image

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.

Advertisements

Our RBS 6 Nations XV

Posted: March 21, 2016 in Uncategorized

image

With the competition ending on Saturday, with Hartley’s England being Grand Slam champions, we decided to select our RBS 6 Nations XV.

1. Jack McGrath
2. Guilhem Guirado
3. WP Nel
4. Maro Itoje
5. George Kruis
6. CJ Stander
7. John Hardie
8. Billy Vunipola
9. Greig Laidlaw
10. Dan Biggar
11. Virimi Vakatawa
12. Owen Farrell
13. Duncan Taylor
14. George North
15. Stuart Hogg

What do you think?

Jones Engages in Scrum Debate

Posted: March 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

image

Eddie Jones seemed pretty unhappy with questions raised about Joe Marler’s scrummaging in an interview with BBC. Here’s what he had to say on the matter:

Are Wales a one dimensional side?

What Wales do, they play the laws very well. I’m quite upset about the way they scrummage. They scrummage illegally. They pre-engage all the time which is against the laws of the game.

What happens in a game of rugby is that they pre-engage because they don’t want the contest at the start of the scrum.

They get penalised one or two times at the start of the scrum, but then they get sick of penalising them because if the referee keeps penalising them, then the referee gets criticised.

We really want to have a scrum contest on Saturday as that’s an important part of the game, so we’re really hopeful the referee enforces the law in that area.

So you think they’ve been scrummaging illegally all Six Nations?

Absolutely 100%. Terribly illegally. You’re not allowed to pre-engage, that’s part of the law. But they do it and they consistently do it, but they only get penalised at the start of the game because if you’re Wayne Barnes or Craig Joubert and you keep penalising Wales for pre-engaging, then what will all the smart guys in the commentators box say?

They’ll say the referee is ruining the game, but the referee isn’t ruining the game, it’s the team that is scrummaging illegally that’s ruining the game.

We want the referee to be really hard and if he wants to ruin the game, then he has to ruin the game.

Do they take out the contest of the scrum?

They try to take out part of the contest of the scrum, which is the very small engagement but is so important.

World Rugby has spoken about being ear to ear the whole time and that’s why we don’t want teams to pre-engage.

Wales don’t want that contest for the engagement.

What do you want Craig Joubert to do if Wales are up to their tricks?

Keep penalising them.

Could the scrum turn into a lottery at the weekend?

We’ve got the strongest scrum, so we want proper scrum laws. We want the laws enforced and if they are enforced we’ll get an advantage in that area.

Has Jones, a man who said he wouldn’t speak to the media before the Welsh game, planted some seeds in the referee’s mind already?

image

There’s a hurling goalkeeper from Cork, Ireland, named Anthony Nash. What makes Nash special, besides the fact he’s mental enough to want to play in that position, is that he was the penalty taker for his team.

Whenever Cork won a penalty, it was Nash who would jog the length of the field and try his hand at scoring. It wasn’t because he had a subtle skill that made him the best penalty taker on the team. It’s because he bent the rules.

Nash would rise the sliotar, but raise it high enough so as he could run in a few yards and blast it towards goal at a much closer range. Nothing wrong here-the rule simply stated that the player must raise the sliotar from the marked spot. Nash was doing exactly that.

But over the next few months, people began to complain. After all, this was a very dangerous practice and an opposition goalkeeper could incur a serious injury. Young players were seeing this and, as it normally resulted in a goal, were going to copy this style. Committees met, people argued, and low and behold the rule was changed. Now he had to strike the sliotar on or before the 20 metre line. All credit to the GAA, they recognised a dangerous practice and ruled it out before it resulted in a serious injury.

Why am I talking about Anthony Nash? Because the argument behind his style of penalty taking in hurling hints at a problem in rugby.

The chop tackle is probably the most effective tackle in rugby, especially in underage rugby when some children or teenagers tower over their opposite numbers. So kids are told to get low. The higher the tree, and all that.

This is good practice. It encourages low tackling, good positioning, and good technique. The chop tackle stops the player at source, and allows a supporting defender to to attempt a turnover.

Simple, straightforward, safe.

But now there comes the argument of Dan Lydiate, the world’s best chop tackler. He gets incredibly low, and more often than not, stops the attack at source.

The only problem is, much like Nash, Lydiate is bending the rules. Against France, he was penalised for not using his arms in the tackle, but by the TMO who told Barnes to come back for it. In fairness to Barnes, it’s tough to tell if a player uses his arms or not from four yards away.

But Lydiate aims for bootlaces,as the term goes. He goes as low as he physically can, which often results in him hitting area around the bottom of the shin. People may not agree with this, but that is dangerous.

I know we’re talking about a tackle that is the complete and utter opposite of a high tackle, which means it should be completely fine. But is it?

One of the more common types of non-contact knee injury occurs when the foot “sticks” to the ground and the knee or ankle experiences abnormal stress. As the player stops suddenly or plants his or her foot, the boot stays planted and the knee experiences both shear and rotational stress. This, in turn leads to increased risk of knee injury, particularly ruptures of the anterior cruciate ligament.

