Free Your Inner Rodrigo Roncero

Ireland’s forward pack had a most harrowing afternoon, bossed around by the (previously) most maligned pack in world rugby, milked for penalties at scrum-time, and then mauled over their own line. We’ve been cooking this one up in our mind for a while, but it all seemed to come to a head on Saturday – our pack lacks enforcers, and is composed of a bunch of really good and likeable guys.

Since the game went open, Ireland’s provincial academies have produced a consistent stream of well-rounded, talented and dedicated players – model professionals and model gentlemen to boot – exactly the type of well-spoken and thoughtful chap you’d like to see your daughter meet. The skills required for a young rugby players to get through a provincial academy are innate skills (obviously) but much, much more. They also require application, dedication, focus, intelligence and drive (in the career sense – the drive to work hard at a really uncertain profession, as opposed to punching the clock in an office like we do). It really takes a special type of young man to eschew all the charms of the drink-sodden student lifestyle to hit the pool at 6am – the sort of blue-collar player who in the past learned his trade on the job (in both a sporting and professional sense) simply isn’t going to apply at 18, and by 24, its all passed you by.

But has something been lost in the transition from players coming through the clubs to those coming from academy structures from the age of 18? In years past, the Darwinian and mucky nature of the Irish club game produced hard-nosed, hard-nut forwards who were raised not on a diet of nutrition plans and fitness programs, but beating the tar out of their bitter rivals on the field, then sinking twenty pints with them after. It produced a different sort of character to that which the pro game supplies. In France and England, they still have a little bit of that – think Yannick Forestier or Steve Borthwick – men who are equally comfortable (or more) at a coalface as in a classroom, but we’ve lost something. It has hit Munster particularly badly – whereas Ulster and Leinster traditionally picked the best from the best schools, Munster polished the rough diamonds they found in Shannon, Garryowen, Young Munster and Cork Con. Munster’s current generation of forwards just aren’t of the Claw and Axel variety, as much piano players as the piano shifters of yore.

Rog made the point in analysis that our players should have been milling into their opponents after POM was dumped on his head with 8 minutes to go, but the game was long gone by then – we’d much rather have seen them manufacture a schemozzle with 8 minutes gone to mark the Wallabies cards. You can’t imagine the like of Quinny allowing a game to slip away without finding a way to get his teammates’ blood boiling.

Couple of cases in point in our current pack. Take Besty. Besty is a great guy. We mean a great guy – when he originally missed out on Lions duty, he tweeted that we should be thinking of Nevin Spence instead of him. But Besty isn’t  an on-pitch wild card the way, say, Jirry, was – it’s hard to imagine him fly-hacking Alexis Pallison or calling Thommo a fat c*nt. For Mike Ross, the ‘dark arts’ of the scrum we hear so much about are about the mechanics of the hit, not underhand digs or gouges. Jamie Heaslip, for all his undoubted qualities, doesn’t have anywhere near the rough-hewn and unpredictable edges of Mamuka Gorgodze, Francois Louw or Imanol Harinordoquoy.

Not that there is anything wrong with any of that of course, those three are excellent players, but for one reason or another, our current pack seem like great guys. From the DL, we really miss the uncontrollable physicality of Stephen Ferris – Palla and I were metres away from this – the aggression of Donnacha Ryan, and even the appetite for contact of NWJMB. Ryan Caldwell has slipped through the cracks, and Jirry, Wally and Denis Leamy are retired. It’s probably a generational thing, but we wonder have we lost something from times past that we just haven’t been able to replicate.

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77 Comments

  1. This article is really spot on. Within the Irish pack at the moment, skills and ability have been preferred over dog, needle, “dark arts”, etc. This is undoubtedly the right thing to do to try to maximise our ability to play rugby the way it should be but we are definitely left with a vacuum of pure physical aggression and ability to throw opponents off their game.

    The closest players to this are probably Healy, O’Mahony and Ryan, none of those three would put the fear of god in you down a dark alley… more’s the pity in the context of test level rugby.

    Aside from Healy’s stamp on Cole in the 6 nations, I can’t remember the last yellow Ireland got for an act of deliberate foul play let alone throwing a punch – obviously it’s counter productive to go that far but there just isn’t someone playing on that “edge” since Flannery/Quinlan. We are definitely not promoting that sort of player through the academies either.

    I know you refer to Leinster’s preference to pick from schools but we have historically had someone like that in our team: Leo when he’s fit, Nathan Hines, Felipe. Definitely not to the same degree as Munster but there has usually been one.

    If I stay with Leinster for e.g. just because I know them best, the up and coming guys in the pack just don’t have this about them: Dom Ryan, Ruddock, Murphy, Moore (although there does seem to be a glint in his eye but he hasn’t played enough to be sure!), McGrath are all lovely guys – they are technically adept, physically strong but none are what you’d say imposing characters/pack leaders. Even at their current lack of seniority and experience, it should still shine through if they have that edge to their game.

  2. Simon Farrell (@SFarrell_5)

     /  November 20, 2013

    In my mind DJ Church is probably the only player in the current Irish pack (for this series anyway) who has the requisite mean streak to take on an enforcer role or persona. Unfortunately when he does it tends to be OTT stuff like the stamp on Dan Cole’s leg last year. You can occasionally see a bit of fury from Sean “I’ll give you spuds” O’Brien but it tends to be a fleeting moment rather then a sustained, ruck-smashing, punish-everything-in-an-opposition-jersey fury. As alluded to in the post, most of the Irish pack are the ‘good face’ type of fellas, and you wonder do any of them give their opposite numbers truly uncomfortable games.

