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.


In Dunedin, June 19th, 2010, New Zealand played against Wales. The All Black players and coaches went through their pre-game rituals: walks, naps, conversations, visualisations. They received their jerseys, and thought about what it meant to them. One word comes to mind: everything. Kick-off time finally arrived.

They absolutely hammer them. Dan Carter scores 27 points. Richie McCaw becomes the most successful All Black captain in history. After the game, and after the press meetings, the players sit in the dressing room. These are giants of the game. Some are the best players of their positions in the world-others are some of the best players in the history of the game.

Mils Muliaina, the off-field captain, gives his two cents. Then the backroom staff. Graham Henry comes last, telling his team this needs work and that needs tweaking. Finally, he congratulations McCaw on his achievement, and the team echo their coach’s sentiments.

But that’s where it stops. A scoreline of 42-7 doesn’t mean a reward of a night out, or a piss up. It means a reward of knowing the team reached their potential.

And then the unexpected occurs. As James Kerr wrote in Legacy, “two of the senior players-one an international player of the year, twice-each pick up a long-handled broom and begin to sweep the sheds. They brush the mud and the gauze into small piles in the corner”.

Why are they tidying up? These are world-class players, who play with a team that leads the way in rugby.
“The All Blacks are tidying up after themselves.
Sweeping the sheds.
Doing it properly.
So no one else has to.
Because no one looks after the All Blacks.
The All Blacks look after themselves.”

Creating a team like the All Blacks is no mean feat; only a number of coaches in history have ever acheived it. It takes years, it takes work, it takes effort and time beyond all belief. It also takes players with extremely strong character.

The All Blacks have a very simple mantra. It’s not very long, and doesn’t take time to learn off. It’s to the point-simple and direct. It’s so simple, in fact, it consists of two words, stolen from the Sydney Swans: “No Dickheads”.

Basically, it means no player is bigger than the team. In the past, players who were good enough to play for the All Blacks have never been selected. Some players who have been selected have never been asked back. This is simply because they don’t believe in the mantra. They believe themselves to be bigger than the team. All Blacks don’t do that. All Blacks are never bigger than the team.

If a ruck needs hitting, it’s hit. If a player needs to be stopped, a tackle is made. If an offload needs to be made, the position of the player doesn’t matter. They work until they do it all. They measure themselves only against themselves. But not every coach is lucky to have the All Blacks at their disposal.

Coaching is not an easy job. You have egotistical superstars, humble work horses, players with skills beyond anyone else’s and players who struggle with a left-handed pass. The lower the leagues you go, the lower the skill-sets, but, sometimes, the higher the number of egos. It’s always the way.

But selection should not be based on talent alone. If a player can kick a goal from 50 yards, but is quick to berate a teammate who makes a mistake, should he be selected? If a player can glide through players, but refuses to ruck over and blame a forward for being slow, should he be on the pitch? To both cases, absolutely not.

The players who continuously look to better themselves and their team should take preference. You see these players at every club: outhalves who are at the training field an hour before training practising their kicking, hookers who show up 30 minutes early with a bag of balls and a throwing target, fullbacks who show up early to field garryowens. These are the players you want. In other words: No Dickheads.

Wayne Smith said that “talent was irrelevant” when he talks about the Chiefs. “We picked guys with high work rate, strong body movers, guys that were unselfish and sacrificial mindset”.
This is extremely important because, as ex-NFL coach Vince Lombardi once said, “the question is usually not how well the person performs, but how well they perform together”.

To borrow another example from a different sport, Michael Jordan was the top scorer in his first five NBA seasons. He didn’t win a single championship. It’s when he developed his game to help the team that championship titles arrived. No one is bigger than the team.

Dealing with egos is never easy, but it’s necessary. The All Blacks deal with it themselves. One famous story that emerged from a past World Cup camp was of Israel Dagg and Cory Jane enjoying a night out. Tabloids went to town on them. What did management do about it? They sat them in front of a number of senior players, and left them off. I imagine Dagg and Jane have never felt worse than having to explain their actions to someone like Richie McCaw, a person to whom the All Black way of life is everything.