In Layman’s terms, if your foot is stuck in the ground and you’re moving forward, something has to give. Getting kicked in the shin is something we’ve all experienced. Somebody propelling their body weight into your shin, as your foot is planted in the ground with studs, is something completely different.

Teenagers hear about Lydiate’s tackle success and how he is one of the best defenders in the world due to his technique. Players all over the world play the game in order to have fun and develop as much as possible. Developing into a quality defender is also one of their goals.

It is simply dangerous. If done from the front, it can cause hyperextension of the knee, and from the side, a broken or seriously hurt ankle.

Again, people are going to argue that it’s not a high tackle, it isn’t the main cause of concussion, or we shouldn’t be talking about limiting another tackle while the ban on tackling in school’s/youth rugby is such a hot topic (which is simply ridiculous, I’d like to add).

All I want to ensure is that the chop tackle stays as safe as possible-arms used, and not looking to hit someone’s lower shin bone as their leg is already planted. All it requires is a little tweak in the laws and referees to clamp down on it. Suddenly, we get the safe tackle we want to see practised without the negatives involved.

Much like the controversy of Nash and his penalty-taking style, all it requires is a little tweak.

b8866970z.1_20151106054822_000_g2vcaube.3_1-1b3nk3h

David Pocock installing a mono pump at a borehole on his grandfather’s conservancy in Zimbabwe

David Pocock is mostly known for his work on the playing pitch. He was my pick for Player of the Tournament in last year’s Rugby World Cup, and has been widely acclaimed for his talents. Stephen Larkham has also stated (in a documentary based on Pocock) that Australia had the best defence of any team in that competition because “we had David out there who would eventually steal the ball from the opposition”.

But Pocock is not just a rugby player. He is an activist, and he has long been campaigning for human rights and trying to improve the world, bit by bit.

Pocock was once arrested for taking part in a coal-mining protest in New South Wales after he chained himself to some mining equipment. But he did so knowing full well that he may land in some hot water: “You weigh up the cost of it and whether you think the message is the right thing to do,” Pocock said. “With the coal mining protest, I knew there would be backlash. But I knew signing up with those farmers, it was the right thing to do.”

In a statement, the ARU said: “The Australian Rugby Union has issued a formal written warning to David Pocock following his arrest yesterday. While we appreciate David has personal views on a range of matters, we’ve made it clear that we expect his priority to be ensuring he can fulfil his role as a high-performance athlete. The matter is now subject to legal proceedings, and we will now let the legal process take its course.”

Granted, Pocock could be viewed as bringing the game into disrepute, but he wasn’t starting a fight on the street while intoxicated; he was fighting something far greater and was simply expressing his democratic right to protest.

In March of last year, Pocock complained to the referee that a NSW Waratah’s player made a homophobic slur towards a fellow Brumbies player. Jacques Potgieter owned up (credit where credit is due) and was eventually fined $10,000 by the ARU for using homophobic language.

“It certainly blew up a lot more than what I thought it would,” Pocock said. “I honestly didn’t think it would go past an on-field incident.

“One of the funny things about what happened was that it became that I was pushing the incident. [Brumbies captain] Stephen Moore initially raised it, Scott Fardy mentioned it as well. As players, we’re really keen to make a stand and say that homophobia or any sort of discrimination isn’t acceptable. In the heat of battle, for you to dig deep and that’s the worst thing you can come up with, that’s a pretty sad reflection of our culture.”

The back-rower has long been a campaigner for same-sex marriage, and has stated the he will not wed until the laws are changed an inclusive. So I doubt the flak he received would have bothered him very much. However, the idea of shining a light on homophobia in sport was ideal.

“Sport is at its best when it’s challenging society to become more inclusive. The more of those conversations we have, the better. There’s a lot of young players out there struggling with their sexuality and they need to at least have a safe environment to enjoy themselves on the sports-field. It’s been a cultural thing, but I think we’re starting to see a shift and that’s really exciting for me.”

But it doesn’t end there. Pocock, whose family was forced to flee Zimbabwe when he was young, has his own charity set up in his native land named eightytwentyvision.org, which looks to improve maternal care and health, child nutrition, farming, and care for HIV sufferers. This charity is funded not only by donations, but a part of his salary as well.

“It’s pretty dire in Zimbabwe and I’ve always wanted to make a difference.

“When you stay in a rural area in Zimbabwe, you see the reality of how much people are battling in their way of life.

“I visited hospitals and met elders from the villages to start building a bit of a relationship,” Pocock said of his visit to the villages.

“There are demonstration farming plots in the villages where the local farmers are invited to see the benefits of non-traditional methods.

“Seed is planted over a much smaller area so a mother, with AIDS, and her kids can do that whereas getting behind a plough and oxen is unrealistic for them.

“You get to understood what a difference a daily bowl of corn soybean porridge can make to nutrition and learning amongst 4000 kids.”

David Pocock is not your average player. He is so much more. He is a people person, one who genuinely cares for others, regardless of sexual preference or social standing. He stands up for what he believes in, and is not afraid to face the consequences.

