Stick It Up The Jumper

We may have advised Put Lum to put out the kids in Grenoble, but he inevitably didn’t, went full bore, and nearly won. The game itself was a stonker, a properly exciting show from two teams intent on scoring more points than the other. Connacht led by 16 and 10 points and were ultimately unlucky to lose a game they could easily have won.

The aftermath of the game brought forth lots of pats on the head for Connacht for “refusing to compromise” and “playing rugby their way” with the assertion that if only they had been more “pragmatic” they would have scraped through. Pragmatic of course being code for sticking it up the jumper.

It is telling that, for all Connacht’s success this season, which is based on Southern Hemisphere style multi-dimensional attack with plenty of forwards passing the ball and tons of offloads, they are being advised to tighten up in this stage of the season. Almost as if playing attacking rugby hadn’t actually won them any games. Now it’s time for the big boys Connacht, play some cup rugby.

Of course, close observers of rugby this season will be able to point to an actual cup that has already happened, some crucible where the concept of cup rugby – sticking it up the jumper, playing it narrow and “going through the phases” – could be tested .. the World Cup. And that of course was where teams that most exemplified cup rugby as described – England, Ireland and France – did so poorly. Wales won their key game only by throwing caution to the wind in the second half, and lost narrowly to Australia and South Africa (and England in the Six Nations) while playing Warren-ball.

And of course the teams with the most skill who went out to win games by scoring in multiples of 7 and not 3 were BNZ, Australia and Argentina. But .. y’know … cup rugby.

Next up for Connacht is a crucial Pro12 game, which can as good as seal playoff qualification, at home to the high priests of cup rugby – Axel Foley’s Munster. Foley was hired in a barrage of RTTMV headlines, and has delivered those values in spades, but unfortunately the game has moved on, and the dreadful spectacle of a prop with 15 international caps being unable to execute a 4-on-1 overlap was emblematic of their season.

If Connacht play close to their abilities, which involve passing and offloading and intelligence, and Munster continue to show all the skill and cohesion they’ve shown all season, Connacht will win. And despite it being late in the season, they won’t do it by taking the deadening advice of late as resorting to “cup rugby”, because that won’t work. And perhaps its a lesson Irish rugby could take to heart

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21 Comments

  1. andrew097

     /  April 13, 2016

    It does not matter how open you play at times you can play some territory as it is another option defences have to think about. The more decisions the defenders have to make the more likely they will make a mistake. A easy thirty meters can some times be the best play. The team that won the World Cup can be very pragmatic at times.
    Hopefully Connacht win if Leinster dont, it would be good for the league and might kickstart a sea change in Irish Rugby thinking.

    • Ulster caused Connacht some difficulties when blitzing in Ravers – they essentially went all-in on Connacht offloading .. and it paid off

      • Grenoble tried the same: first three times Andrew Browne got the ball (in the Muldowney/forwards QB role) he got nailed, fourth time he got the ball to Aki and we scored. Ulster’s win was as much about the poverty of Connacht’s attack in the first 40 as the quality of Ulster’s defence.

    • Completely agree with this. It’s not a case of be open and expansive or just kick the leather off the ball. The line speed from Grenoble was so quick because of Connacht’s one dimensional strategy. Now to be fair this was to their detriment when Connacht got it out wide quickly – it led to tries then but on other days it leads to turnovers and concessions. I don’t want to be too hard on a team down to their third or fourth OH but a bit of variation will assist them.

      Whatever happens from here it is a momentous season for Connacht but as “the big teams” now have all their players back and settled, you will see a step change in performance evidenced by the caning Connacht took at Ravenhill and Glasgow’s steady accent.

    • davehorgan

       /  April 13, 2016

      Completely agree with this. It’s not a binary case of open and expansive or kicking the leather off the ball. Variety is the spice of life and will greatly assist Connacht in achieving what they are aiming for. Grenoble’s line speed was so fast because they knew Connacht were one dimensional. Now it cost them when Connacht managed to get it wide quickly but on another day those floated skips are intercepted and under the posts.

      They are down to their 3rd or 4th choice OH so don’t want to be too hard but I’m not actually sure that it would even make any difference.