But, again, not every team have these players at their disposal. In my experience, I’ve witnessed a player leave the warm-up and drive home because he found out he wasn’t in the starting XV. The next training session, he was welcomed back with no repercussions. I’ve played with a player who stopped attending training as he wasn’t starting matches; as a result, the coach started him in the next game to entice him back. In both cases, these players should have been cut loose. No one is bigger than the team.

A team should want to play together. Mistakes are inevitable in games, and a player who cares about the team will rue his or her mistakes after the game. But what is important is that they know their teammates don’t mind; in fact, they’re willing to work twice as hard to rectify that player’s mistake. That’s teamwork.

As I said earlier, coaching is never easy. But there are a number of methods that can be introduced to help build a team.

  • Encourage players to get together for coffee, lunch, or an activity at least once a week, but try to ensure they go in different weekly groups as much as possible. 
  • While travelling to games, have players of the same position travel together (for example, second rows together so as they can talk about lineouts, scrumhalf and outhalf so as they can talk about their patterns and game plan). However, when returning from games, have backs sit with forwards.
  • A player who hasn’t been selected should be appointed the off-field captain for the day. Their duties should include noting their thoughts on the game, and being invited to speak to the team after the game about the positives and negatives. This should be a respected position, and appointed to different players every week.(Thoughts could be run past the coach first, and should be kept as positive as possible.)
  • Mistakes will happen. Encourage a policy of “no problem, next phase”.  
  • When teams score against you, encourage your team to gather under the posts and introduce a policy of “Regroup, Regather, Reclaim Restart”. Always focus on the next job.
  • Encourage positivity as much as possible, and adopt the All Blacks practice that no one is bigger than the team. Egos may be bruised, but it’s not an individual sport. 
  • Give players a chance to take over leadership early in the season, be it a warm-up or a drill. Every player should look to be a leader on and off the pitch. 
  • At training, perform a two minute fitness drill. At the end of the drill, have a non-kicker (usually a prop or a front five forward) kick at goal. If he/she misses, do another two minute drill. Then have a player throw a ball to the tail of the lineout (again, a player who you know can’t throw). Again, if he/she misses, perform another two minute drill. Repeat once more with a different player performing another player’s role. At the end of the drill, make the point people groaned and moaned when players failed, rather than choosing to say “no problem, next phase”. Also point out that, under fatigue and pressure, no player’s job is easy, so no other player should complain if they fail.
  • Question players about what they would do in certain situations, and constantly keep asking why. Swap players around in set piece moves and see how they react. You never know when they may need to slot in. Practising match situations is the best way to prepare. Defend with 14 players to prepare for a sinbin, or attack with five backs to see who steps up in case of an injury on the pitch. You’ll find out a lot about your players and their character.
  • Back yourself, and back your decisions. If you drop a player, or decide to do something different, make sure you’re able to explain why, and back your call. On the other hand, if you’re wrong, don’t be afraid to apologise. You expect players to put their hands up for something like a missed tackle, so you should lead from the front on that front. But don’t give in to one player’s complaints.

At the end of the day, there are two questions you need to ask your players: what can they offer the team, and what are they prepared to sacrifice. Their answers will tell you what you want to hear, but it’s their actions and character that will back them up.

These tips are designed to aid coaches, and all may not work for the team you coach. However, the search for improvement never stops, and rugby is a game of character. Feel free to try them out and let us know how it goes. Pre-season is upon us, and there’s no better time to put a stamp on your season.

Finally, best of luck to everyone with the upcoming season. Enjoy it.

The Loose Head

Looking back at New Zealand v Wales, Australia v England, and South Africa v Ireland, The Loose Head takes a quick look at what we learned:

1. Wales can turn it on when they want. When the Welsh boys kept ball in hand, the All Blacks found it hard to live with them for an hour. Williams and North, most noticeably, made hay when offered a chance to run. Perhaps a tactic that should be kept for the series?