    Is it coached out of top-level players? Coaches deciding that in the modern game of yellow cards, TMOs and citing commissioners that even walking the line just isn’t worth it? The classic video of Hines holding down 3 Ulster players on their own 5 and Ferris and Wannenbosh doing no more than appealing to the ref/touch judge, tells its own story I think.
    At the level I play at it would be a rare game that the two packs don’t have a ‘coming together’ for some hand bags, (usually no more than grabbing each other by the collars and some shoving) but it does get the blood up a bit. Injects a bit of ‘bitterness’ and even some ‘pishun’ into the game and gives both teams a bit of grievance to right at the next ruck/maul.

    This debate isn’t something new I don’t think. Brent Pope’s autobiography mirrors the same ideas as in your post – the perceived contrast between ‘hard’ teams made up of the hard-livin’, hard-workin’ factory workers and the ‘soft’ University teams, the ‘Scarfies’ – probably the equivalent of academies in those days.

    • The debate isn’t new but might be misleading. Sure, Colin Meads was a hairy arsed farmer who left school early but Martin Johnson was a bank official. Roncero himself is a doctor and Blair Mayne – definitely worth a Google – was a solicitor.

      One of the functions of the academies is that they act as an insurance policy against some of the impact of injuries. For example, Stuart Olding recently did his cruciate but will be provided with top class support about his medical treatment and rehabilitation. This is undoubtedly a good thing.

      The academies act like a professional qualification for rugby players and share many of the same constraints as other professions, homogenisation being one, selection being another. When a player is in he receives top class support and training which is a Good Thing. But what players get in and how does that decision get made? What players miss selection by a narrow margin and how does this affect them compared to those that get in?

      Leo Cullen and Shane Jennings come from the same background as many players mentioned in earlier comments. They were went over to Leicester and got bashed around on Tuesdays.

      There’s a culture that has to be developed by clubs and nations. Bath used refer to “peer pressure” during their golden period. Other clubs parroted it but didn’t adopt those same standards or have the same players or personalities. Irish rugby has to decide what it wants from itself and for itself.

      • Billy

         /  November 20, 2013

        Fair point, I very much doubt “being a bad bast@rd” appears on many academy assessment scorecards.

        That said, I don’t agree with people that say potential internationals are lost to the game by the binary nature of academy system. If you have the talent and you want it badly enough, you’ll find a way to make it work, even if that means travelling abroad. If your attitude is “well I didn’t make the academy so I’m not bothered” the you probably don’t have the bloodymindedness to make it anyway.

      • curates_egg

         /  November 20, 2013

        You could probably trace it back to Trevor Brennan.

        • I think the article is about abrasive activity on the field against equals standing up rather than cowardly attacks by 18 stone professional athletes on small, unathletic spectators sitting down.

        • curates_egg

           /  November 21, 2013

          Say what now? My reply was to a post by Demented Mole where he suggested the Academies see illegal aggression as a negative characteristic and my point was that it could be traced back to Trev.

          You might define his career by one moment but he had a long career of onfield thuggery before he took it to the stands.

      • Simon Farrell (@SFarrell_5)

         /  November 20, 2013

        I may have been a little unclear in my original post @Dememtedmole; I don’t believe the nature of work done by rugby players in the amateur era was the reason they may have had a harder edge to them, but that fact that they were working outside of rugby. From there, having to train twice a week, do your own bit of gym work or whatever on the side etc.

        The point I was trying to get across was that, from an outsiders perspective, the provincial academies system can seem a little too cosseting of players in comparison.The benefits of the system that you outlined are obviously good things; I’m not trying to argue we should row back on the advancements in player welfare. I just wonder if there is still the attitude of taking the jersey off the back of the guy in front of you (cold, dead hands etc.)?

        The culture you talk about in your last point is an ever-evolving beast I would imagine. We at the end of the generation who had any experience of the good/bad old days (delete as applicable). The new drivers of the culture will be those whose experiences of top-level rugby have been ensconced in the protective bubble of elite schools, academies and the provinces. While there is no question that they have had to earn the right to those benefits through talent and application have they had to fight for them?

  3. Is this really the issue? While, for instance, I think the two players we’d take more than any others at the minute would be a bruising tight head lock and a quality tight head prop, I don’t think nastier in any way really means better, and the reason those would be the positions I would buttress is because those are the ones where we are technically the weakest.

    For instance, Rog’s suggestion there should have been a pile up after the Kuridrani red I found a bit depressing – IMO that would have put the seal on a pathetic performance; if you can’t beat them on the scoreboard try and beat them in a fight, marking your own card with the word ‘loser’ in capital letters.

    I’m in no doubt that we lacked ferocity/intensity/fizzicality/ooooooooh at the weekend – call it what you will – but this has nothing whatsoever to do with mean-ness or nastiness or any of those other inadequate replacements for toughness (actual toughness, not the chip-shop-warrior kind), class and the ability to push yourself to physical extremes will still keeping a cool head and clear thoughts.

    The best forward of my lifetime, certainly the finest of the pro era, is a man with seemingly no dirty streak whatsoever, despite taking all manner of cheap shots. Unfortunately if he’s playing in Dublin at the weekend it will be as captain of the opposition.

    Lack of nastiness, or whatever, is cited as an excuse too often when teams are poor. At the weekend we looked underprepared for a test match, with a coach saying he’s not really had adequate time with this group of players to get them moving his way. While I still consider it a rank bad performance, and international coaching necessarily involves making do in terms of time, it was effectively a pre-season team against one mid-season. We were beaten all ends up and must do better, yes, but stamping on people or kicking Alexis Pallison’s legs from under him won’t help us win anything.

    It may not read like it, but this post is a sort-of half agreement with the article.

    • I probably would have replied directly to this before posting below, but it hadn’t shown up when I was typing my post. I’d suggest that your view of rugby is a little too sanitised.

      For one thing, if an opposition player commits a serious piece of foul play to one of your team mates, you should absolutely react to defend your team-mate. I honestly don’t think there’s any way to argue otherwise, and the reality is that rugby is played that way at all levels.

