to water with it and he’s looking after the bigger picture things with Munster Rugby so yeah, so far so good but we haven’t played many games yet.”

First up this year, Scarlets, what are your thoughts on that?

‘Scarlets is one of the hardest places to go, we were in a position at the end of last season, where thankfully we were playing them at home and we got the win but it was a very difficult game. We haven’t had many results over in Scarlets over the last few years so is a tough one first up. With a new coaching group, we’re trying to change a few things which will take a while to get right so Rassie and Jaq have done this multiple times with other teams so they’re not expecting miracles, we are still hoping to go over to Scarlets and get a win but for us it’s more about our performance and how we put ourselves across. Look it’s a results based business and we need to get results but we focus on that side of it massively.

Is there a sense that sides don’t know what to expect from Munster this year?

‘Yeah, that can be of benefit but you play one or two games and the analysis is at such a level that people will figure it out. We’ve Cardiff on the second week and I’m pretty sure they’ll have half an idea of how we’re trying to attack, unless it’s like the conditions we had against Zebre the other night where it doesn’t matter what the hell you’re trying to play, it’s just scrum and mall. But what we’re trying to play isn’t where we want to be in 12 months’ time, it’s a profession. Connacht as an example, their third year under Pat Lambe last year, they were outstanding, it took them 3 years to get there, so it will take us a while to get to where we want to get to but baby steps.’



Rassie, looking ahead, is there any update on the possible replacement for Francis, are you guys looking for a few options? Have you heard from the IRFU?

‘We are working closely with the IRFU, with David and Joe on most of the stuff so we are talking on a weekly, daily about other stuff  as well not just replacements, it’s the internationals players in camps it’s the 7’s squad, the movement of players, those kind of things. Francis was definitely a surprise for us we didn’t expect his injury to take him out for another 3-4 months but as I said last week to some of the guys, we have to give some of the younger guys a proper chance and some guys had an opportunity last Friday, which they took well and there’s great potential there. But we also have to be realistic, we did lose a lot of experience with Francis, so we’re looking at, everybody is talking about Jaco Taute, he is one go the guys that we are trying to talk to the IRFU about and they are definitely supportive to try and help us but it that experience. So we are looking for a short-term backup to have experience in that position without neglecting the young talent that is coming through. There is a lot of things to sort out there, a short term loans from another province, players have got families, work permit, there is a lot of things that must happen so that is why at this stage there is a little bit of speculation out there but there’s nothing signed sealed and organised of yet’

You guys are obviously looking for someone like Jaco to come in, but you haven’t heard that it might be a thing where the IRFU are trying to push somebody from another province onto you guys, would that be the case?

‘The discussion so far have been “we’re trying to replace what we had” [NIQ?] we have to have this role experience wise and for only that period of time so we’re looking for a fit into that. It’s been positive from the IRFU, common sense has prevailed, so I’m happy. Nobody is pushing anything.

In terms of the new captain, are you looking for a week 3 return for POM?

‘Yes, at week 3. He’s on track with his rehab, he had a setback about 3 months ago. He was at one stage looking close so going on the Irish tour of SA and then he had  little bit of a setback but since then he’s been on track so hopefully he [will be] ready for the third game.’

Was it an easy decision to pick Peter, as the existing captain when you arrived, to give him that job again?

‘Yes, without a doubt, it wasn’t tough. The seniors players, obviously we involved the team in that, it wasn’t just me and Axel and the other coaches saying “listen Peter you’re the captain” it was a collective from the group, we had all input and yes other leaders, senior players supported 100% and that makes it an easy choice.

What’s the one thing that people are saying to you ahead of the new season?

‘There’s a lot of work to get done from my side, our first priority is now to try and get into the winning ways with the senior side. But obviously being around in the community and playing in Waterford, see in the normal fan on the street and talking to everybody, there’s expectations, I think people see it as a daunting task and it’s a long road ahead, we seem to think there’s so much potential and if we can maximize potential from the coaches to the players fully, we can reassess in December and see where we’re going with this but what I’ve seen and I’ve haven’t worked with the players on the level of stress in match situations, the half time talk of a player and see how he reacts when its wet, you there’s different things. But [what I’ve] seen in the training sessions, mentally and physically and talent wise, I think we’re up there with some of the best teams I’ve coached but there can be other failures that I might not see now, so people see it as daunting but I see it as a massive challenge and an opportunity.’

Looking at the fixtures, for the European Cup, you guys gave better times, a lot more Saturday games at Thomond, so is that a big thing of bringing back that Thomond Park factor, have you watched games at Thomond in the past and thought this is what I wasn’t to recreate?

‘That’s one of the reasons I wanted to coach here. When I was playing and watching and coaching in SA before the games were televised, you would know about Munster. Everybody now knows about Connacht and Leinster and the other teams but everybody new about Munster. It’s obviously special what we saw on TV, so it’s special. I would love to experience that, so yes, without a doubt.

Is Tyler getting back to full fitness?

‘Tyler will be in the mix for this weekend for the practice match against Worcester on Friday.

On Thomond, how do you go about building that fervor, because I think there was a dip in ticket sales from the Limerick area especially?

‘I’ve coached in the freestate where when we started out there with the Cheetahs, there were 5,000 and when we were winning Currie Cups it was 45,000 every game. The same with the Stormers, I think they may be the exception where people keep on supporting through the bad times but I think  currently [there are] so many negative and financial problems for some families that maybe they want to be associated with a winning team, you know, you want to have a feel good feeling when you go to that match, you want to walk away feeling as a winner. The brand [of rugby] is important, unfortunately the nuts and bolts is if you win you’ll get crowds in. That’s our responsibility from playing and coaching and everybody’s point of side, the brand would be important but I’ve seen teams who win ugly and still get great crowds, so I think crowd numbers goes with winning and as Axel right said, sometimes it’s the bounce of a ball and you miss out on a payoff and there a hell of a negative attitude towards the team. Sometimes that a decision makes you win a game and there’s a nice vibe. You look at Australia/Scotland last year, the last kick of the game, that’s the margin and Michael Cheika was the coach of the year last year because of that, the kick was kicked over. This year he’s got a tough record, but that’s unfortunately what professional sport is.’

What style can we expect from Munster this year?

‘I’m nervous to tell people this, this forward orientated kicking game mindset that a lot of people talk about, the pass being most successful and then people are asking are you going to run into people. We sat together as a coaching/players and said “guys let’s look at the different facet of the game, kicking, passing, breakdown and why do we have as players, what can we do well” and we worked out a philosophy which we’ve been coaching and trying now for 8 weeks. A little bit of a game on Friday night and hopefully this Friday. I’m nervous to say, “This is what you’re going to see” because I don’t this is uniquely like those guys or these guys, and I think it’s unique to Munster. Hopefully it will come through in the games and we’ll say “This is the Munster way” but it’s not molded onto somebody it’s molded in our group I’ll put it that way.

The opening game, Scarlets away?

‘I don’t have the history, in a positive way, I don’t have the baggage of what goes on there, but the players tell me how daunting it is and the coaches know. They’ve got great coaching staff and I’ve went through their squad, they have a great squad, so it will be a challenge but [there is] a lot of tough games to come. I go a little bit blind for those games with the talent we have. Obviously its nerve racking next week to go into it but I’d be lying if I’m not because it will be a first experience, I’m used to Super Rugby Tri-Nations and those things, not so much to this. That’s why I came here.


Massive thanks and credit to Larry Power, Maedhbh Lewis, and #RugbyUnited.

Photo credit to #RugbyIreland.