      Connacht’s successful period this year was while “the big teams” had squads of players away, they are back and settled now evidence by the caning Connacht took at Ulster and Glasgow’s steady rise, I wouldn’t bet against Connacht being beaten by Glasgow on the last day and again then in Scotstoun. But would love to see them contest the Pro12 final.

  2. The absolute worst possible thing Connacht could do is try to shut up shop. The (Munster) pundits calling on them to do so know that if it’s a low-scoring brawl of a game then Munster are probably favourites. This explains, whether they’re conscious of it or not, why they really want Connacht to stop playing.

    For all the talk about Munster being poor this year, they’ve ground out wins from such ugly games in Swansea, Edinburgh, Belfast, Parma and Treviso. They could and should have beaten Leinster in the Aviva Who’s-Is-Biggest-athon.

    However in recent try-fests, away to Glasgow and Cardiff, Munster have come out the wrong side of the result. They have lots of talented players and they’re as honest as the day is long when it comes to the doing-the-crappy-stuff-that-hurts bit, but their decision making varies between poor and completely absent.

    If Connacht stick to their guns and play at tempo it’s hard to see where Munster can eke out a win. Weather forecast is pretty good* by the way.

    *Pretty good by western standards, I should say. No need to break out the sunscreen and water wings.

    • D6W

       /  April 13, 2016

      Totally agree. Connacht are where they are by playing the way they are playing, it would be a terrible mistake to go defensive now.

  3. Billy

     /  April 13, 2016

    I believe the point was more; why not play a touch more conservatively when 16 points up away from home in a cup QF, which is perfectly valid.

    The dominant narrative among armchair fans post-WC seems to be that the only way to win matches is to play “wide-wide” rugby, which is total nonsense. NZ won their WC semi against SA with a territory-based kicking game. Argentina lost their semi by attempting to be too fast and loose. The beauty of the sport is that there is no one single ideology that dominates in the long term. The game constantly evolves.

    If one thing is clear it is that every player from 1-15 needs a rounded skillset in the future, Bealham and Buckley in Connacht are great examples of this. As good a servant as Mike Ross has been I hope our THs of the future are more rounded. It was heartening to hear Foley comment today on how important it will be in the future to develop players internally rather looking abroad as we have done previously. Hopefully greater resources are poured into developing coaches, talent identification and physical and skills development. The Connacht success story has shown that even players unheralded at underage level can be developed into very solid pros in the right environment, e.g. Bealham, Buckley, Connolly, Blade, Masterson, Dillane, Heffernan. For all the talk of the success of Leinster’s academy their conversion of Ireland under 20s 1st XVers into Leinster 1st XVers has been reasonably poor.

    Some food for thought; Matt Healy was Ireland under 20 SH ahead of Conor Murray. What happened that he was allowed fall off the radar to the extent that he had to play his way back through the AIL. I’m sure Leinster are kicking themselves.

    • Leinster have two academies as opposed to the other provinces’ one each, and they could probably fill two more with the amount of talent coming through every year. They’re bound to let some guys slip through.

      On Leinster not converting academy players to first XVers – there are twenty-something internationals ahead of them in the queue for game time. This was a problem for Munster when they were bulk providers (TM some curly haired lad) to the international team. This year quite a few youngsters (Moloney, Ringrose, VDF) have got significant gametime, so I think they’re dealing with it.

      • Billy

         /  April 13, 2016

        You’re totally right. There are only so many jerseys and only 23 players can play every week. But the fact remains that there are some very talented players being left on the sidelines. For example, Billy Dardis of Tony Ward fame, two years as under 20 international is in his 3rd year of the Leinster academy and may not get a contract offer (apologies if I’m wrong and he has) and if he does he’ll most likely get a development contract and play 2-3 dead rubber games next year. Munster/Connacht I’d hope are all over this. Likewise Dan Leavy.
        The depth charts at LH and OH in Leinster are ridiculous at academy/development contract level. At LH; Dooley, Ed Byrne, Loughman, Porter (behind Bent, Healy, McGrath).
        I take it you mean the sub-academy in Leinster though as the second academy? Munster and Connacht also have those.