When asked if the coal-mining arrest would affect playing international rugby, he replied “If that was going to jeopardise playing for the Wallabies, that’s how it was going to be”, when the majority of others would be nervous to rock the boat.

Pocock has a lot of rugby left to play, and will no doubt captain Australia again someday. But it’s outside rugby where he will make his biggest hits.

Photo credit to The Western Australian

image

Ireland travel to Twickenham Saturday to face Jones’ English team. Here’s what he had to say about the idea of targeting Sexton:

“Sexton is an interesting one, they’ve talked about him having whiplash injury which is not a great thing to talk about,” said Jones.

“I’m sure his mother and father would be worried about that. Hopefully, the lad’s all right on Saturday to play.

“We target players all the time. That’s part of rugby is it not? Is there some sort of special law there?

“There are 15 players out there. Are we supposed to not run at one player? Hang on, hang on, he’s got a red dot on his head, we don’t run at him.

“Rugby’s a game of XV players on the field. When we’re attacking, we’re attacking weak defenders. Why would we run at the strongest defender?

“We are not going to run at their strongest defenders, we’ll always run at their weakest.

“I’m not saying Sexton is a weak defender. Maybe France did. We’re going to be targeting players in the Ireland side.

“We want to win and you win a game of rugby by attacking their weak points and to say that’s unfair is just ridiculous.”

Protecting Sexton

Posted: February 23, 2016 in Uncategorized

The subject of Jonathan Sexton’s durability has been one of constant discussion for not only the last number of weeks, but for the last number of seasons. When he joined Racing 92, both he and the media expressed how much more of a toll the average season was taking on his body.

He returned to Ireland a tired body. He had played more games than he would have at home, and sustained more injuries as a result.

He tackles hard (sometimes too high for comfort) and takes a beating every time he steps on the pitch. Jonny Wilkinson was the same. Gifted with distribution skills, be it from the hand or boot, and an aggressive defender. In Ireland’s opening Six Nations game against Wales, he walked off the pitch with eyes tightly shut, hand clutched to the chest, in obvious pain. Again, he took a beating for his team.

image

Sexton comes off the pitch against Wales in obvious pain

And finally, the word that has been thrown around the media in the last six months like never before, there’s concussion. Sexton is a player who relishes the physicality of the sport. He was forced to sit out a number of games last season and this is brought up in the media after what feels like every game.

A fit Jonny Sexton, in Joe Schmidt’s mind, is Ireland’s starting outhalf. This has become clear in the last number of weeks, especially when he was far from Ireland’s in-form flyhalf leading up to the tournament. Schmidt faces the dilemma of protecting his play maker and having him on the pitch. But there’s a way he could accomplish both.

It starts with team selection. Keep Sexton in the ten spot, but have Stuart McCloskey at inside centre. This would free up a 13 position for either Henshaw or Payne, with the other playing at fullback instead of Rob Kearney.

This isn’t a case of simply swapping 10 and 12 at defensive lineouts and scrums; why not move Sexton to 15, and have your 15 in the defensive line. The reason I’m opting to take Kearney out is not due to a defensive weakness, but due to the fact he has offered very little in attack in the last few seasons.

It would require some work, such as training Sexton to defend at 15 off set pieces, or training a centre or fullback to defend at 10, but that is extremely doable. A number of problems could arise, but so too do simple solutions.

Opposition teams would still run at the 10 channel hoping to exploit a defensive weakness, but you still have the covering backrow coming around. Off scrums, you may have a back line move looking to counter the fact a player is out of position at 10, but so many back line moves look to go wide that the worst to be dealt with was a simple one-off runner looking for a speed bump.

image

A banged up Sexton playing with Racing 92

If Sexton stood at 15, teams may choose to bomb him with high balls with pressure from wingers. And although Sexton may not be as solid as Rob Kearney under high balls, he is still very comfortable under them. I’m sure Schmidt would would rather Sexton taking the odd hit of a winger than a constant stream of runners down his channel.

Then there’s the strong possibility that the opposition kickers overcook their target and leave him space to counter kick. He’s usually there during open play anyway, so what’s different? He’s just safer from the front line. The argument of not having a running fullback is also void; Ireland don’t play the Alex Goode type or fullback.

I imagine a lot of people are going to say that this idea would never work and that a specialised 10 should stick to their channel. I’d urge those people to look at Australia during the last Rugby World Cup. Bernard Foley acted almost like a winger in most games during defence, as the Wallabies sought to protect their most valuable play maker. In the end, they reached the final. Super Rugby teams also adopt this system in games, looking to keep their flyhalves away from the heavy hits in defence.

On turnover ball, Sexton may not be first receiver for the first phase, but so what? Any international back should be able to catch the ball and pop it to a forward or, better still, act as first receiver for a phase.

This is a defensive pattern that would require some work, but not a major amount. It would allow Ireland to keep their flyhalf on the pitch, but to protect him to a higher decree. Pressure kicks, although never easy, wouldn’t be faced by a battered body; they’d be faced by a fresher flyhalf.