Upriver about 75 clicks past the Do Lung bridge

When you read the Sunday Times chummy round table debates, you can almost feel your skin crawl with cringe – Barnesy telling Guscott how much weight he has put on, Jones laughing about annoying the Irish, yawn who cares. Well, they are much more fun live. We were lucky enough to be drawn out of the Sunday Times competition hat for free tickets for the HEC edition on Tuesday night, and it was a great lark.

Here’s our intel report:

One and a half hours of fun, and one imagines the transcript in Sunday’s paper won’t contain some of Barnesy’s more enjoyable rants, and there was more free Heineken than Dave Pearson could shake his white stick at – what’s not to like?

The first thing we noted was the audience demographic – white, professional and well-fed. Stop press, eh? Then we settled down to the debate, which was thoroughly enjoyed. Let’s rates the participants to within an inch of their lives.

Miles Harrison (compere) 3/5 – Miles has the voice that you recognise, but certainly not the face – he’s like a cross between George Bush senior and Rodrigo Roncero – but he knows his stuff. In a nation used to the likes of McGurk, it was great to see a debate where the host listened to the experts, and even let them finish what they were saying! Sounds easy, but there are many that can’t do it. Miles let the debate flow perfectly, and all that was missing was the half-octave higher that he goes when Manu Tuilagi gets the ball. Points were lost for a tad too much overt mateyness and in-jokes with Barnesy.

Peter O’Reilly (Sunday Times) 4/5 – O’Reilly is a comparitive rarity in Irish rugby journalism in that he himself isn’t the story. The quiet intelligence you can see in his pieces are certainly reflected in his prose and person – thoughtful, erudite and knowledgeable. He often tempered the stronger opinions of the other panelists and brought a more analytical perspective when occasionally others resorted to something approaching bombast. Plus he is a former Irish international … in cricket. Our money is on him being a upper middle-order batsmen who knows how to tame bowlers and can bat time – think Mike Hussey.

Tyrone Howe (Token Ulsterman) 3/5 – Tyrone was most definitely the grey man on the panel, but, as befits a former public representative, he’s a good speaker, and didn’t seem too  pissed off about getting the least airtime from Miles. A hint of inner steel/Ulster bitterness came as he excorciated Deccie for continually picking one player who couldn’t even get a game for his province while ignoring eminently better qualified candidates. We’ll let you guess who he was referring to…

Stuart Barnes (Oooooooooohh) 6/5 – Barnesy’s performance wasn’t just the highlight of the night, but quite possibly the highlight of life itself. When the man took to the podium swilling a glass of Bordeaux, you just knew it was going to be one of the Guinness books, and he didn’t let anyone down. Truly the life and soul of the debate, Barnesy was opinionated, intelligent and thoughtful without ever straying into “Pick Harrison Brewer!!” foaming-at-the-mouth territory. His thoughts on English rugby were fascinating, and he intruiged the audience with his non-Irish perspective on why Embra and Clermont could spoil the party – indeed, Egg has started stitching together a voodoo doll of Wee Greig on the back of it.

Shane Byrne (Leinster through and through) 3/5 – Munch was very much looked forward to by us, but he only shone in patches. Took a while to settle and seemed content to be the butt of Miles’ jokes for the first 30 minutes. He redeemed himself with some superbly insightful commentary on the front row, and how the usual Hook-esque quick fixes just won’t work. He dovetailed well with Howe when they considered the relative merits of province and country – you could feel the comfort zone being left behind as they spoke.

Audience (well-heeled) 1/5 –  After an hour, Miles turned the mike over to the hoi polloi, and they showed exactly why they were the ones who aren’t on the tellybox. The first question was a moan from a Munster fan about Poite (in the context of the semi-final refereeing appointments) – Barnesy jumped straight down his throat, refusing to countenance any of it, and putting him back in his box with the force of a Stephen Ferris tackle. Then the rest of the questioning turned into a Leinster love-in, ranging from the Pulitzer-bothering “Johnny Sexton is class, isn’t he lads?” and “Brock James will definitely choke, right Barnesy?” to the slightly more interesting “Joe Schmidt has to be Lions coach, doesn’t he?” and, more enjoyably, “Why can’t Deccie do what Joe does?”.

When it came to calling the semis, we do not wish to scoop the ST, especially O’Reilly, who has been good to us, but let’s say both of us left with a sickening feeling that there was trouble around the corner.

To wrap it up, and again keeping what goes on tour on tour, let us just say that the highlight of the night was when somebody said:

You’re sitting there watching Sale Sharks against Worcester and its 6-9 and you’re just thinking ‘Why are you so shit?’

We’ll leave it with you to guess who.

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  1. Cian Hyland

     /  April 19, 2012

    I was that Munster fan, I only did the Poite thing for the reaction, I meant to say we were beaten fair and square on the day but had spoken too long at that point, I was more interested in knowing their opinions on current refereeing and to also draw attention to the fact that Leinster may struggle with Barnes in the semi. It really wasn’t a moan (Like I said, was just lightening my question) Funny how everything Munster fans say post matches is just seen as a moan when any of us who are realistic about all this (we aren’t good enough) are always seen as moaning as well. Seems to be everyone’s reaction no matter what we say. We would have lost that match if McGahan himself had been refereeing.

