Friday, January 13, 2006

A Last Heineken for the Road?

Apropos of nothing really, a conversation today with man from Leinster rugby heartland, former Blackrock College pupil, oval ball afficionado type....

TSA: You going to the RDS tomorrow?

Man: Jesus no. Not going to support that lot till they start playing decent rugby.

TSA (chuckling amiably, but privately disdainful): What happened to faithful through good times and bad, thick and thin?

Man: I'm not like one of those f#cking Munster saps, following them all over the bloody place

TSA (attempting to uncover the inner child beneath the chilling adult cynicism) : Fair enough, but they play some entertaining rugby at times though

Man: F#ck that. I haven't gone to see them since they lost to Perpignan and I'm not going back till they win the European Cup......


All of which is not meant to illustrate conclusively that all Leinster rugby people lack the sense of communal bond, or pride of place, or tribal instinct, or value the individual and his right to personal fulfilment above that of the collective too much to develop the Leinster Rugby franchise into as coherent and stirring an entity as that of their southern counterparts.

Its just funny the things that people say.

All that said, the move to the RDS for Heineken Cup games this year has been a worthwhile one in countering the sense of displacement and inappropriateness that hitherto affected Lansdowne Road and Donnybrook respectively. Add the return of Brian O'Driscoll and Denis Hickie from injury, the emergence of young players like Robert Kearney and Jamie Heaslip and the relative calm of the new coaching regime and things should be rosey in the well appointed garden of Leinster rugby.

But then there's the unavoidable fact that Leinster's pack, never their prime weapon, is feebler than ever following the defections of the last close season. The home loss to Bath in the first game of the competition has hamstrung their European campaign and threatens to undermine a true sense of momentum for Michael Cheika's regime. This would be unfortunate, as even in that opening loss it was evident that has Leinster had the big finishing guns of O'Driscoll and D'Arcy they could have compensated for their drubbing up front, and in the event of improvement in the pack would be a real force in the latter stages of the competition.

Both Leinster and Munster, however, look to be in dire danger of failing to qualify for the quarter finals. Indeed, both are in the position of their fortunes being out of their own hands. The reality of having no Irish team in the quarter finals is no quirk of circumstance in a tournament increasingly the sole property of English and French clubs. The discrepancy in budgets, and the difference in structures mean that the Irish system of central contracts will only continue to struggle in opposition to the English and French regimes where the club is king.

A shame, as the halcyon days of European semi-finals and finals and the wave of enthusiasm that Irish rugby enjoyed through Heineken exploits could soon be a memory.


....TSA: Well you'll be waiting a long bloody time....


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