Munster Rugby — a time for hard decisions

Munster rugby

What can you say about Munster’s  crushing defeat to a fourteen-man Stade Francais?

There’s no end to the superlatives: abysmal, humiliating, disgraceful, appalling.

My personal choice is shite.

Munster were shite.

They couldn’t even beat a team that was missing a player for the entire second half. In fact it was hard to know which side was down to fourteen players. They failed for the second year in a row to make the play-off stages of the European Cup, and whatever we might think the reasons are for that, there’s no doubt where the buck stops.

The fact is that Anthony Foley and his management team have failed to deliver what they were hired to deliver and you might say that’s because they don’t have the resources, or you might say it’s because they don’t have the players, but that would only be making excuses. The fact is that they have failed, whatever the reasons, and pretending otherwise will do Munster rugby no good.

But don’t listen to me. Listen to Alan Quinlan.


And while you’re at it, see what CJ Stander had to say after the game.


We rightly place a high value on loyalty here, as well as doggedness, determination and a little bitterness to keep an edge on things, but loyalty is one thing, while blind, unquestioning allegiance is quite another. Such uncritical belief  does us no good as we risk slipping into obscurity, long removed from the glory days of not so long ago.

We can’t do this.

Let’s have the debate and let’s have the discussion.

Was Foley the right choice to take over from Rob Penney?

Did Foley choose the right people for his management team?

Do some people have a divine right to manage Munster simply because they were once great servants of rugby?

How did the plan go so disastrously wrong? And let’s be straight about it — failing twice in two years to reach the knock-out stages is a disaster.

Speaking personally, my only question is this: since Foley and his management team have twice demonstrated their inability to deliver a result, should they have the opportunity to fail disastrously for a third time?

Isn’t it time to make our cows a little less sacred?



Jonah Lomu has died

jonah lomuI don’t know if Jonah Lomu was religious, but I hope so because it would be nice to think of Saint Peter tryig to stop that ridiculous athletic tank as he charged at the gates of Heaven.

What did Mike Catt say? Tackling him was like tackling a motorbike.

There was a report of an athletics tournament in New Zealand before Jonah Lomu joined the All Blacks  that went something like this.

100 metres. Jonah Lomu.

200 metres. Ditto.

Long jump. Ditto.

High jump. Ditto.

Triple jump. Ditto.

Shot putt. Ditto.

Javelin. Ditto.

Pole vault. Ditto.

All Jonah Lomu.

He has died at the age of 40 and nobody can believe it.  All of us are the poorer for the loss of this great sportsman.

What a man, what an athlete and what a hero.








Rugby World Cup. Ireland needs to learn the lesson.

Who predicted New Zealand’s defeat of Australia in the final of the Rugby World Cup?

Well, all right then. Everyone did.  Bookies weren’t even taking bets any more. I met a man today who told me he had €50 on New Zealand winning by six or more points and yet the Aussies kept us guessing almost to the end.  After scoring 14 points during an New Zealand sin-binning, they came within three points of equalising and some would argue that if they hadn’t fluffed an obvious try opportunity they might have nudged themselves into the lead. But in truth, as the ultimate victors took control of the game in its dying minutes and throttled the life out of the Australian challenge, everyone took to their feet to cheer the extraordinary style of the New Zealanders.

They were just better.

They were better in the planning, in the preparation and in the execution.

They were faster, stronger and more skilful than everyone else.

New Zealand left us Irish churning in our stew of hubris as we reflected on the misguided notion that we might ever challenge their supremacy in 2015. I suspect we might not feel confident to challenge them in 2019 or 2023 for that matter unless we conduct a fundamental re-think of how we play the international game of rugby, not only in Ireland but in the entire northern hemisphere.

How does it come about that the top-class leagues of England and France and the elite European Cup are unable to produce a single international squad capable of reaching the semi-finals of the rugby world cup?

We should be grateful to New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina for reminding us that we are now in the second tier of world rugby. We should learn the lesson of Argentina who moved from the pedestrian European model to the expansive, creative, athletic southern hemisphere way of doing things and in the process, effortlessly brushed aside the Irish team, even if that team was admittedly robbed of talent and leadership by its bruising encounter with France the previous week.

It’s not enough. Excuses aren’t good enough.

