Hey, didn’t you used to be Steven Sykes?

When the news got out that Ed O’Donoghue had signed for Wasps from Leinster a week ago, you may have found yourself saying ‘I didn’t think he was still there’, or perhaps you asked ‘What on earth happened him?’  It was certainly one of the more curious career spells for an established player in recent times.  Ed O’Donoghue arrived having had a successful season with Ulster and been called up to the Ireland squad for the summer tour to New Zealand, where he played against the Maori in a game Ireland were close to winning.  He looked set to provide solid back-up to Cullen and Hines.

O’Donoghue made a grand total of eight appearances for Leinster, four of them in their disastrous September last year, and appeared only twice in 2011.  Rumours circulated about a poor attitude and work ethic, and he didn’t even feature in the Leinster squad photos this year.  Apparently a trial with Matty Williams’ Narbonne didn’t work out.  Now, he’s gone to Wasps and Leinster fans won’t even notice his absence.

In his (and more pertinently, Nathan Hines’) place, Leinster signed Steve Sykes this summer.  He arrived from Natal Sharks with a good reputation as a footballing second row who would probably be capped were he not South African (where great locks are falling from the trees), and comes as a ‘project player’, with a view to playing for Ireland.  And so far… erm… a whopping two senior appearances and 123 minutes.  In the recent spate of matches, he appears to have fallen behind not only Devin Toner but Damian Browne, and dispatched to the A side, where, in the game against bottom of National Division One side Esher, one poster on Leinsterfans described him as having ‘excelled in his anonymity’.  For the next A match, against Melrose, he didn’t even feature, as Stephen Keogh’s brother Nelius partnered Mark Flanagan in the second row.  Is he injured?  Has he fallen out of favour?  How has an experienced Super 15 stalwart seemingly fallen behind obscure academy players in the Leinster pecking order?  Nobody seems to know, though, once again, rumours of a poor attitude are rife.  Leinster’s love affair with the lazy second row, dating back to the great Franno, appears to be ongoing.

If you see him, say, erm, hello.

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Going backwards

Last week we handed out our Team FAIL gongs. Now, we present the Individual awards. Step forward the weak-willed, the constantly injured, the thuggish and the just plain useless.

On a fairly disastrous Irish tour to NZ and Australia last June, Ed O’Donoghue played against the Barbarians and NZ Maori and acquited himself well. Ed was coming off a good season for Ulster and had secured a move to Leinster. However, in a season where Leinster’s second row was beginning to creak with Trevor Hogan retiring, Devin Toner not really stepping up and Leo Cullen not getting any younger, Ed disappeared. Completely. He isn’t even listed in the programmes any more.

To be truthful, Delon Armitage never totally endeared himself to Whiff of Cordite, with his ridiculous chest thumping and 2009 “tackle” on BOD. This season, however, having lost his hold on the England 15 shirt, we expected him to put the head down. However, he has turned into a poor mans John Terry – when not screaming at officials, he was punching Stephen Myler off the ball. Whatever happened to professionalism?

Whiff of Cordite was at Croke Park in March 2010, fully expecting an(other) Irish Triple Crown to be wrapped up with victory against Scotland. Especially when we scanned the Irish back row and saw the names Ferris, Wallace and Heaslip. But the best back row forward on the pitch that day was John Barclay, and he ended last season as the front-runner for the Lions openside shirt. This season, the expected kick on has not happened. Showing minimal leadership qualities for an underperforming side that desperately needed them, Barclay checked out mid-way through the 6 Nations.

Speaking of Scotland players who seem to have given up, what about Euan Murray? As sanctimonious as ever, Euan’s performance in the 6 Nations was nothing short of embarrassing. Never mind his powder-puff propping, his lack of responsibility and poor attitude saw him ditched mid-way through the tournament by an exasperated Andy Robinson. Another Lions front-runner this time last season, he would struggle to make the plane right now.

On the topic of stroppy tight-heads, Tony Buckley also seems to have thrown in the towel. Back in October, with John Hayes on the verge of actual retirement (as opposed to retirement from scrummaging), Mike Ross not even on the radar and Tom Court playing primarily at loosehead, the Ireland tighthead shirt was Mushy’s for 3 years if he made even the slightest effort at fitness and application. Nine months later, his place on the RWC11 plane is uncertain and he is on his way to a flailing Sale Sharks side. With Andy Powell. And Sam Tuitupou.

Rocky Elsom arrived in the Northern Hemisphere in November on the back of leading a pretty successful Tri-Nations for Australia and a Hong Kong Bledisloe Cup ambushing of NZ. He departed, having decided abusing the touch judge was the best way to rally his weak-scrummaging troops in Italy, as one of the leading men in a Brumbies side expected to challenge for the Super Rugby playoffs. Player power then struck 3 games into the season with Andy Friend departing amid rumours the senior players wanted Stephen Larkham installed. Since then, Rocky has mystifyingly yet to tog out, the Brumbies sink to new lows virtually every week, and the Australian fans don’t want him in the team.

Oh, and has Mike Phillips been on strike recently? After walking out on his 3 year Ospreys contract? The Ospreys have got a lot of heat from WoC recently, but we are on their side on this one.