      The battle for physical dominance isn’t just won on strength and technique, it’s also mental. If you watch the Lions 2009 Test series again, one of the most striking moments is the way O’Driscoll is intimidated by someone standing over him on the ground threatening to punch him in the first Test. In the second, O’Driscoll is fired up and basically gets his reaction in first. If your mindset is one of aggression and winning the physical battle, you can get the upper hand on superior opponents. Conversely, if you go out onto the pitch mentally underprepared, you can get beaten by inferioir opponents mostly off the back of their greater endeavour. We know this particularly well in Ireland, having caused plenty of great upsets off the back of exactly that kind of situation.

      Of course, none of this is to defend the likes of Fla kicking Palisson or Leo attempting to castrate Aurelien Rougerie, but it’s important not to forget that rugby is not simply technica,and physical or even mental, it’s also about aggression, and “putting the fear of God” into people. Not to be trite.

      • I think you’ve misunderstood me. Simply put, I was trying to draw a distinction between what the article above seems to be calling for, and what’s actually the ideal approach (as exemplified by McCaw). You seem to largely agree.

        And it’s not that I think turning your eyes the other way is acceptable when one of your guys gets a biffing. However, on this specific example, given the speed at which the tip tackle on POM was begun and finished – and with him quite understandably complaining to the ref almost immediately – I’ve no idea what you think the word ‘defend’ means, but it doesn’t apply here.

        No, we should not be passive, which we were at the weekend, but – again – my point is that nasty is not its opposite.

        • TJ Hooker

           /  November 20, 2013

          I agree, Larry. Obviously the pack have to play with a certain amount of agression – that goes without saying – and a bit of ‘controlled madness’ certainly wouldn’t hurt at times. I’d even agree that WoC is correct that we could do with one or two heavier lumps in the tight five especially. But if WoC is really looking to see where our pack is deficient he only has to watch the Aussie tries in the first half, featuring forwards running at pace and comfortably delivering accurate passes to support runners while being tackled – skills I believe our forwards (I’ll spare the backs’ blushes for the moment) could only dream about.

        • I probably did slightly misunderstand there alright. A reasonable point, and McCaw is indeed the examplar of toughness on the rugby pitch (as he’s the exemplar of many things on the rugby pitch). But there’s a reason there’s only one Richie McCaw, and in plenty of instances, the tough guys you have on your side are often niggly players as well. And when you look at recent and recent-ish Irish examples, like Cullen, Clohessy, Quinlan, Jennings, Ferris, a lot of them have something of a nasty streak. And a fair few of the game’s enforcers par excellence have it too; look at Bakkies Botha or Nathan Hines or Gorgodze. Nastiness isn’t the opposite of passive, and you’re completely right on that front, but it’s correlated with its opposite, and it’s a rare player who’s blessed with the physical and mental nous to be an enforcer without a streak of nastiness. (David Wallace is the only Irish example that comes to mind.)

          On the O’Mahony incident, perhaps “defend” was the wrong word. I’m afraid I’m going to have to side with O’Gara, though. Players can’t simply not react to a piece of foul play like that; the team has to show it won’t be bullied. Maybe that’s not the most sophisticated or technically modern opinion out there, but I’d say it remains true.

    • Wise words.

  4. And yet we’re subjected to constant lectures, both above and below the line, about how childish and unbecoming it is to see Peter O’Mahony get involved in jersey-tugging matches… Last weekend, he was speared directly onto his head, and not only did none of his team mates react to this extremely dangerous piece of foul play, none of them rowed in behind him when he did. (Which is disgraceful, to be frank.) You can be guaranteed that if that had happened to another player, O’Mahony would have immediately been involved. Perhaps there needs to be a reassessment of priorities on this particular issue.

    In terms of straight-up unpleasant people to play against, there don’t appear to be too many emerging. Munster’s two young loosehead props, Kilcoyne and James Cronin, both have plenty of niggle to them, especially the latter, but not many of our other young players seem to. Can’t think of any young players in the other provinces at all who are aggressive to the point of crossing the line, to be honest.

    • Yossarian

       /  November 20, 2013

      O’Mahony would have been in grabbing jerseys aggressively and pointing angrily without throwing a punch. Worst imitation of a “hard man”.we have in irish rugby.

      • In relation to your first sentence, eh, yeah he would have rowed in behind one of his team-mates who was blatantly spear-tackled alright. He probably wouldn’t have thrown a punch, as he has no history of doing so. I don’t see what your point is, unless you think that backing up your team-mates in a confrontation is bad, or you think that it’s only worth doing if you throw a punch. In which case, everyone who’s ever played the game and been involved in handbags a few times is a fake hard man.

        Actually, if he punched Richie McCaw in the face and got sent off at the weekend, would that win you over? Would he be a real hard man then? Would he have changed magically from one weekend to the next?

        I genuinely cannot fathom why so many people harbour so much dislike for a guy for getting in people’s faces (and not even getting penalised!).

        • Yossarian

           /  November 20, 2013

          He seems to feel he has to get involved in every niggly incident on the pitch and he is not good enough at his primary duties to be doing that. i don’t advocate punching and getting yourself sent off(see post below)but if you want to be a guy who gets in the opposition faces do it with hard hits(not like his attempt on route to 2nd try)and competing at the break down. Never got double figures for his tackle count in 17 caps.not exactly the stuff of an “abrasive” player.

          • Scrumdog

             /  November 21, 2013

            POM had two ‘attempted’ tackles last Saturday..both times the ball got away. As a 6, he does not perform the basic duties of a flanker..tackling and winning possession. Toner was more obvious in all respects around the field and certainly had a higher tackle count than O’Mahony. Defence is key against the All Blacks so we need a 6 in there who does the complete job.