        • I had been under the impression the IRFU funds X number of places and staff for each provincial academy, but that Leinster have double the number due to their own funding. However on checking this isn’t correct: the Connacht academy (21) is almost exactly the same size as the Leinster one (22). Perhaps it’s their sub-academy that’s outsized due to the number of players that need to be monitored up to U-20 level?

    • davehorgan

       /  April 13, 2016

      The following have played Irish U20, are 25 or under, and are apart of Leinster’s 1st team squad:

      Furlong
      Tracey
      Moore
      Molony
      (5)
      Leavy
      VDF
      Conan
      McGrath
      Marsh
      (11)
      Reid
      Ringrose
      (14)
      (15)

      All have except Tracey and Marsh have been Irish capped or will be within 12 months. On top of that you have Jordi Murphy, Rhys Ruddock, Jack McGrath & Dave Kearney all established internationals.

      • Billy

         /  April 13, 2016

        All factual and correct. However, I think “squad” is the key word here. How many of those will get to see top level European rugby in a season barring injuries – 2 or 3?
        I’d use Dan Leavy as an example here. He was astounding at underage level. His performance in the SC final about five years ago was about as dominant as you would see and he was later an Ireland under 20 captain. He has obviously had injury problems since then but there is no doubt he has not come near achieving his potential. Or Josh VdF; for all his potential and talent it is highly likely he will not make a Leinster match day squad with all players fit and available.

    • Brilliant point – skills, skills and more skills

  4. robertemalexander

     /  April 13, 2016

    The league positions speak for themselves. Connacht are where they are because they haven’t compromised – Munster are where they are because they consistently compromise. Connacht need to look at this season as a moonshot – they won’t overcome Glasgow, Leinster or Ulster in a playoff if they play conservatively, particularly away from home. Those teams have too much quality and have been there too many times. The pro12 and Europe are also two different beasts – the pro12 teams, as they are designed to supply international talent, tend to have specific areas of strength and weakness, whereas the French and English tend to have slightly more muted quality across the board (though the influx of foreign talent is changing this). As such a more balanced approach can work better in Europe but in the Pro12 you need to throw caution to the wind. Glasgow have shown this over the last couple of years and Connacht are being rewarded for doing so this season…

    • cambridgefergal

       /  April 14, 2016

      “Munster are where they are because they consistently compromise.”

      Munster are where they are because they’re consistently shoite, because they appointed a Good Ol’ Boy coach who’s completely, utterly out of his depth and is playing caveman rugby. Andy Robinson in charge of England springs to mind.

      • robertemalexander

         /  April 14, 2016

        Well, I guess that’s another way of putting it 🙂

  5. andrew097

     /  April 14, 2016

    Its not about kicking or passing its about playing in a way that causes the opposition to make lots of decisions.
    Defenders defend options the more options a defender is thinking about the more likley he / she will cover the wrong one. When a team has a well balanced kicking game, kicking policy, running and handling game then that team is in the position to wins games. If it continually plays one way then the team is a lot easier to defend against.
    It sounds easy and obvious, the only tricky bit is when to do what.

  6. The match Racing v Toulon at the weekend was on a knife edge pretty much the whole way through. About 20 minutes to go Toulon were putting Racing under enormous pressure, attacking the latter in their own half like mad trying to get over the whitewash; Dan Carter put one beautiful kick in behind the Toulon backs, which bounced over the sideline somewhere around the opposition 22. As a result of that one kick essentially, Racing played most if not all of the last quarter in the Toulon half, got a couple of penalties, popped one of them over and won by three points. I wouldn’t call that defensive, just appropriate under the circumstances.

  7. No game last week and no game next week but Leinster put out a weaker team against Edinburgh? Leo certainly not doing Munster any favours, you don’t think he’s trying to stop Munster qualifying for the big cup???.

  8. It’s impressive that you’ve managed to incorrectly blame Dave Kilcoyne for blowing the overlap in the Leinster-Munster match in two separate blog posts, one of which is about Connacht. It was of course John Ryan.

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