2. Liam Williams will no longer be a back-up to Leigh Halfpenny. The Toulon player is going to find it very difficult to get a starting berth ahead of Williams who put his stamp on the game yesterday. He made a couple of mistakes, but a shining light for Wales. Easily their Man of the Match.

3. Taulupe Faletau is dining at the same table as Read, Pocock and Vunipola. He was incredible yesterday. His work rate was second to none and was up there with Williams as Wales’ top performer. Special mention to Gethin Jenkins who was also immense.

4. A New Zealand team in transition is still the best team in the world. They couldn’t get into the game in the first half and lacked structure, with Julian Savea having a game to forget. But in the second half, they found their composure and blew Wales away. Slow to start, but still quick to put the opposition away.

5. Aaron Smith is the best 9 in world rugby. He ran support lines, kept his forwards moving, and was his all-round brilliant self. The honour of leading the haka was well deserved. He seems to love his team more than anyone, and dropped to his knees to celebrate when Naholo crossed the whitewash.

6. Julian Savea and Dane Coles are mortals. Although Savea scored, it was a day to forget for the winger, and Coles made uncharacteristic mistakes throughout the game too. Not saying they won’t bounce back, but rare to see them suffer poor performances.

7. England are probably the second best team in the world right now. Australia blew them away in the opening 20 minutes, but England held on and took their points when they were on offer. The English pack eventually got into the game and spoiled breakdowns, scrums, and mauls, scrums against a pack who demolished them in the World Cup last year.

8. Eddie Jones is not afraid to admit to his mistakes. Luther Burrell was shipped off in the first half to make way for George Ford, and that made a huge difference to England’s playmaking and backline. Farrell is well versed in the 12 role, and England continued to grow more dominant.

9. We still don’t know what Eddie Jones is thinking. A number of people, myself included, find it hard to understand why Alex Goode wasn’t in the starting XV, let alone the squad. Also, the selection of Yarde ahead of Nowell is also difficult to understand. But then again, England won, Yarde scored, and Mike Brown had a solid game bar a couple of mistakes. His thinking is justified.

10. Samu Kerevi was born for Test rugby. The Fijian born had a fantastic debut, and didn’t look uncomfortable in the Test arena. A star for the future.

11. Michael Hooper is the best number 7 in the world. He scored two tries, with one highlighting his pace down the wing and composure to finish. He took the captain’s armband in the 57th minute, and scored in the 58th. He is a leader, and it’s amazing to think he’s still only 24.

12. Micheal Cheika will have a lot of work to do before Australia’s next meeting with England. The Wallabies went 10-0 ahead after 17 minutes, but slowly faded out of the game. Pocock suffered a fractured eye-socket, and will be a big loss to the Australians.

13. Based on yesterday’s performance, South Africa are not the force they once were. The Boks weren’t helped with the early loss of Pat Lambie, but bar Mvovo and flashes from Le Roux, their backline showed little creativity. At one stage, before making way for Jesse Kriel, Lionel Mapoe looked perplexed at the lack of line breaks the Boks’ backs were making.

14. Jesse Kriel needs to start the next test. The Bulls man is a big, physical, dynamic player and offers a better attacking option than the centres of De Allende or Mapoe. Whatever the reasons for benching him for the first Test, he needs to start.

15. Eben Etzebeth relishes the physicality of the Springboks. Early in the game, he dove across a ruck to get to Stander. Later, he entered a ruck and blasted Jamie Heaslip. He constantly winds up his opposition, and holds no fear for his own safety. Made a number of mistakes late in the game, but one of the Springboks’ best assets.

16. Paddy Jackson showed the world what he is capable of. I campaigned for the Six Nations tournament for Jackson to be involved, and feel totally vindicated due to his performance. He was cool under pressure, and when the points were on offer, he told his captain he wanted to kick for goal. Ireland’s effort can be epitomised through Jackson, when in the 78th minute, he ripped the ball from Springbok number 8, Duane Vermeulen, in the tackle.