            6 McLaughlin; 7 Heaslip, 8 O’Brien. for Saturday.

      • Bueller

         /  November 20, 2013

        You can be ‘hard’ without being stupid. Grabbing jerseys is an attempt to get the opposition to punch you unless.

        • Scrumdog

           /  November 21, 2013

          Agreed. Do we want to play NZ with two players in the bin? Intimidation in rugby is best done through jarring tackles that knock the ball carrier backwards as well as getting the better of your opposite number. Save the digs for the rucks!

          • I repeat: he’s never been sin-binned for any of the things you’re complaining about at professional level.

    • hulkinator

       /  November 21, 2013

      During the summer tour Canada and USA were intent on physically smashing Ireland up. The Irish pack let them do it too with the exception of POM who was the only one who met them head on. Thats the kind of attitude Ireland needs. Thats why POM has captained every team he has been involved with.

      People said POM wasn’t captain material after that but as someone mentioned on the radio tonight, rugby is essentially a fight. If you don’t at least match the opposition, you’re likely to lose. You don’t have to punch anyone but by getting in their faces you’re telling them you won’t be intimidated.

  5. Yossarian

     /  November 20, 2013

    The best sides in the world live on the edge of the law in every respect. NZ and SA at the moment play with a physicality that borders on the illegal. Leicster and Munster in their pomp etc. it transcends other codes as well, the tyrone/dublin football teams etc.
    I think it is as much about the quality of the personnel involved, the will to do anything it takes to win. That edge goes hand in hand.
    I wouldn’t want to see us having players like Cudmore, banned for half the year or Hartley telling the ref he is a cheating C**t and getting sent off in a final but a bit of real competitive edge wouldn’t be amiss.
    Most of the young lads play in the AIL and take their hits there, the rise of UCD shows that the days of the students going to thomond and taking a thumping up front are gone. Maybe its a symptom of the celtic cubs as much as anything? the Irish population has lost its edge and got soft?(possible silver lining of current affairs so)
    A player who has to work harder to get there should be hungrier and maybe the Caldwells,Copelands and Morris’s could bring the edge back? just speculating.

    • I disagree with your point about a player having to have been the rough track or to have to work harder to get that mental edge, I think it’s definitely more a personal in built thing.

      As an example, I have 3 brothers – we’ve all played various sports to a pretty high level at underage. We were all brought up the same, in a leafy suburb in South Dublin, all of us went to the same schools, college, played for the same teams, etc. etc.

      All 4 of us are between 6 foot and 6’2″ so not the biggest but definitely not small either. We were like most of us brought up playing everything we could, but there’s only one of us who would have that “edge” we’re talking about. He’s a different animal when he’s on a pitch & always up for that physical battle.

      Sometimes he’s gone over that edge and I can remember 3-4 red cards he’s gotten for losing the head, niggle, bad tackles etc. But that’s just him, it’s inbuilt into him. He travelled the same road we all did but his wiring’s a little different!

      I think the more pertinent point is Demented Mole’s: is the academy system identifying this as something they score potential players down in rather than up. Is how they select their academy recruits not balanced sufficiently to take into physical, technical and mental attributes?

  6. Ollie

     /  November 20, 2013

    A few times I’ve watched Irish performances and come away with the feeling that the players look too pampered and that they have it too easy. I may be completely off the mark but this is the perception that has struck me. Personally I think the player welfare scheme has much to do with it, rarely outside of HEC weekends do guys play for more than 3 weeks on the trot. They spend a lot of time in camps which involves weekends away in Carton House. The only time we see full blooded performances from the Irish side is after a series of listless performances when they feel they’ve something to prove. See England 2011 6N or Australia in the WC. This is usually followed by a damp squib of a performance like the Welsh one in the WC.

    • John

       /  November 20, 2013

      I think I can see where the original post is coming from in that there is a need to stand up for yourself on the rugby pitch but it is more nuanced than just needing somebody who is a bit nasty.

      Nastiness doesn’t win games, it leads to the kind of semi-retarded actions which Dylan Hartley has spent most of his career serving bans for and which ultimately hurt your team.

      I think what you are driving at is the need for the Irish team to a man, and this is not jut for the forwards, to not be willing to put up with any sh*t from the opposition. In other words, don’t engage in cheap shots and dirty play but if somebody tries to do the same to you, you stand up for yourself.

      The example I would give would be Os Du Randt, not a dirty player but a man who didn’t take any crap on the field because of how he carried himself.
      The Irish team should aspire to that
      and sticking up for a teammate who has been speared in to the ground forms a part of it. You don’t start a 10 man brawl but you don’t turn your back and leave a teammate to appeal to the ref on his own.

  7. Thanks everyone, lots of interesting comment on a topic we never expected to unify our readership! I suppose it’s all a question of balnce, right? Eight loon-headed firebrands in the pack is probably a few too many, but I think we’re too far the other side. Most great packs have a couple of lightning rods in there. Yossarian’s lines about playing on the edge of the law had us nodding in agreement.

    @LarryM – great post as usual. McCaw is an awesome specimen, technically outstanding and as you say, far from getting into punching matches, it’s his Gatsby-esque charisma with referees that seems to give him a licence to behave as he wants around the tackle area! But in the absence of truly outstanding players like that we have to find an edge some other way… which leads us to where we began.

    @thoughtless – I think the guys who replied to you have nailed it a bit – there’s always been something a little ‘faux’ about O’Mahony’s hardman act. It’s all ‘hold me back lads’ and squaring up to people but it never really convinces.

    • I think I have it: POM is Scrappy Doo (lemme at ‘em) to SOB’s Scooby: probably not quite as good as he thinks he is, but his main crime was to be unlucky enough arrive on the scene just as things started heading south rapidly.

      http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheScrappy

      Still can’t believe someone didn’t have a go when he got dumped on his head though. Premiership footballers get the handbags out when they get their hair ruffled, POM could have had his neck broken and… nothing.