    • That’s amazing stuff Cian! If we had more time, we would have contextualised your comment better, we were really trying to capture Barnesy’s reaction!

      To do that now, your question, if I remember rightly, highlighted how Munster got on Poite’s wrong side (again) in the first quarter, and that’s how Ulster did their damage – we presumed you really wanted to highlight that if it was, say, Owens (as Barnesy pointed out), Ulster would not have got at least some of those penalties, and Munster could have won. The idea being that referees have too much influence?

      Which we *completely* agree with. The process for appointing Joubert for example for the RWC final was a joke, and basically decided the destination of the biggest tournament in world rugby.

      The point O’Reilly or Howe made (can’t remember) that Poite actually referees the scrum unlike resetting is a good one – at least Poite tries to apply the laws pro-actively instead of swapping penalties. [Aside: Owens refereeing of the scrum in the Munster-Leinster game was nothing short of appalling] The NFL idea is something we have wondered before – there are about 20 umpires at an NFL game – we aren’t advocating that many, but why not have a scrum ref who toddles on for a scrum, or watching Quinnell-like form the Sky blimp? We dn’t know the solution, but I think we are agreed on the problem!

  2. Cian Hyland

     /  April 19, 2012

    Absolutely agree with the refereeing of Owens. The frustration with Poite in Munster is probably that he can’t be turned in Thomond, as he’s shown in the past. I take Tyrone’s point on the scrum, but I do think Poite is a bit inconsistent at the breakdown, and like all French referees, with the offside line. In saying all that, Ulster did their homework on us properly, Munster were too complacent, as they were last year against Harlequins.

    Anyway, my main point of the question was about the inconsistency of the referees, and like Tyrone said, teams put time into referees and study them. It has gotten to the point where the game is too fast for one ref and the scrum is ruining the game. I’d like to think the new ref’s chief can change things. It is interesting how the Heineken is not blighted by scrum resets like the international game is, even though the standard of player is probably higher (there is an argument that 6 Nations Front Rows are too good, so they know how to slow down games through scrums, that’s rubbish.) In the 6 Nations the same refs are on rotation making the same mistakes, the same in the Tri Nations, the same in RWC. In the Heineken they use more refs and mix it up week on week. they also don’t use Southern Hemisphere refs or officials who ref the scrum very differently as it’s played differently down there. I really just wanted to start the debate on refereeing to be honest and glad that it actually did illicit better responses than the Leinster Love-in questions. (I was going to ask about the risk of H Cup rugby becoming the haves and the have nots but decided with the potential of 2 new winners still left that there was an easy out).

    I knew Stuart would attack the Munsterism but I just want to state i am not a moany Munster fan, we were lucky to get our 6/6 in the pools and were the 4th best team left in the quarters, at best. We have three years of mediocrity ahead, we just have to make sure that we don’t pull a Wasps, or a Leicester, or even an Ulster and live off past glories too long. I await, with hope, a new, more forward thinking (backs) coach and hope it isn’t one of the three being touted!

  3. Anonymous

     /  April 19, 2012

    P O’Reilly was actually an opening bowler, more James Anderson than Mike Hussey

  4. @Cian – thanks for adding your comments – we’re happy to accept you’re not a ‘moany’ Munster fan, and we appreciate you giving us the context of your Q!

    There is so much that could be written about referees, it really merits a post (encyclopedia?) and discussion all of its own, but some good points made in any case. As a non-expert on the scrum I can’t comment too much about it, but let’s just say that at least with Poite you know where you stand. You might be able to stand up, bore in, scrummage any way you like, but if you’re marching the other team forward you’ll get the penalty. With other refs, you sometimes genuinely have no idea what way it’s going to go.

    As for the ruck and the offside line, Poite adheres to the classic ‘French’ style for sure. I try to tune in for a bit of Top 14 whenever I can and there’s very little quick ball and very little space in midfield. The ruck is generally a bit of a free for all (though there are some dominant breakdown-merchants like Ouedraogo and Armitage) and a cursory nod is the best that the offside line gets.

    As for Munster, well, we’ve discussed the future for them a little bit in the aftermath of the game, and will do so again in more depth at the end of the season, but suffice to say we’re not expecting a Wasps-like decline by any stretch. With many of the traditionally Euro-focused French sides languishing between 7th and 12th in the Top 14, the pool of potential winners has narrowed, and I’d expect Munster to be competitive again next season. They will be first seed, and if they avoid a Toulon from the bottom pot, they should even be looking at the knock-out stages (again!) – they are still superior to all the Welsh, Scottish and Italian sides and most of the English as well.

  5. Anonymous

     /  April 19, 2012

    O’Reily was a fast bowler

  6. Brendan

     /  April 19, 2012

    Ha Ha!
    G’wan Barnesy!!!

    So the commentators don’t actually buy into the Aviva PremierHype* in reality – well worth knowing!


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