Interpro Season

The Christmas interpros are upon us. The phrase ‘silly season’ has often been most appropriate as the games rarely amount to as much as they should. It’s a part of the calendar that hasn’t really been worked out properly, with coaches responding to player welfare rules by sending Ver Kidz on their away trip and saving the first choice men for the home match. The net effect is a series of non-events.

Dare we suggest that might change, at least a little this season? The decision to schedule Munster v Leinster on St. Stephens’ Day looks designed to add some extra wallop to these seasonal fixtures. Matt O’Connor dare not risk the fans’ ire further by throwing the game against their rivals. Or will he? Ulster do that kind of thing for fun, but then they mostly beat Munster and don’t have the biggest rivalry in world rugby (sic) to think about.

Another reason we might get a decent round of fixtures is more by accident than design. The Pro12 table is super-tight and all the Irish teams are jammed in the top six. Connacht’s big improvement has arguably been the provincial story of the year, while the mediocre form of the Big Three means the gap from first to fourth has never been so tight. And with Glasgow and Ospreys going well in the league, there’s no guarantee that the likes of Leinster can cruise through to the final in third gear, as they have done in previous years.

Leinster face all of Connaht (home), Munster (away) and Ulster (home); two-from-three is the minimum acceptable return. Matt O’Connor’s apologists in the meeja – we’re getting a bit tired of the line that Leinster fans are simply asking too much for their team to play a bit of decent rugger – keep perpetuating the myth that Leinster are ‘on course for another Pro12’ but in fact they’re off the pace. They’re fifth and three points behind Ulster, which sounds ok, but it’s not great. Realistically, to win the league one has to finish in the top two, as winning two away games in a row in the ‘barrage’ is very difficult. The final has been contested by the top two in each year since the format was devised. Leinster have also dropped six points they really shouldn’t have; losing one of their home games and drawing in Treviso. If Leinster lose two of their games, they will find themselves well off the pace, and possibly below Connacht, in sixth.

Ulster could really do with a pick-me-up after what has proved a disastrous European campaign. It’s hard to see that occurring away to Ospreys so they simply must beat Connacht and hope to get something from their trip to Leinster. In recent seasons they’ve sent pretty unfamiliar teams to the RDS so don’t be surprised to see the likes of Bronson Ross, Sean Reidy and –no, hang on, those are first team players. Maybe even Ruaidhri Murphy will play.

But whatever way you look at it, the big three are coming off a period of high intensity matches, and no amount of fixture list management will change the fact that the Christmas interpros aren’t exactly Clermont Auvergne in the massif central. For Connacht, though, it’s different. They sent a reserve team to Bayonne in the Challenged Cup, so we can be sure they’re targeting this trio of games in a big way. They’re dining out on rave reviews for their newly enterprising rugby under Pat Lam. After they struggled for results last season, they are getting the rewards this time around. They have Kieron Marmion, Robbie Henshaw and Mils Muliaina, and there is a sense that for the first time possibly ever, they are capable of properly competing with their illustrious neighbours. They have to play Leinster away, Ulster away and their only home match is against Munster, who they never beat, so it’s a tough old run of games. This is their equivalent of the back-to-backs and their chance to put down a huge marker for the rest of the season.

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25 Comments

  1. @CompleteBore

     /  December 17, 2014

    I had completely forgotten about Ruaidhri Murphy.

    The interpros season should be fun with all four on a pretty even setting right now. It’d be more fun if both Ulster and Connacht had slightly fewer injuries as with them both now concentrating on the league they could do some serious damage to their provincial cousins. I still expect Connacht to chalk up some wins (I refuse to call them surprises on the current form), but Ulster could struggle unless the treatment room starts disgorging some of its prisoners.

    • Ruaidhri Murphy? Who is he? Have Ulster made a black market signing for a new addition to the squad that Stephen Ferris talked about or has Nucifora taken pity on the Ulster fans and got around to redirecting all those forwards starring in the B&I Cup teams in the other provinces.

      • Well .. Murphy got a couple of games for the Brumbies, declared he wanted to be a Wob, then slipped to third choice in Canberra i.e. 10th choice loosehead … in Australia. Not a fantastic CV.

        In keeping with the union’s desire to repatriate all Irish-qualified props, Ulster scooped him up – he played a couple of games (badly) and hasn’t been seen since.

  2. If I was a Connacht fan I’d be happy to be playing Leinster now. We’re coming off four truly abysmal performances, our coach is unlikely to react and make positive changes, our pack is creaking and we’ve lost yet another ball carrier and beef for the pack. To be honest I’m worried the only game that looks a winner for Leinster is Ulster and that’s just because their pack is creaking worse than ours. If they were to get parity up front then were sunk. Praying for a Christmas miracle ie the return of SOB and church.

  3. Stephen

     /  December 17, 2014

    There could quite easily be no Pro12 semi-finals in Ireland this year. That would have serious implications for the prospects of any Irish teams in next year’s quarter-finals, let alone this year . . .