    • I like the Scrappy Doo comparison, very apt.

      I’m still a bit mystified by the “faux” stuff, though. Presumably he’ll get in a fight at some stage in his career, and if he throws a few punches then, will it still be “faux”? I can imagine him appearing before the citing committee with the defence, “Those were faux punches!” What’s different between now and then? Everytime someone talks about it, it’s like they’re performing psychoanalysis on the guy, “that’s not real aggression, it’s just for show”; how do you have any idea? The guy could have a haymaker like Ali for all anyone on the internet knows. It strikes me as people having some sort of personal set against him; it has literally zero relevance to him as a player, because he’s never hurt his team as a result. And it’s all some people talk about, as if this irrelevant criterion alone trumps all other playing characteristics.

      And just to caveat that, I don’t particularly enjoy watching him square up to people all the time either, particularly as Munster captain. It’s rash and alienates refs when it’s an overreaction. But the general tone of the criticism still seems absurd to me.

      • Paddy

         /  November 20, 2013

        I think it’s that he’s a really clean player behind the squaring up to people. Take Sean “I’ll give you spuds” O’Brien. Look him up on youtube “swats”, “Nyanga”, “Donnacha Ryan”. SOB has knocked people out more than he’s been knocked out too. Not holding that against POM btw, we had this debate already about how he throws himself about(possibly link to it WOC), but it does give a certain perception. There’s other stuff you can do too, like if your standing your ground on a kick thru let the runner inspect your shoulder.
        It’s early yet but I don’t think he’ll ever be the physical specimen that SOB is, so he has to find other ways. In Munster the 2 I think that could are Archer and Varley if they sort out their set piece troubles. Though possibly a bit too much on the Denis Leamy side of the line. There was a match 2/3 seasons ago. Think it was Quinlans last match for Munster against Connacht. Quinlan got a shoeing or something and Leamy reacted at the next ruck. The ref gave Connacht a peno and called Leamy and POC for a chat.
        Leamy: But they did “something”
        Ref: Would you like me to move it forward 10.
        Leamy Yeah!
        POCs face is priceless. He had the right attitude but sometimes didn’t know when to stop.
        I’ve come to see him as the Mole described as player in the Tom Croft mould just with bad manners.

  8. LumberingForward

     /  November 20, 2013

    Hi WoC. I’ve been reading your blog for about a year and a half now and have enjoyed it very much and thought I’d leave my first comment.

    I agree with what Thoughtless was alluding to, that you have bemoaned O’Mahony’s ‘faux hardman act’ instead of him focusing on his flanker job description previously but then you now bemoan the lack of hard men. POM is only 24 and hasn’t been playing for Ireland for very long. How can he grow into a convincing hard man if he isn’t allowed to be a hard-man-in-training now? There is a little bit of an element of having your cake and eating it here (though it would be nice if he made more tackles)

    The academy system is a very good one and the players in them are getting the best of both worlds. Only a special few go straight into a provincial first xv. The others are plying their trade with ‘real world people’ in the AIL for 1-3 years, travelling all over the country, learning from much older guys, enjoying a pint or two, while still getting the benefit of elite training and development with their province.

    Paul O’Connell is pretty fierce. His pasting of Clermont’s Cudmore is a youtube rugby classic (a bit like when dark ages war bands used to get their gigantic champions to fight in single combat before the battle proper) and I’d say he strikes fear into a lot of opponents. I was at the Quins Munster quarterfinal last year and all the Quins fans were in awe of the way he bent his own team and theirs to his will. Partnering him with Ryan or Touhy would mean a pretty tough pairing but they bring their risks too. I do agree Ferris is much missed though. But I’d say you want to see toughness in the tackles and collisions – Healy and Bod with their stamps and Heaslip with his kneebuts on McCaw a few years back were enforcing in the old school way but it proved terribly costly to their teams.

  9. Billy

     /  November 20, 2013

    We are definitely lacking in a bit of dog. In the last 10 years, we have had Flannery, Neil Best, Quinlan, Leamy, Ferris and in their younger days DO’C and PO’C were real firebrands. POC, while still offering a lot as a player, is more “Uncle Paul” these days than a Martin Johnson enforcer figure.

    I think the issue is less about dirty play and more about bringing that demonic intensity and the physicality that comes with it. Of the current crop I can only think of Ryan and PO’M (to a lesser extent) who bring it. In a team dynamic I reckon it is key to have those diehards in the team as their intensity lifts the rest of the team. I think PO’M’s intensity is a strong suit for him but he should use it more sparingly. I think people misconstrue it a bit. He’s not about to challenge someone to a duel, he’s just letting them know he’s there and he’s not backing down. A bit of niggle used in the right way involves the crowd and can provide a rallying point for the team.

    I would love to know what current international rugby players think but I would reckon that the current Irish team in general would be considered pretty soft.

  10. Rugby is about controlled violence. The threat has to be there. The opponent has to be intimidated, in order to impose one’s will upon him. Yossarian is absolutely right, when he refers to that aspect being inherent in the NZ and Bok game. That’s why they have been the two leading rugby nations as long as I can remember. I think our fellahs are pampered in Carton House. I remember Gatland bringing the Welsh to Poland to toughen them up and thinking I love our gang to be handed over to the Irish Rangers and put through hell in the Wicklow Mountains for a couple of weeks. The likes of Heaslip would definitely be the better for it. If you can deal with pain, you can also dish it out. Being able to deal with pain allows one to dig deeper, when the pressure’s on. That’s where your so-called “mental toughness” comes from. We could do with more of it.

    • Xyz

       /  November 20, 2013

      J Dizzle’s idea of harsh treatment is being given a belt and told to pull up his trousers.