We failed to beat Argentina because they were better than us and that’s all there is to it.

Ireland, France and Wales failed to progress because they simply couldn’t do it. Drawing a gentle veil across the England performance, only Scotland can have a genuine sense of grievance for referee Craig Joubert’s appalling decision to award Australia a penalty in the final minute of the game, but even then, reality has to intrude. If Scotland had really made it to the semi-final, they’d have been minced up and spat out by Argentina.

We can’t begrudge New Zealand their victory. Every one of them deserves credit, starting with the much-reviled Richie McCaw who has done nothing more than every self-respecting open-side ever did in the history of the game, operating on the fringes of legality, testing the referee’s abilities and leading his team with commitment and pride.

Who are we in Munster to judge? Our own Alan Quinlan fulfilled exactly the same role for years and we treated him as a hero with a nudge and a wink every time he bent the rules.

Let’s raise a glass to Richie, the best of the best, and another glass to Dan Carter, probably only equalled by Jonny Wilkinson in the out-half hall of fame. Let’s hail Ma’a Nonu, that mad heroic bastard and Sonny Bill, the gentle, religious, heavyweight boxing champion.

They’re legends, these guys, every one of them and we should point them out to our children, as our fathers pointed such heroes out to us.

But at the same time, we should be looking at them and asking, How can we be like them?

New Zealand has a population almost exactly the same size as Ireland’s, though it’s true we don’t have as many Maoris, which is undoubtedly a drawback. And it’s also true that, unlike New Zealand, we play many more sports, thereby reducing the pool of players, but still. It seems to be about more than numbers.

Judging by the New Zealand performance in this rugby world cup, it seems to be about attitude.

And let’s be honest, wouldn’t the world much prefer a Riverdance to a Haka?


Argentina 43 – Ireland 20

Argentina 43 – Ireland 20.

Oh God.  Do you even want to look at that scoreline? It’s harder than watching Dave Kearney’s dislocated finger being pulled back into shape. Aargh!

We got hammered and there’s no escaping it. We got trounced.  Argentina played us off the park, and all we can do is wish them well. They were fast, skilful and creative. They were better than us and that’s an end of it, or almost an end, provided we ask certain hard questions.

What went wrong for us?

Probably a combination of things. We were without our four best players in Paul O Connell, Peter O Mahony, Jonny Sexton and Sean O Brien. On top of that, we lost Tommy Bowe to injury after 12 minutes.  In losing O Connell, we didn’t just shed a great second-row, but also a leader who reads the game, organises the players, allocates resources where they’re needed and sets priorities. This is not the sort of contribution we see on the ball or on the television, but that’s how important Paul O Connell is to Ireland.  We lost a field marshal.

As if that wasn’t enough, in Peter O Mahony we lost a fighting general, a man willing to throw himself into the battle with no thought for his own safety while leading his men at the same time.

And of course in Jonny Sexton we lost our tactician, the man who, by an intervention here or there, decides the shape of the battle and ultimately its outcome.

In Seán O Brien, we lost the ultimate foot-soldier through his own indiscipline against France, but still the sort of hand-to-hand fighter we needed to win this war of attrition.

People will say that we lay down under the Argentinean onslaught but of course that’s untrue. Certainly in the first half hour, it looked as though they were going to destroy us but gradually Ireland fought their way back into the game and by the time we reached the final ten minutes, the struggle could have gone either way.

Did Joe Schmidt use his bench to best effect? I don’t know, but I’m at a loss to understand why he didn’t use Simon Zebo as a means of prising open the Argentinean defence.

For me, the decisive moment came when referee Jerome Garces cut off his television official in mid-sentence, choosing to ignore the second half of the advice he was receiving. It happened when tighthead Ramiro Herrera was in danger of receiving a second yellow card for charging. The question to the judge was whether Herrera had used his hands in attacking the ruck, and the TMO’s response was nuanced — He used his left arm going into the ruck but he used —

At that point, Garces cut him off, deciding not to award a second yellow card and therefore a sending-off.

I think that if Garces had allowed his TMO to continue explaining what he saw on the video, he would have been told that Herrera had charged an Irish player for a second time and he would have had no option but to give the prop a red card. It seems to me that Garces did not want to be faced with that possibility and therefore took the easy option. That’s just my opinion, but I think the decision decided the outcome of the match at a time when Ireland were beginning to impose themselves on the opposition.