    • curates_egg

       /  December 17, 2014

      Wonder what the loss in revenue would be to Irish rugby in the scenario there are no home semi finals and no Irish quarter finals in the H Cup. A sell-out game in the Palindrome for Leinster probably covers Heaslip’s salary.

      • You’d be surprised how little the loss would be. Quarter final ticket sales are shared, and despite the knockput bonuses and Palindrome game cash going to the Union they still make over 85% of income from the international game. Four provinces in the “Elite” competition would more than make up for any knock-out losses.

  4. Roundy

     /  December 17, 2014

    As a Leinster fan I just wish Connacht would target Munster with the same intensity they reserve for games against us. Galway is a bit of a holiday for Munster who usually stroll to victory in the Sportsground. They even robbed your song ffs! Comon Connacht give em a lash this year!!!

    • Mary Hinge

       /  December 17, 2014

      Munster always seem to have been able to bully us up front Roundy, and they generally put out a strong pack (especially in Galway). Pretty sure things will be closer this year. Not saying we’ll beat Munster, but their’s is the scalp I would most like to take this Christmas. I don’t know why it is, but as a supporter I always feel we have a chance against Leinster even in Leinster’s HEC-winning glory days. This is the case with the team too.

      Plus O’Connor’s graceless comments after last year’s game in the RDS that we played no rugby when we were the width of a post (Parks’ missed penalty) and being reduced to 13 men for the last 8 minutes away from a deserved victory didn’t go down too well.

      • D6W

         /  December 17, 2014

        You certainly have a chance this time! And as for MOC’s graceless comments, at least you only have to hear them twice a year. Leinster fans have had 18 months of them!

        • Woof!
          Seriously, I think the thing I (as a non-Leinster fan) like least about O’Connor is the whining. The injuries, the retirements, the agricultural football which isn’t all that different from what St. Joe peddles at Ireland, you can say fair. But his continual bitching and complaining kind of sets a bad tone for the team – excuses are ok apparently.

    • I think Munster are better at playing on the fringe of cheating and getting under Connacht players skin which puts them off more than facing Leinster when they are usually laser focussed. I think lam is slowly breaking those mental habits of the team and the added leadership of muliaina coupled with a new winning habit will hopefully mean a win against Munster. It’s clear from everything he’s said this season that lam wants to protect the home record over everything so I wouldn’t be surprised if Munster is the game he really throws everything against

  5. Seamaster7

     /  December 17, 2014

    Never thought I would be nervous going to the RDS when Connacht was the visiting team. Can see us not getting many points over this group of games. One solace is that losing these games might cause MOC to change the game plan, or actually create one.

    Apparently I’m a spoilt Leinster fan (thanks for that label Tony Ward), but I do think that the plucky results are no longer good enough for Irish Rugby teams, I’m including all four provinces and the national side in that statement.

    • D6W

       /  December 17, 2014

      Wardie’s article was a disgrace. How come Leinster fans are not allowed critique our performances or coach without elements of the media jumping down our throat claiming we are demanding entertainment and not backing the team. It did not happen when Munster fans were complaining about Penny.

      • I’ve always had a lot of time for Tony Ward, even though back in the day I was a card-carrying member of the “Ollie for 10” faction. Calling Leinster fans “spoilt” was plain silly. The correct term he should have used is “passionate”. Contrast that with what Guy Easterby had to say about the fan discontent. He described the Leinster supporters – I paraphrase – as well-informed and justifiably dissatisfied. Interesting…..

        • D6W

           /  December 17, 2014

          I was more a Wardie fan, but certainly had a huge admiration for Ollie also. just youtubed them to remind myself of their genius, and I was struck at how hard and high they could place kick those old brown gilbert balls. I wonder how todays pros would cope. Anyway, talk about going off point:)

          Agree, seems Easterby is the first person in the Leinster setup to properly acknowledge the problems rather than harp on about fan expectations. And while I always back Leinster, I expect we may not win against Connacht. And if we do, I am sure we won’t deserve it. I have nothing but admiration for how the westerners are going about their rugby business at the moment.

          • Agree wholeheartedly. Am looking forward to the interpros, albeit with a degree of foreboding… I reckon all three oppositions will be looking to take Leinster, as our nimbus of invincibility is long gone and would seem to have been replaced with uncertainty and lack of confidence…..

          • Scrumdog

             /  December 17, 2014

            Ollie on any day of the week was the complete player and in many ways Sexton is similar. Ward was more of an off -the-cuff player who played similar to the way Madigan does…an exciting player.

  6. andrew097

     /  December 17, 2014

    looking forward to the game against Connacht being able to see Muliaina is worth the price of a ticket alone. Leinster are trying to run a bit more which is encouraging but its still the house keeping things that are a little flat. I just keep hoping for a turn around.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  December 17, 2014

      Gops* playing flat from ten, back row giving us big carries and clean front foot ball, all kicks to be contestable, parity(at minimum) at set piece and we will win. Anything less and Connacht will do us.

      *I’m assuming MOC is still in his Thatcher phase.

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