17. Andy Farrell has clearly made an impact on the Ireland team. Defence wins matches, and the first Test was a prime example. South Africa failed to score before half-time when Ireland were down to 13 men. Additionally, their first try should have been disallowed and their second came from an Irish lapse in concentration. The Irish defence will only continue to improve throughout the series. Henderson, Mike Ross, et al, were fantastic.

18. Jared Payne should continue to play at fullback for club and country. He only had to make two tackles but he aligned and marshalled his troops, and was sublime in attack, picking superb lines and making superb offloads. He is the best 15 in Ireland.

19. Mathieu Raynal is not an international standard referee. He awarded a red card which nearly spoiled the game, went to the TMO every second occasion, and made poor calls for both sides throughout the game.

20. Special mention to the Ireland U20 team who beat New Zealand U20 yesterday in what was a thrilling game.

Joe Schmidt and his backroom staff sit down to select the squad to tour South Africa. People in the room include Head Coach Joe Schmidt, forwards’ coach Simon Easterby, scrum coach Greg Feek, kicking and skills coach Richie Murphy, S&C coach Jason Cowman, and video analyst Mervyn Murphy.

Joe: Thanks for coming, guys. Let’s get down to it.

Simon: I reckon we should start by looking at the Pro 12 Team of the Year. What you think, Joe?

Joe: No need. I’m just going to go with tried and trusted.

Greg: But a lot of these Connacht guys had great seasons?

Joe: Ah fine, throw in a few, but that’s it. No more. I put Robbie, Nathan, and Finlay in during the 6 Nations, are they not happy with that?

Greg: Finlay is going well. I like him. It’s a pity Buckley isn’t fit to trav-

Joe: Ross and McGrath. Next.

Richie: I have been working with Paddy a lot lately, I think he should be our first choice ten to tour. Perhaps bring him and Madigan, Johnny has had a long year.

Joe: Nope.

Richie: Eh?

Joe: Nope. Johnny does the loop. I like the like. Loop is good. Loop works.

Andy Farrell: Owen’s been going well for Sarries this year, Joe. I reckon he could go well against the Boks. He’s skilful, aggressive, his kicking stats are great too.

Joe: Andy, you’re not meant to be here. And Owen is travelling to Australia?

Andy Farrell: Owen will do what I tell him. Just keep it in mind.

Richie: Paddy has had the Ulster backline firing all seas-

Joe: Simon, you had your hand up?

Simon: Another guy I’d like to look at is John Muldoon. He’s had a good season, provincial captain, great around the park and very strong in the ruck area.

Jason: His gym numbers are great. They’re right up there.

Mervyn: I did quite a bit of video analysis on him this week, his work rate it phenomenal.

Joe: I’ve two words for you. Jamie. Heaslip.

Simon: Well… We could still bring him?

Joe: OK, I’ll tell you what. We’ll bring Sean Reidy.

Simon: But that’s not-

Joe: Simon, it’s quiet time now. OK, we’re pretty much done. The midfield sorts itself. We’re going to bring Olding and Marshall to pair with Robbie, and Jared can cover centre and 15 too. Let’s just move to the back three.

Andy Farrell: Owen can cover 12. I’m just putting it out there.

Joe: Andy, mate. Please. Stop it now.

Simon: I was hoping we could discuss Tommy O’Donnell?

Joe: Discuss away. He’s still not going. Now, back three options. Keith has been going well down in Munster, so he’s in. Luke’s in too. Andrew has been great this year, a real work horse, and is a big physical guy as well as skilful, so he’s in. He’ll serve us well.

Simon: I really think Tommy is worth bringing. He’s back to full fitness.

Joe: Simon, we’ve moved on. You should have brought this up earlier. Richie?

Richie: The Connacht back three are really worth a look. Great skill set, acceleration, they know where the try-line is.

Joe: Well, Rob Kearney did well a few years ago, and I like the name Dave. So they’re in.

Richie: Craig’s been going well in Ulster, and Matt Healy has had a tremendous season?

Joe: Rob and Dave. If there’s an injury somewhere, we can consider someone else.

