It’s all Jamie Hagan’s Fault for Moving to Leinster

Amid the fallout from Ireland’s Twickenham debacle, one regular lament in the meeja is Jamie Hagan’s move to Connacht.  It goes thus: Ireland could have had another tighthead prop to call on had Jamie Hagan stayed with Connacht this year, instead of moving back to his home province, Leinster.

Hagan was a highly durable near-constant in the Connacht front-row (50 appearances in two seasons), and has found himself marginalised at Leinster, where he has to contend not only with Mike Ross, but also Kiwi prop Nathan White.  Had he stayed at Connacht , he would have had the pleasure of going up against Toulouse, Glaws and Quins props and earning his corn as a Heineken Cup level scrummager, miraculously emerging unscathed from those encounters, instead of togging out for Leinster A in the British & Irish Cup.

The reality of course, is totally different, on any number of counts.  Let us expel a number of myths. 
Jamie Hagan has made a bad career choice.  No he hasn’t.  He has come to Leinster to work with Greg Feek and Mike Ross, the men responsible for turning Leinster’s scrum from a wet blanket that Toulouse pushed around in the 2010 HEC semi-final to something altogether more solid, and occasionally destructive.  The hope is that he will emerge from this a better technical scrummager and a player Leinster can trust to start in high-stakes games.  With all due respect to Connacht’s coaching ticket, we are given to believe it does not feature someone of Feek’s calibre on the books.  His chances of improving to the level required in a technical position are far greater at Leinster.
Leinster are stockpiling, and Hagan is languishing in the reserves.  Leinster have a plan for Jamie Hagan – he is not simply languishing in the A team. They are working with him to improve his scrummaging and fitness.  Those with short memories would do well to recall that Mike Ross barely featured in his first season at Leinster – he spent the year in the gym, where Michael Cheika demanded he get fit enough to get around the paddock.  The following season the Mike Ross we know and love today emerged.
Jamie Hagan has had very little gametime with Leinster.  Another story that doesn’t hold up.  Of Leinster’s three foremost tighthead props, the playing time this season is as follows:
  • Jamie Hagan – 9 starts, 7 sub appearances, 634 minutes
  • Mike Ross – 9 starts, 2 sub appearances, 660 minutes
  • Nathan White – 6 starts, 11 sub appearances, 561 minutes
Hardly banished to the sidelines.  One of those starts was in the Heineken Cup, in the final pool match against Montpellier.  It looked, to us anyway, like a signal that Hagan was firmly in Leinster’s plans, and he did well to hold his own against Leleimalefaga, one of Europe’s more gargantuan looseheads.
Had Jamie stayed at Connacht the Twickers debacle wouldn’t have happened.  Hardly.  If Jamie Hagan had six HEC starts to his name with Connacht, and 13 more in the Pro12, he would still not have made the matchday squad for Ireland v England.  The current 22-man squad rule, daft as it is, means Tom Court would still have made the bench, because he can, in theory, scrummage on both sides. Its also worth noting that being shunted around the Sportsground by Joe Marler and Jean-Baptiste Poux is hardly something that benefits one career – ask Court about Alex Corbisiero and see what he says.
In fact, he might not have made the training squad – after all, he never did before.  Even when he was winning positive reviews at Connacht, Irish management never gave him much encouragement.  He has a grand total of two Ireland A caps, both earned as a replacement in 2011 – Declan Fitzpatrick and Tony Buckley the starters at 3 in the two games.
It’s easier to stand out in an ordinary side like Connacht.  Everyone wants to see the positive in you when you play in a wholehearted, but usually losing team.  If the scrum sinks three times in a match but you make three big carries, chances are people will remember the carries.  At Leinster, teams come to the RDS knowing their opponent has fewer weaknesses.  If they sense one, they will look to extract everything out of it.  The scrum was identified as such on Friday night by the Ospreys, who milked it, and won a tight match.  Hagan was among those culpable.  There’s still work to be done – plenty of it behind the scenes with Greg Feek.
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3 Comments