    • toro toro

       /  November 20, 2013

      Yes. Why have Ireland never thought of taking the players to Spala to toughen them up? What could possibly go wrong?

      Sheesh.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  November 20, 2013

        Spala was the right thing, McGurn was spot on. Any failure was down to complacency in selection and preparation by EOS. McGurns preparation had the team in the best phyical shape of their lives in some cases, their non performance does not lie at his door.

      • toro toro

         /  November 20, 2013

        Be that as it may, and it isn’t, the idea that this is some kind of march that the Welsh have stolen on us after thinking it all up on their own is just silly.

  11. Lop12

     /  November 20, 2013

    Not alone do the acadamies probably not assist development of these “skills/attributes” the rule where limited number of academy players can play AIL for any one team actually hinders it.

    I would far prefer to see a situation where ALL contracted/academy/development players were “forced” to line out for AIL club any weekend (within reason) they were not required for the province. Probably unfair on your rank and file club players but if the intention is to prepare as many professional players as we can then this is collateral damage. Standard may not be as good as B&I cup but any AIL games iv seen (across all divs) certainly appear to be played in a far more whole hearted and agressive manner.

    • abitofshoepie

       /  November 20, 2013

      Couldn’t agree more. Playing at AIL level on a more regular basis would be more ‘character building’ and skill building than sitting in the stands or working on the guns in the gym. Also the added bonus of creating more interest in the AIL from fans, media and club players.

  12. curates_egg

     /  November 20, 2013

    It has definitely been a problem for Ireland for some time. Interesting that you leave out the veritable elephant in the room: if POC can still get fired up for the Lions (whatever the hell they even represent other than HSBC) and Munster, why on earth was he a damp squib for Ireland last weekend? He even looked out of it in the presser afterwards. We all need to hope that he is firing on all cylinders this Sunday.

  13. L.P.O.

     /  November 20, 2013

    It’s an interesting point you make- you can still occasionally get one of your roughly hewn diamond blue collar geezers, but it clearly gets rarer and rarer, and you have to get them young, and be sure they have it when you convince them to pack their job in. Fez is a case in point- I heard an anecdote that we was bending steel girders with his bare or similar in some factory when a colleague told him to get down the Ulster Academy. Could be pure fiction, but I choose to believe it. And Seanie O’Brien spend more of his youth juggling tractors than stray rugby balls. Surely he fits your bill for the inner badness that you’re looking for? Someone who wasn’t schools training, to protein-shake, to gym, to haircut, to academy?

    It is true, it happens in all sports that either turn professional, or get far more money coming into them. When was the last time you saw a snooker player break a bottle of whiskey over the referee’s head, and headbutt a member of the audience, while smoking three cigarettes simultaneously and then go on to pot a tricky yellow off two cushions? Now you just get little kids whose parents pushed them into playing pro snooker as a retirement fund, that show up with their little snappy cue cases down the snooker hall as if they’re going to an unwanted piano lesson. The characters start go out once all the dosh starts coming in.

  14. Its pretty funny that there is an Irish rugby version of Godwin’s Law – any conversation thread around the national team seems to end up being about Peter O’Mahony!

    What a divisive player – I wonder does it stem from the difference between the player he actually is (athletic, skillful, fast), and the player we get told he is (brave warrior who never takes a backward step)

    • Bueller

       /  November 20, 2013

      Possibly to do with WoC often bringing him up. Similar to the way imaginary provincialism constantly seems to be on the menu.

    • Paddy

       /  November 20, 2013

      He has a big media profile. Murray Kinsella did a piece on him play by play on the score. Nice analysis if a little gushing. Some of the comments in praise of him, below the line honestly seemed to believe that description you gave of him, and I think thats the impression that Munster fans have of him. Whereas other provinces see him as the former. When he threw the stupid off load against Samoa, Tony Ward suggested he was chiding his team mates for not being up in support where as it seemed clear he was chiding himself for the mistake. I don’t think most “real” rugby fans would believe Ward, but the general public would. Going back to the comments on the Kinsella piece many were comparing him to a young POC and calling for him to be made captain. Casual supporters I suppose. To me the comparison is mostly in demeanour, he hasn’t the work rate, physical presence or aggression of POC. Few have! But that comparison holds in at least part of the country whereas it’s BS in the rest of it. So when you brought up “dog” the cat bolted from the bag!

  15. Bueller

     /  November 20, 2013

    If the academys are sucking the ‘hard-man’ out of our players and replacing it with skill/technical ability they are not doing a very good job. True our pack consists of 8 ‘gentlemen’ but the tight 5 certainly have not gained any skill on the ball, potential for interlinking in attack or technical ability at the set piece (our line out and scrum are very questionable). Mike Ross, POC and Toner cannot catch the ball and if they do rarely hold onto it in contact. None of those 3 or Rory Best ever gain any yards in contact (even the mighty POC). Church does OK in these regards, but outside of our back-row (the infallible Sean O’Briens interlink ability can be called into question here) our forwards throughout the provinces are very poor footballers. NZ can thump teams because the likes of the Franks brothers and Whitelock can catch and pass and run even…if the ball comes to one of our tight 5 there is utter panic an any continuity ceases. It boggles the mind that these guys can train with rugby balls 365 days a year and be so poor when it comes to some basic skills….Mike Ross scuttling the ball along the ground while acting as scrum half v Samoa is a perfect example – the man has been on rugby pitches practically every day for the last 12 years! It is fair to say that we are not a nation of big people and thus it seems that the stars never align to produce a big man who can actually play rugby in Ireland. (Mushy was almost that man but he was the least aggressive player and worst scrummager in world rugby). Apologies for the rant…..

  16. I think ye’re just clutching at straws here lads. As alluded to by Bueller the problem stems with our players just not being good enough. Ross, McCarthy and POC all have dreadful hands and our only decent carrier in the front 5 is Healy (unless Strauss starts for us).