Mervyn: The Connacht back three have 19 tries this season so far, Leinster’s have two?

Joe: OK. OK. OK. We’ll take Dave Kilcoyne. Right gents, I have to go. I’d like to thank you all for your help today. Have a good day.

Simon: But I really think we-

Joe: That’s great, thanks Simon.



This is meant purely as a tongue-in-cheek piece. I’ve nothing but respect for Joe Schmidt, and what he has accomplished in the game. It’s just a bit of fun.


“Pain is temporary”. A phrase a lot of young people are told when they first start playing rugby. It’s one of those old clichés, up there with “the bigger they are, the harder they fall”. A lie, in other words. The bigger they are, the more painful they are to tackle. Nor is pain temporary. Not even close. With Mental Health Awareness Week taking place at the moment, we look at the safety of players and the impact rugby is having on their future health.

When you think of everything that goes into a rugby match, it is far more than just 80 minutes of trying to get the ball down on the other side of the pitch. There are a high number of collisions (between the tackle, ruck, and maul areas). A high number of training sessions include contact drills of some description. Players train in the gym in order to make themselves more athletic, stronger, and bigger than their opposition. And only the elite are monitored closely.

Most players will play while carrying an injury. Granted, they may not train in the lead up to that game in order to rehabilitate the injury as much as possible, but they will play. Look at Dan Carter in the Champions Cup final for Racing 92. He went into the game with one good leg, and came off early in the second half. Racing 92 still have the remainder of their domestic league to play-so why risk it? But the “it” is not risking missing your best player; the “it” is making sure the player isn’t risking his health in the future.

Sabbaticals are not a concept lost on Dan Carter. He went to Perpignan a number of years ago, and got out of the New Zealand limelight for a year. The idea was that playing away from all that pressure would rejuvenate his game. In theory it was a great concept. In reality, he ruptured his Achilles and played very little rugby.

Carter was destined to shine on the big stage, but getting knocked out of the 2007 World Cup and getting injured in the 2011 campaign stole that from him. He took a second sabbatical, this time not playing the game whatsoever. A while later, he was Man of the Match in a World Cup final, and kicked his last All Black conversion with his weaker leg.

I’m not saying a sabbatical was the magic behind his performance that day; I’m simply saying it helped.

Alex Corbisiero toured Australia in 2013 with the British and Irish Lions, and scored a try in the third Test. He established himself as one of the top front-rowers in the game. But he decided he had enough. His decision came about as his contract with Northampton Saints was winding down, and he chose to simply not renew his contract. Now, he’s in a good place.

“I’ve had 14 weeks off and feel really good. I was physically and mentally spent after 10 years of full-time rugby. The intensity, the physicality, the injuries and the pressure I put on myself took its toll. I knew if I wanted to play rugby again I had to stop for a while.”

It was brave of ‘Corbs’ to take a break, and he knew not everyone would appreciate his decision. But he did it anyway, as it was best for him. He was proactive rather than waiting for an injury to prevent him from playing long into the future.

But players want to play. They love the game, they love their job, and after earning an opportunity for become a professional sportsman/woman, why would they give it up for a year and face an uncertain future or a year with zero income? You require some level of robustness to play rugby, and fans can confuse that with being almost unbreakable. It’s simply not the case. Especially when it comes to younger players:

“The accumulative wear-and-tear worries me. Maro Itoje is a superstar at 21 and we need to make sure that in six years, at his peak, he’s fresh enough to be physically imposing. He’s a phenomenal player but we can’t have him being run into the ground by playing 30-odd games every season. Same as George North. He’s 24 and playing Tests since he was 18 – without a proper break. We have to look after these great players.”

Robert Kitson wrote a piece on England’s Rugby Championship system in which he referenced Ben Hooper’s sentiments. Hooper feels that players in the Championship are being forced to accept contracts by people with “scant interest in their physical or mental well-being”, but for very little money. Whereas the money is an issue, welfare should be the upmost priority. The mental aspect of the sport is just as strenuous as the physical.