Naturally, of course, we can’t begrudge the Argentineans their win, especially with their extraordinary running around the outside. Buffalo Gals rugby if ever we saw it, but at the same time, rugby is a game of rules and today, the referee didn’t necessarily follow them as he should have.

Were they better than us? Certainly.

Does that make them worthy winners? Only if they won legally.

Did they win legally? I think the referee made some crucially-important mistakes.

That’s all. They showed the sort of flair, panache and élan that the French could only dream of in their most extravagantly Gallic days of inspiration and what’s more they demonstrated a new Southern-hemisphere insouciance, a lack of fear, the sort of casual confidence that might allow them to trample over any opposition.

Could Ireland have beaten Argentina if they had their full complement of players? I don’t know. Argentina have grown into a serious rugby power and for all we know, they could go on to win this Rugby World Cup  though one suspects not. After their demolition of France, New Zealand look like the team that has it all.

But still, Ireland lost to a worthy victor. Northern hemisphere countries have a bit of thinking to do.





Ireland 24 — France 9

rugby world cup 2015

Ireland beat France 24 points to 9, winning their pool group in the Rugby World Cup, 2015. They did it with determination, with grit and with courage in a performance unmatched in the history of Irish sport but is this the most complete Irish team in history? You’d have to suspect it is.

After all, what did they do when they lost the great Paul O’Connell and world-class out-half Jonny Sexton?

Simple. They brought on Iain Henderson in the second row, who somehow managed to raise the intensity of the onslaught against the French, if such a thing was possible, and Ian Madigan who calmly took over the Number 10 role and carried on where Sexton left off before ending the game with a tearful celebration that earned him two million potential new girlfriends in Ireland and the nickname Gazza from his team-mates.

Is there anything not to like about this outfit?

What’s not to like about a rugby team that helps our men to get in touch with their feminine side? Go on, Rob Kearney, you sexy, sexy man, tweeted one male supporter as the Cooley Commando glided over for a nonchalant try, setting Ireland up for decisive victory against les Bleus.

Sadly, we’ve lost Paul O’Connell to a very nasty hamstring injury, we’ve lost Peter O’Mahony, the world’s busiest back-row, to some sort of knee ligament tear and we’ll probably lose Sean O’Brien to a citing after he punched Papé in the abdomen for no obvious reason. Fingers crossed on that. Oh, and we’ve lost Jared Payne due to a broken foot, but what matter? We have a dozen centres fighting to take his place and Rhys Ruddock has already arrived to take up Peter O’Mahony’s back-row duties.

What have we learned from this so-destructive encounter with the French?

Well obviously, we learned that Johnny Foreigner doesn’t like it up him, but apart from that, we’ve laid down a marker. We beat them off the park, to be blunt about it, and if you don’t believe me, that was also Keith Wood’s assessment of it. So there! We beat them off the park. That puts France in their place, but paradoxically, we might be pleased about it since they happen to be New Zealand’s bête noire,  Les Grenouilles having dismissed NZ from two previous World Cups and challenged them for the last one, only exiting thanks to one or two questionable refereeing decisions.  Les Grenouilles will not fear the sheepshaggers and they might well do a number on them next Saturday.

Naturally, everyone in Ireland will be watching and hoping that France put New Zealand to the sword so that we can dispatch them a second time if we manage to get past the gristle-grinding contest that Argentina will most likely serve up, but nothing is easy from here on and these boys know it.

At the same time, I’ve never seen such a complete Irish squad in all the years of following Irish rugby. Complete in the sense of being well-coached. Complete in the sense of being fit. Complete in the sense of being talented.

But more than any of that, complete in the sense of being one, of being united towards a common goal.

And of course complete in the sense of having the best coach any team could possibly hope for: Joe Schmidt.

I won’t predict anything in this competition, especially not an Irish victory but they have the guts, they have the skill and they have the determination. They have the manager and the strategy. They have the brains. But most of all, they have the sort of pride in the jersey that makes them cry like babies when they win a match and where would you buy that?

Ireland to go all the way.



