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Irish lead the way thanks to S.E.X factor

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John Beattie | 11:41 UK time, Monday, 30 April 2012

I wonder - what do Scottish, Welsh and English teams have to do to catch up with the Irish provinces?

Because, if you fancy a wee bit of burglary on 19 May then pick Dublin or Belfast on the Heineken Cup final weekend as most of the residents will be in London. Can I have a Ferrari please?

Well done to Ulster and Leinster as they progress to the final thanks to "S.E.X": scrummaging, experience, and the X-factor.

Glasgow have a chance to make amends in the league, but at the highest level of European rugby Scottish teams have been lacking in the most marginal sense.

I thought Edinburgh played superbly in Dublin when they took on Ulster but the first scrum of the game sent a very obvious warning. Both packs went down, it was Ulster's put in, and the Ulstermen marched forward. Oh dear, it was going to be a long afternoon at set-piece and that's what happened.

In Bordeaux where Leinster took on Clermont Auvergne the Irish scrum started by creaking, but by the end of the game Leinster's eight were holding their own.

Scrums still win or lose matches.

Ulster beat Edinburgh 22-19 in the Heineken Cup semi-final

Ulster beat Edinburgh 22-19 in the Heineken Cup semi-final

Experience counts for everything and here's where the two Irish provinces scored over their rivals. Ulster fielded four Springboks, whereas Edinburgh had Tom Brown and Matt Scott in the back division, and, while both played well, nobody, save themselves, would have guessed during the summer that they would have starting berths for Edinburgh. Matt is a law student.

I can't criticise anything Edinburgh did and I am on record as saying that Michael Bradley has helped them toughen up and play a more direct game.

Edinburgh were valiant but Ulster's power and experience through Ruan Pienaar and Johann Muller proved key. Leinster fielded Brian O'Driscoll, Jamie Heaslip, All Black Brad Thorn, Isa Nacewa, and Richardt Strauss.

Scottish teams have not been able to sign that calibre of player at the top of their game since Todd Blackadder was in his pomp.

The X-factor is harder to define.

At one level players like Rob Kearney and Sean O'Brien for Leinster appear to be "talented". You could say the same about Rory Best and Stefan Terblanche. But I suspect they have superb coaching and when you look at both Ulster and Leinster they do a lot of the simple things very well, above all keeping the ball when they have it, and disrupting possession.

I like the way Irish teams play. I think Irish teams are well coached and well prepared and I am guessing at a big pool of talent to support and threaten the top players. When I was in Dublin at the weekend they were showing Garryowen taking on Ballymena in the Irish cup and, if I am honest, those guys looked closer to the professional level than Scottish club players.

The Irish X factor isn't Elaine C Smith playing Susan Boyle in her life story in a Dublin theatre (as she was this weekend) no, it's a strength in depth and a coaching pool of talent that is multi-national and highly paid.

Other teams have to learn from Ireland. There's a motivated grass roots. A handy number of provinces in four, they do their best to keep their best players in the country, and it looks to me as though they are a step ahead of the rest of us.

Edinburgh had nothing to be ashamed of, Glasgow have a chance to turn over Connacht and challenge for the league, but the Irish teams are moving ahead.

How do the rest of us catch them? Give me your ideas and I'll have a think.


  • Comment number 1.

    Hi John,

    I'm not convinced on the arguement for better scrummaging this weekend. In Ulster's case, I thought they engaged early on the first scrum, either through enthusiasm or planning, and managed to get a penalty from it. They simply caught Edinburgh off guard but after that, Edinburgh did OK, Geoff Cross improving through the first half.

    As for Leinster, it was pretty 50/50 for me. Cian Healy struggled greatly in the first half against Yachvili and Mike Ross is a little shaky at times. Leinster have no doubt got the most mobile and best handling front row in the competition, but I wouldn't rate their scrummaging as being their strongest suit.

    I agree about the Irish protecting their players. They seem to have quality in depth and youngsters get given their chances (Irish U20 captain Jackson played well for Ulster as a prime example). Much can be learnt from them. The SRU have done better of late trying to keep talent in Scotland (Richie Gray aside) but the Welsh are bleeding players at the top level and must be a worry for the WRU, but also provides opportunity for young players under the new salary cap.

  • Comment number 2.