Kitson also wrote an article based on the mental strain players face in professional rugby. He admires Rory Lamont’s opening up in the Sunday Times about his feelings towards retirement, and rightly so, as it was incredibly courageous:

“You’re thinking: ‘I don’t want to live like this. I’d rather die. Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll get struck by lightning or step in front of a bus.’ Coming out of rugby, my world pretty much collapsed.”

Kitson also describes how Lamont went on to describe how he struggles to cope outside what professionals would describe as a “safety-blanket” of club rugby. He added:

“Once that’s removed, you’re that little child, completely scared, totally vulnerable and very much on your own. I wasn’t always in love with rugby, but I was surrounded by friends, travelling the world. Suddenly everything was gone. I felt like a spent battery, tossed on the scrapheap.”

But all this talk of taking a break is not a recent phenomenon. George Chuter echoed Corbisiero’s sentiments in an interview with the Guardian, when he spoke about how his gift of a long career was in fact borrowed time from his future:

“I’m under no illusions. You have a great career, you have a great time – and it is a great career – but the human body can’t take that sort of punishment and come away scot-free. If you want to get to the top level you’ve got to make sacrifices. And it’s not just your time, or a bag of chips – it’s sacrificing your long‑term health. You want to have that time in the sun. But unfortunately it’s a deal with the devil.”

But Chuter decided to act, and like Corbisiero, he took a sabbatical in 2000. He felt he disillusioned with the game, so he walked away for a time. As fans will know, that did not signal the end of Chuter. He came back to have an illustrious career with Leicester Tigers and became a fan favourite.

But since Chuter’s sabbatical in 2000, one he took partially due to being mentally drained, things have changed. Players are only a tweet away from being accessible to the public 24/7, leaving them prime targets for upset fans after a poor game. Social media is just another platform where these players, who may be struggling internally, can be poked at with taunts and ill wishes. This does not help to aid their mental recuperation. It does not add to their self-confidence, or their self-worth. Just because they play sport at an elite level does not mean they aren’t struggling with their own issues.

Sabbaticals seem to work. Alex Corbisiero is happy. George Chuter returned to have a glittering career. Dan Carter became the World Player of the Year for the third time. His New Zealand team-mate and twice-winning World Cup captain Richie McCaw deemed one necessary. Of late, David Pocock had a sabbatical to study abroad included in his contract. Even Joe Marler has withdrawn himself from the England tour to Australia to rest for next season. But how could unions go about to make these breaks accessible to players who can’t afford to take one off their own backs?

Perhaps the unions could include a sabbatical period in every contract. Players could be offered the option of a period of 3-6 months half-pay in return for taking one, or clubs could offer the option of a six month paid leave after a certain period of service. Just an idea.

A sabbatical could offer players a chance to build on their lives outside rugby; experience what it’s like to live a normal life for a while, let them concentrate on their business or focus on what they’ll do when they hang up the boots. It would allow them to recover mentally and physically, so that Lamont’s situation won’t be repeated.

I am also in no way stating that the clubs, unions, or players’ unions are not doing a good job; I’m only hoping that player welfare continues to improve. With this being Mental Health Awareness Week, there’s no time like the present.

Image Credit: Sky Sports

Interview Credit: The Irish Times, The Guardian


Tá stíl imeartha rugbaí d’fhoirne an Pro 12 ag dul in olcas. Tá foirne anois ag iarradh cluiche cosanta a imirt; tá siad ag iarraidh an cluiche a bhuachaint ó bhotúin a sainnithe. Ach ní féidir an méid seo a rá faoi Chonnacht.


Le trí shéasúr anuas, tá Pat Lam ag cruthú stíl imeartha nua sa gcúige, stíl ionsaithe nach bhfuil foireann eile sa sraith ag imirt. Chaill siad go leor cluichí ag tús a réimis, ach ní a thuilleadh. Ghlac na himreoirí leis, agus ghlac lucht leanúna an chúige chomh maith, agus anois tá siad sa dara áit sa sraith.