    Take a look at NZ’s backrow: Messam, McCaw and Read. All would fit the bill of excellent footballers and decent /likeable lads, but what makes them such great players is their aggression. Despite not being the biggest backrow they leave no ruck unsmashed and can hurt far bigger packs. The Franks brothers and Tony Woodcock are far from the most intimidating props around but they can actually scrum and catch/pass a ball! It seems we’re not producing aggressive enough OR skillful enough forwards!

    Secondly, the two players Ireland need most at the minute are Henderson and Ferris. Both are (oddly for Irish genes) physical monsters, and unplayable at times..but I wouldn’t associate either with foul play or dark arts. While I miss the pack possessing the physicality Flannery, Leamy and Wallace brought, I wouldn’t be pining for a penalty and yellow card machine like Quinlan no matter how much he pissed off the opposition. Easterby was picked ahead of him all those years because he was a far superior player. Far from a nasty player but a master at the breakdown and put in a mountain of dirty work…a player of his caliber would stroll into the current Irish team.

    Maybe I’m focusing on your meaning of nastiness too literally, point is nasty players aren’t the solution to our problem, our pack showing a bit of aggression and learning the basic skills is!

    • dudbox

       /  November 21, 2013

      “nasty players aren’t the solution to our problem, our pack showing a bit of aggression and learning the basic skills is!”

      @Kevin, you hit the nail on the head with that. Aggression is the key. Anything other than aggression in any form (line speed, rucking, ball carrying, reaction to teammates tip tackle) makes Ireland a very ordinary side. Hard men in modern rugby really means aggressive men. That’s why Read and McCaw, Bismarck etc can be both at the same time.

      But skills remain an issue across the park with Ireland, and you’d like to think the Schmidt era will at least try to address that.

      • Amiga500

         /  November 21, 2013

        Schmidt can no more address the basic skills of 25+ year old professional players than me or you.

        Basic skills are acquired when the players are between 5 and 20 years old, not when they are getting international caps!

        • dudbox

           /  November 21, 2013

          I hear you, but I have to believe that Schmidt can at least set a higher standard and reward those with Ireland caps who are hitting the skill benchmarks he demands.

          It’s very abstract thinking, but a coach at 5-20 year old level in NZ can tell his players “these are the levels you must strive to”.

          Cut to Irish coach saying the same, as an Irish tight 5 forward dribbles the ball forward / gains 3cm in a head down carry etc.

          We all want to emulate our national rugby heroes when we are young. Even now! Over time, and with imminent retirements, there will be a period where we have to re-invent the core of the team, so maybe now is the time to set the standards a bit higher.

          I hope you get my point on that. Baby steps (much like many of our first up ball carriers!)

          • Billy

             /  November 21, 2013

            The talk of ball skills is pretty redundant when our tight five fail in their core responsibilities (such as the set piece) and the team as a whole are unable to rouse themselves for a home game against one of the best teams in the world.

  17. mikebrad

     /  November 20, 2013

    There has to be focused aggression rather than all out madness. If you are continually getting cited or carded you quickly become a liability. The ireland team need to show that they are willing to take the game to their opponents e.g. ferris picking up genia in rwc 2011. It was perfectly legal and im sure it scared the wits out of the aussies.

  18. Leinsterlion

     /  November 20, 2013


    Something like this?

    • Billy

       /  November 21, 2013

      I hear you – we need Paddy Johns back

      • Leinsterlion

         /  November 21, 2013

        Colossus of a man.

      • Mike

         /  November 22, 2013

        Worth pointing out he is a dentist. Nice safe middle class profession.

        On the other hand, he is from Portadown….

    • Mike

       /  November 22, 2013

      when rugby was good….

      • Yossarian

         /  November 22, 2013

        any one of those incidents would provide multiple week bans.proper hard men(modern day liability!) there, Claw,Johns,Brennan-even Wood/Wallace had a steely side.heck Mal O’Kelly with the shaved head even looks the part!definitely a side of the game that is gone.

  19. Len

     /  November 20, 2013

    Lads i don’t think the issue here is really the academies or the lack of physicality, let’s be honest there are several players both forwards and backs who can be extremely physical when the mood takes them. That for me seems to be the real problem. Watching the team on Saturday none of them seemed to be that pumped up for the game. And that carries through to how the play. Think back 18 months the only real difference between the first and second test against NZ is that for the second test Ireland took the field to a man looking like they’d run through a brick wall and not even notice. On the occasion we bring that intensity to the field we play at a faster tempo and look like a proper rugby nation. Our big problem is the inconsistency with which we can achieve this. Drico mentioned in an interview that the old fashioned shouting and head slapping pre match speeches have now been replaced with individual focus. Maybe it’s time they were brought back.

    • dudbox

       /  November 21, 2013

      Len you are totally right, firstly we dont have a player pool to be discarding our internationals left and right (though some are nearing the end anyway), but the inconsistency between one Irish performance and the next, or between club form and Ireland form, where the same players seem to be a shadow of themselves, that is a real issue.

      I did also note recently that PO’C now too goes to his Mp3 before games. I’m not on a nostalgia tip, and even at my lowly amateur levels, you do need to get yourself mentally right for kick off and that doesnt always involve puke-inducing screaming matches, but if we agree that rugby is still a fight, and a fight that you cant win by yourself, I would like to think a few eye bulging speeches where necessary can get players to a more aggressive place on a more regular basis, there is a place for it. (If nothing else, but for the DVD !)

      Remember that this is all done off the field. No need for any enforcers. Just pause the shuffle mode for some rabble rousing.

  20. Amiga500

     /  November 20, 2013

    The main problems in Irish rugby all run back to one root issue.

    The lack of a proper tier for pros/semi-pros beneath the (relatively clean cut) Pro12 level.