Ireland’s mediocre performance against Italy only a trick to put France off guard


Ireland’s mediocre performance against Italy only a trick to put France off guard

Now look, said Joe Schmidt, get out there and play the crappiest rugby you can. Just don’t lose the game, all right?

The Irish squad shuffled awkwardly as the coach’s instructions rang in their ears. They knew he was right, but they didn’t have to like it.

Show nothing out there, Schmidt went on. I don’t want Novès finding out anything about us and I sure as hell don’t want Hansen to know what we have. So get out there and win ugly. Make plenty of mistakes, lots of handling errors  and let’s have a bit of indiscipline.

The coach grinned. Ok guys? Any questions?

There was a long, uncomfortable silence in the Ireland dressing room. Far above, the players knew, an expectant Irish crowd would be gathering in the Olympic Stadium, eager to see a thorough thrashing of the Italian upstarts.

Coach? It was the captain, Paul O’Connell.

Yeah, Paulie. What is it?

Coach, can we have one moment of brilliance?

Schmidt thought for a moment. Sure. Why not? Earlsy, Robbie, I want you to pair up and engineer a world-class try, as good as anything New Zealand could pull off. But only one, got it?

Keith Earls and Robbie Henshaw glanced at each other and high-fived.

One, I said, boys. Just one, to send out a message.

Ok boss, Just one.

Peter, the coach turned to the Number 6. I want you to pull off one brilliant try-saving tackle.

O’Mahony grunted. Count on me, boss.

And Peter?

Yeah boss?

I want you to do the moment of silly indiscipline too.

What, boss? Me?

Yeah, you. I want you to shoulder-charge someone and get binned with ten minutes to go.

The flanker shook his head ruefully but said nothing.

Right, said Schmidt brightly. That’s about it, guys. Get out there and play like shit. We’ll keep the Frogs and the Kiwis guessing. Just remember to win.


Also on BTR:

Ireland 24 — France 9



Japan 34 – South Africa 32

Did I ever think I’d find myself shouting GO ON JAPAN?

No.  That’s not something that ever crossed my contemplation. That’s not a thought I had as recently as this morning when I rose from my bed to bathe in my customary flower-scented waters before donning my kimono for a hard day’s work of origami and bonsai.

Even as I consumed my sushi breakfast it didn’t occur to me that the Japanese rugby team might somehow defeat the South Africans, and that’s why I didn’t let the thought take over my entire day. As a matter of fact, I thought so little of it that I watched Ireland’s demolition of Canada with certain misgivings and then went home, planning only to follow the France – Italy match later on, but what happened instead?

Simple. A team of underdogs, a bunch of actually small men, put it up to giants of world rugby, both literally and figuratively, took them on as equals, outplayed them and finally defeated them, to the great delight of the entire rugby-watching world.

This was no fluke. The Japanese matched the South Africans score for score and play for play, shadowing them all the way to 32-29, a three-point game. The Japanese were just as good as the South Africans at every point of play, much to the horror of the Antipodean supermen, but then, to pile insult on anxiety, they worked the dying minutes of the game to nail the result at 34-32.

South Africa have never lost to a Tier 2 team while Japan have only ever won a single match in the Rugby World Cup.

Which of these things is more satisfying for Japan and more infuriating for South Africa?  You decide, but for the rest of the world, it seems that schadenfreude is the order of the day as rugby supporters everywhere cheer the unlikely victory.

I don’t know about you, but I found myself laughing like a madman as Japan ran over their winning try. And the more the camera dwelled on the disbelieving South African players sitting on the ground, the harder I chuckled.


Who knows?

The Japanese seem an unlikely crowd to be shouting for, given their famed attitude to us Gaijin, so maybe it comes down to the rest of the world simply not liking South Africans, for reasons we can only surmise.

Who wouldn’t love a South African, after all?   Their legendary friendliness, humility and modesty all make them prime candidates for Most Loved Nationality, and yet they never seem to win the trophy.

Hard to understand why, but that’s people for you.



Kilkenny win 2015 hurling final

How do Kilkenny keep doing it, year after year?

Some people will say that it’s because they play nothing else except hurling, and certainly, that has to be a factor but it’s not a complete explanation.  After all, from 1904 to  1994, they won the All-Ireland 25 times, a pretty good record for sure, but still only an average of slightly more than one win every four years, even though, admittedly, they made it to the final every second year.  On the other hand, from 2000 to now they’ve won it eleven times.  Eleven wins in fifteen years compared to 25 wins in the previous 91 years.