Bhí Rob Penny ag iarraidh an stíl céanna a chruthú do Mhumha nuair a bhí seisean ina chónaí i Luimneach, ach ní raibh lucht leanúna an Mumhain sásta fanacht air. Chaill sé go leor cluichí i rith blianta a cheannasaíochta (shroich sé babhta leath-cheannais na hEorpa freisin, rud nach ndearna Foley) agus fuarthas réidh leis.


Ach bhí an ceart ag Connacht níos mó ama a thabhairt go Lam a stíl imeartha a thabhairt isteach. Anois, tá na scileanna ag Connacht ionsaí a dhéanamh ó áit ar bith ar an bpáirc. Cé go bhfuil go leor gortuithe acu, tá siad fós in ann a stíl féin a imirt. Tá sé ionsuite sna himreoirí.


D’imigh Connacht chuig an bhFrainc an deireadh seachtaine seo chaite chun cluiche leath-ceannais a imirt in aghaidh Grenoble, agus beidh ‘séard a tharla ann i gcuimhne na leantóirí go deo. Cluiche den scoth a bhí ann, cluiche a chaill Connacht le pointe amháin. Cé gur chaill siad, d’imir siad cluiche nach bhféadaidís in ann imirt trí bhliain ó shin. D’imir siad le saorimeacht, bród, luas agus paisean.


Thosaigh Shane O’Leary an cluiche ag uimhir a deich de dheasca gortuithe ag AJ MacGinty agus Jack Carty. Chuir sé cic trasna na páirce ina 22 féin, ach ní uaidh féin a tháinig an cinnedh sin; cinnte gur tháinig an teachtaireacht sin ó Lam chun an chic sin a dhéanamh. Ach rinne sé a sheacht ndícheall, agus tógfaidh sé go leor muinín ón gcluiche. Fuair sé slánú ón taobhlíne go luath sa gcluiche agus stiúir sé an imirt i rith a thréimhse ar an bpáirc.


Ach má tá muid chun caint faoi imreoir a raibh an tionchar is mó ar an gcluiche aige, caithfidh muid labhairt faoi Matt Healy. D’imir sé thar barr. Bhí sé breá compórdach i ról an lánchúlaí. Fuair sé úd, agus rinne sé dhá úd freisin. Rith sé gach uile liathróid a bhfuair sé agus ní raibh cosaint Grenoble in ann déileáil leis an sleaschéim nó leis aluas a bhí aige. Is dóigh go raibh Joe Schmidt ag breathnú ar an gcluiche, agus sheol Healy teachtaireacht thar a bheith soileár dó: tá sé réidh don stáitse idirnáisiúnta.


Bhí Fergus McFadden ar bhinse na hÉireann i rith an 6 Násúin mar gheall go raibh an córas cosanta ar eolas aige (nílim ag rá gur drochimreoir é ach oiread, ach bhí imreoirí Éireannacha eile ag imirt níos fearr ná é ag an am). Níor roghnaigh Schmidt Healy mar gheall ar seo. Ach i rith an tsamhraidh, ba cheart do Healy dul chuig an Afraic Theas agus geansaí na hÉireann a chaitheamh. Beidh bainisteoir nua ag foireann na hAifraice Theas agus beidh siad ag streachailt leis an stíl nua a bheidh á thabhairt isteach aige. Cinnte, cluichí fisiciúla a bhéas ann, ach is deis iontach é an turas sin imreoirí ar nós Healy, chomh maith le Ultan Dillane, Finley Bealham agus Garry Ringrose, a thriail. Taithí iontach a bheadh ann dóibh.  


Beidh Connacht ag imirt in aghaidh na Mumhan i nGaillimh an deireadh seachtaine beag seo agus is cluiche ollmhór é do na Connachtaigh agus na Mumhanaigh. Beidh daoine ag rá go mbeith sé deacair d’fhoireann Connachta a n-intinn a réiteach tar éis dóibh chailliúit sa bhFrainc.