    Resources are spread too thin at AIL level.

    If we had an IrishTM cup level, then a number of issues would start to be addressed:
    – better development of prop forwards.
    – catching late developers that miss out on the academies.
    – catching players that don’t go to prestigious schools in Ulster/Leinster.
    – having a greater selection of “dog” players as the have been shaped by the path they’ve had to tread… which was strewn with having to prove people wrong.
    – keeping provincial reserve players game-sharp at a much more suitable level to test their skills.

    Of course, the issues with any IrishTM cup are numerous.

    – To ensure stability, it would have to be a franchise league, no promotion/relegation.
    – To sufficiently concentrate resources, it would need to be 10-14 teams max.
    – To develop from existing fanbases, it would be best if it came from some existing clubs.
    – But be done without alienating the support-base of all other clubs.
    – But to have the most growth potential, the teams would need to be aligned around population centres without too much contention.

    • It’s a discussion that’s worth having but I don’t think the club game is there to serve the pro game. The club game is to serve towns and communities and to allow you and your mates play against someone else and his mates. There shouldn’t be a ceiling on how much effort people want to put in or what standards they apply to themselves. However, I think that the idea of clubs representing their communities overrides any other requirements.

      Having said that, I think that the IRFU should budget for two players a season to be contracted from the pro game by each province. The restrictions that should be imposed would need to be ironed out but players that were in an academy program but never finished should be probably be included for consideration. James Coughlan and Robin Copeland are the sort of guys that spring to mind although neither probably qualify.

      Simon Shawe is another name that did a job at that level while Leinster took a punt on Joey Muldowney going from J4 level to provincial level not that long ago http://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/brittle-body-talk-creates-doubts-about-another-leinster-signing-26224920.html

      Striking the correct balance between central bureaucracy and “federal entrepreneurism” in a club environment is not a perfect science. My experience is that good teams are driven by one or two powerful personalities who galvanise those around them. If the personalities aren’t there, the structures probably won’t work.

      Finally, I feel that the academies have started to produce more pro players than they can deal with and that going to England or France is a better option for many of these guys from a rugby point of view. Niall Morris and Eamon Sheridan would be recent departures from Leinster that I would consider in this category. Playing and preparing in a professional environment is more suitable to returning to Ireland as a professional player than working and playing part time.

      • Yossarian

         /  November 21, 2013

        those names in the indo article were like a walk down memory lane of the former 10’s at Leinster.

  21. All great comments, and not much to add, but in the SA winning world cup team, by far their most important player was Bakkies Botha. He was their heart, and his sheer unabated aggression made SA the best team in the world for a time. Like that, Ferris, when fit, was always our most important player as he hit rucks and tackled in a way no other irish player did. We have no one like that right now, POM a good player with the potential to be great is not a Ferris type player.

  22. hulkinator

     /  November 21, 2013

    All this “faux hard man” talk about POM is missing the point. He goes running into opposition packs of forwards and starts pushing people around. Doesn’t matter if its the Springboks or some mickey mouse team.

    Before you call anyone a “faux hard man” could you define what you think is a hard man!? Do you have to be made of iron or have a will of iron? For me its having an iron will. You might not be the biggest or most talented but you have a never say die attitude.

    Real “faux hard men” would be the ones who pick on small players but not big players ie cowards. Duncan McCrea springs to mind. In fact ROG and Stringer have been attacked plenty of times down the years and mostly by opposition backs!

    • Paddy

       /  November 21, 2013

      A “faux hard man” is someone who goes running into opposition packs and starts pushing people around when the play is stopped but never backs it up out in open play. Big hits, sly niggley digs, massive hand-offs, maybe the odd kinda late hit or borderline no arm tackle. This is rugby not soccer that running around roaring at people doesn’t leave a lasting impression on anyone except maybe the ref. It’s great that he has that attitude he just seems to over do it a bit. I do think he’s got guts and talent, possibly even an iron will but sometimes it seems he doth protest too much! The iron will part was covered with the above by Larry talking about McCaw,
      McCrea was a coward. I’m not saying either ROG or Stringer deserved any abuse but they were niggly in your face bastards when they wanted(mostly in play) to be there’s always some retribution, thats the idea no?.

  23. McCarthy last year seemed likely to fulfill the enforcer role, in particular against SA when he kept Etezbeth quiet. However Leinster have fat fucked him for some reason known only to MOC and their S&C team and he may possibly be carrying a knock, so playing him against NZ would be a massive risk. Whitelock and Retalliack have the potential to run riot over Ireland on their own, never mind the likes of Reed. Its scary when you look at their ages to think how good they will be at WC 2015, and 2019.

    Perhaps Muldowney can become an option by six nations time, he has been coming off the bench a lot as Swift was named one of the three captains this year (oh pat…) but he gets through a good amount of work and has good hands and could cover 6 better than McLaughlin could cover second row in the event that either were needed.

    • Ryan Constable – the forgotten 2nd row – is back after injury and is a very good player. He’s 6’7″, great in the line out. He carries well, tackles like a rhino and doesn’t take a backward step. I doubt if he would be considered though. Among other issues, being so far away – lol. I don’t think any of the other Celtic countries or even England would ignore him. Daft stuff. Even if he didn’t make the grade ultimately, to simply pretend he doesn’t exist is frankly stupid. In the same mould as flying a duff prop 12,000 miles and shoving him into an Ireland shirt without seeing what John Andress can do. He’s no world beater but he’s better than Bent.
      The most obvious other second rows who are playing well. actually have a bit of pace and can carry and pass / offload the ball and don’t mind the hard stuff when needed are Tuohy and Henderson. Both are huge lumps and both can play 2nd row or 6. There seems to be a queue of big lads at Munster and a few at Leinster that will come in to the reckoning soon.

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