  1. Neither side of the argument you present is entirely correct, it is entirely presumptive and not at all based on fact. Firstly lets get the notion that Jamie at Connacht had no specialist scrum coaching available to him out of the way. Dan McFarland the Connacht Forwards Coach has played rugby at the top level with Richmond and Stade Francais before serving six years at tight head in the Connacht front row running up over 100 Caps. He is a top classs scrum specialist with International experience at U-20 (with Elwood in winning Ireland Grand Slam 2008), he was part of the reason Jamie (and indeed Sean Cronin) agreed to come to Connacht in the first place having been part of the Slam squad. He has coached Conancht for the last five years and in that time there has never (despite our playing resources being plundered every season of most players we develop or bring on as a player) in that time and actually in the Pro era been a Conancht pack that has been remotely beasted by any opponent domestic or European (as Munster were again reminded on Saturday night – ( http://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/Rabodirect-PRO12/connacht-fall-short-against-munster-but-props-make-case-for-irish-callup-3060972.html & http://www.connachtrugby.ie/2012032682799/interview-with-ronan-loughney ). To quote the former:"Although excused the strictures of the IRFU's player succession policy, it is worth noting that Connacht were the only province to start two Irish qualified props at the weekend with Leinster, Ulster and Munster starting one (Tom Court) between them."Connacht's primary problem over the years (much like Munster) is a problem with the number and calibre of backs we produce and are able to recruit, unlike Munster we have not been able to buy in virtually a whole HEC winning standard backline.The notion that Feek who has no experience at all outside of SH rugby is some sort of Scrummaging Messiah is absolutely fanciful. There's a myth perpetuated in Leinster that he turned Mike Ross into a decent scrummager, well that's absolute complete and utter nonsene. Most of the turnaround in Leinster's scrummaging has resolved around recruitment and the replacement of injury prone players [Fogarty and Sknoop) and a couple of players who simply weren't up to it.When he came to Leinster as a scrummager Ross was alredy the finished article as could be seen if you had watched even one of his games for Quins, his main issue was fitness and mobility and that aspect had nothing to do with Feek and everything to do with Cheika and Jonno Gibbes giving him a rocket up his ass when he arrived from Quins. He's still nowhere near the finished article in terms of mobility but from a Leinster & Ireland point of view he will still hold up the scrum on his side.Going back to Hagan, while he has accumulated a reasonably decent amount of time with Leinster, there is simply no argument that on a playing front he would have gained a massive amount more on the playing field with the amount and calibre of games that Conancht have had this season. The fixtures in Gloucester/Quins and Toulouse on a scrummaging front would have been massively beneficial to him, certainly a lot more beneficial than the half game at home aginst Montpellier that he got with Leinster.There isn't a Connacht fan out there that thinks a matured Jamie Hagan would be staying long term at Connacht, but the fact remains that he is a pup still in prop terms and on the basis of this season alone would have gained far more by staying at Connacht, it is impossible to deduce anything else when you review all the facts.

  2. Ross isn't the only example of Leinster improving a tighthead. Stan Wright was the main TH before Ross and his development as a player with Leinster was astonishing.

  3. @SeapointThanks for that post, highly constructive stuff. We are happy to defer to your better knowledge on McFarland’s coaching skills – if you say he is up to task, then we accept that. Certainly Ronan Loughney is having a fine season this year, which is testimony to that, and we mentioned him as a possible tourist this summer last week.As for Greg Feek and the Leinster scrum: for sure he wasn’t responsible for Mike Ross’ scrummaging ability, but Cian Healy has improved immeasurably under his watch, and he does seem to have changed the dynamics of the Leinster scrum, and has got the whole eight pushing as a unit. Plus, he was able to solve the scrum crisis in the HEC final and get Leinster on the front foot, which effected a huge swing in the game. Neither of us here at WoC could claim to be scrum experts, and we’re not saying Feek has a special recipe or anything, but he does appear to have made a big difference with Leinster.The fitness issue would be a bit of a concern though – if a player who arrives at a new cub after 50 appearances in two seasons is not deemed fit enough, that’s a problem that needs fixing, particularly if Hagan has designs on a test career (which he should). Connacht look technically sound up front this year, and you are right, they hold their own most of the time. However, are they an 80 minute pack? And are they an attacking pack? I've lost count of the number of times Connacht have been unable to turn scrums in the opposition 22 into points – your pack should be able to force home advantages there more often.One point to note on the relative merits of the Leinster and Connacht setups is the development of Sean Cronin this season – he has come on leaps and bounds, especially his throwing (was dire, now passable!) and his move is definitely paying off thus far. Obviously, the supporting cast are at a higher level, but the Leinster back room would be entitled to take come credit.Anyway, thanks for adding your two penn’oth, we especially appreciate Connacht fans' input in the comments section as we don’t get to see them as often as we do the other three provinces.

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