That’s a 27% success rate in the first century and a 72% success rate in the following fifteen years.  Something must have changed, but what?

Brian Cody. That’s what.

Of course he was working with great material in Kilkenny which, as I said, had reached the final every second year for the previous century, but Cody nearly trebled the win-rate.

I was going to say this guy is the Alex Ferguson of hurling, but he’s not.  Cody is a far better motivator. His success rate is much higher despite the fact that he’s only a teacher doing the managerial job part time. Nobody is paying Brian Cody a salary of millions, or offering him a share of a racehorse. He has no budget worth speaking of. He buys no players and I believe he doesn’t possess a hair drier which is always a good thing to say about any manager.

Do we want Kilkenny to keep winning the All Ireland?

No. We don’t.  I’d lay odds that even Kilkenny don’t want to keep winning it. After all, where’s the joy in winning if you know you’re going to do it every time? Where’s the excitement? Where’s the challenge?

Maybe it’s about time somebody else stepped up and took that trophy.  Anyone. Even Tipperary.


Politics Soccer

Ireland – England game passes off peacefully

Why should it be news that an Ireland-England sporting event passed off peacefully?

Don’t we play them every year in the Six Nations?

Didn’t they come to Croke Park in 2007? Didn’t we all listen respectfully as they sang God Save the Queen and didn’t we all shed a manly tear when we beat them 43-13?  The only trouble I can remember at that match was some fool protesting outside the ground in a Celtic jersey.

Every time they play us at Lansdowne Road, don’t their supporters fan out around Dublin and join our people in celebrating our shared love of sport?

Of course they do, and we welcome them into our hearts, just as they welcome us when we go to Twickenham.

What’s more, don’t we play them sporadically at cricket, and even win occasionally?  Is there ever any trouble at those matches?

Of course not.

So what was all this talk about possible riots at Lansdowne Road today? Listening to the hysteria, you’d nearly imagine we were expecting some sort of Nazis to be following the English soccer team.

Oh, wait.

england supporters lansdowne road riots 1995


Purse but no crown at stake in Lee-Quillin fight

Peter Quillin must be kicking himself for scoffing that last tempting slice of strawberry cheesecake when he just knew he shouldn’t, but hey, we’ve all done it, right?

We’ve all been in training for a world title fight and somehow managed to overshoot the weight limit by a pound and a half, haven’t we?  The last time I trained for a world title fight, my coach said, Just do your best and go easy on the chips because that’s how modern training methods work.   Close your eyes and hope for the best.

Science?  Ha!

What an interesting situation it was, with Quillin challenging Lee for the world title, and then turning up just a fraction too fat.  Not fat, admittedly, by the standards of the people who’ll attend the fight, as anyone who’s been to these things will tell you, but still overweight.  A pound and a half overweight, which doesn’t seem like a lot.  If I was a pound and a half overweight I’d be celebrating with cakes, beer and burgers, but I’m not an elite athlete and neither are you, in all likelihood.

This sport has rules, including the requirement to weigh in and meet the standard, because boxing is based on, of all things, weights.  Who knew?  Was nobody around to remind Peter Quillin that he had a fight coming up and that maybe it would be a good plan to stay away from the pies until after he got on the scales?  Apparently not, and the result is that he won’t get a shot at the title, although he still gets to fight Andy.

Now, in my estimation, Andy Lee is a true sportsman who will do his best in the contest with Quillin.  A lesser man might decide to take a shot to the jaw and drop in the second round, since he’d still collect his purse and still be the Champ, but Andy isn’t made of that sort of stuff. He’ll defend his honour and his pride right to the end.

On the other hand, even if the fight goes the distance, and even if Quillin wins, it will make no difference, since he threw away the chance of taking the belt by scoffing too much strawberry cheesecake and too many deep-fried salted fatfukkers.

What a strange situation.  I don’t know how the purse works out after Quillin’s unfortunate lapse, but it seems obvious that Andy should get whatever was agreed, since he had no part in the ridiculous collapse of the title fight.

Andy met his side of the bargain.  Quillin didn’t.  What else is there to say?