Ach breathnaigh ar na firicí: chuaigh siad chuig ceantar na hAlpa gan a gcéad, dara nó triú rogha leathchúlaí amuigh; d’ionsaigh siad ó gach áit ar an bpáirc; ní raibh go leor imreoirí céad-roghnach acu; chaill siad Jake Heenan díreach roimh an gcluiche. Ach fós scóráil siad 32 pointe agus ceithre úd. Ní fhaigheann mórán foirne 32 pointe in aghaidh foirne Fraince le foireann iomlán sa mbaile, gan trácht a dhéanamh ar chluiche as baile.


B’fhéidir gur chaill Connacht in aghaidh Grenoble sa bhFrainc, ach d’imir siad thar barr, le himreoirí a chreideann sa ngeansaí, sa mbainisteoir agus sa stíl imeartha. Tá Jack Carty ar ais ag treanáil arís freisin, agus is suimiú ollmhór é sin freisin. Imreoidh siad leis an stíl imeartha agus an paisin céanna in aghaidh na Mumhan; ní athróidh tada ach an timpeallacht.

Pictiúr tógtha ó Newstalk.


Dominic Ryan first came to my attention in the U20 World Cup, when he played alongside captain Rhys Ruddock in the backrow. I remember thinking Ruddock, due to his frame and power, would grab the headlines, but I remember thinking Ryan was a fantastic footballer at openside.

Fast forward seven years, and believe it or not, Ryan is a senior member of the Leinster team, which he realised while looking at a teamsheet:

“I think I was the second most-capped player in the squad behind Isa (Nacewa),” said Ryan yesterday.

“I never (thought about it) you just go out on the pitch and just play and talk to myself. Maybe that’s been the reason why, over the past six or eight months, I play more of a leadership role in the squad.

“You’ve got a lot of young guys in the team, who maybe are looking for leadership – because I have 100 caps or whatever I’ve played. That was the case when I was a young guy. You’d always have the likes of Jenno in the team, who’d be the older maybe non-international player, who’s always there providing leadership.

If things are going wrong on the pitch, or defensively getting lads sorted. I suppose, my role changed in terms of: ‘I’m not on the pitch to just make tackles and carry’.”

This senior player mindset isn’t a new phenomenon. If you look at the Leinster team, it is littered with players who have been there and done that. But what niggles Ryan is how little rugby he is playing even though he has amassed 100 caps. Asked if he has ever considered leaving the province, his answer may not be liked by the Leinster faithful:

“Oh I have, yes, I have,” the flanker told the hoard of microphones in front of him.

“You talk to the coaches about it, keep it to yourself, talk to fellow players about it.  Maybe you’re not playing because you are not good enough. Sometimes it is down to yourself, am I playing well enough to get picked? Sometimes you might be to blame yourself.

“It’s a luxury for Leinster that they have so many quality back rows. It’s a pain for players, but you’ve grown up in Leinster and your whole life, you’ve dreamed of playing for Leinster.

“What am I, six seasons now at it? Yeah, it might be an option in the future, but I’m contracted for next season (to 2017) so I just have that in mind and whatever happens after that we’ll see.

“It’s important to get a run of games. It’s tough to try and get into a rhythm when you’re playing 20 minutes off the bench. Then you start a game and you mightn’t play the next weekend, then you might be benching the weekend after that. Regular game time is important for me mentally as well as physically.

“I’ve had a good run now that the lads are away at the Six Nations, so hopefully I’ll keep it up.”

Second place Leinster face table leaders Connacht in the Sportsground this weekend, and will look to grind out a win to continue their rise in the league. But it seems Ryan will have extra motivation.

Sean O’Brien will be soon returning from injury and looking to earn a spot on the plane to South Africa in a backrow who already delivered in the Six Nations. Rhys Ruddock will also be vying for a place in the squad. Even new boy Van Der Flier is ahead of him in the pecking order.

Ryan is a team player; in his mind, Leinster comes first. But given he is looking for an opportunity to join the rest of the Irish squad at Dublin airport this summer, he will have the bit between his teeth to impress.