    Firstly, I am not seeking to detract from what was one of the most enthralling games of club rugby I've seen, hats to Leinster for grinding it out and well done Clermont for being a part of such a spectacle. But John, what you fail to miss from both of these games is that the Irish teams are more street wise than their opponents. It's not just about how they keep their talent, supplement it with high calibre foreigners or have strength in depth (which I disagree with). It's also about playing to the limit that the laws allow and getting away with it. Clermont should have had any number of penalties and Leinster were lucky not to have played that match with 14 for 20 mins at least.

    This isn't new but it is something that seems to be overlooked for the so called bigger teams both at club and international level. Munster allowed to get away with it in the club game while everyone knows the All Blacks and Springboks play on the very edge and are allowed to. Until it is stopped it is very hard to play those teams on even playing field especially given the more success they get, the more money they get, the more talent they can buy (coach and player wise) and so the cycle continues.

  • Comment number 3.

    Well done Ulster and Leinster. Look forward to the final and a great day out.

  • Comment number 4.

    Absolutely spot on #2. Ulster were constantly lying all over the ball and Ferris's slap down from where he was lying on the ground in an offside position was one the most blatant yellows I've seen. Also, how Leinster got away with out losing a single man to the bin was staggering.

    Credit where credit is due. They played the laws and refs better than other sides an got to the final. But I just don't understand how these Irish provinces get away with this time and time again. You can talk about them being more streetwise and they definitely are but they also get away with stuff that is so blindingly blatant.

  • Comment number 5.

    The IRFU are definitely approaching player contracts the correct way in trying to ensure there are 2 top-class players available in every position, although I think they have gone too far with the non-eligible overseas player rule as it currently stands.

    Nevertheless, as Leinster just announced on its website, there is a lot to be said for the centrally controlled player contracts. However, my fear is that the international game is not giving younger players the chance to shine. In my opinion, the 6 Nations should be expanded to both home and away format, with 5 matches played in the place currently occupied by the largely meaningless Autumn Internationals. By adopting this format, coaches will be more likely to try out younger players which just doesn't happen presently and is part of the reason the Irish national team underperforms. We have a conservative coach who refuses to pick on form, instead picking the likes of Donnacha O'Callaghan instead of Dan Tuohy, Leo Cullen or Bob Casey (earlier in his career).

    I believe Scotland, Wales and Ireland could all gain for an expanded 6 Nations as younger players will have a greater opportunity to play international rugby.

    Playing Southern Hemisphere teams can be left to the June window and RWC.

  • Comment number 6.

    An Irish pal of mine has been very suppressed how fast the sport has been growing in Ireland over the last decade. When he was growing up he would rarely see anyone kicking the oval ball in the parks, few schools fielded teams and the sport wasn’t taken seriously. Now when ever he goes home its wall to wall rugby. He attributes this growth directly to winning that first Heineken cup and the continuing momentum as regular challengers. After many visits to Wales he thinks that the Welsh are the complete opposite, with the support lying with the relatively successful national team but due to their lack of success the regions are treated with a bit of apathy and have become stagnant. This does little to encourage new fans and the new generation of players. He thinks that If they win that elusive first euro cup then the regions will start to feel a bit of the support given to the national team.

  • Comment number 7.

    OK Im Irish and a Leinster fan and therefore hugely biased. I'd also say I wouldn't know the huge complexities of how games are refereed, i am hugely confused at how posters are suggesting that the "Irish Teams" are getting away with "IT"? Is there some European level refereeing pro-irish conspiracy i'm unaware of..
    Anyway aside to that do you a) want to watch an exciting brand of rugby or b) want a game dominated by the Referees whistle, sin-bins and stoppages...
    I know what I like ...CMON LEINSTER !!!

  • Comment number 8.

    Hi John,

    Firstly I just wanted to say that I don't think Ulster, Connaght or even Munster are as good as everyone makes out. Glasgow are happily competing with Munster at the top of the pro12 and I have to say Edinburgh outplayed Ulster in many areas. With a few different decisions (ball out of the scrum, deliberate knock on) and a few less handling errors (shocked they were from Talei) Edinburgh would have thumped them. I guess it shows they are a Scottish team haha.

    I also feel that a lot of the good Irish play comes from foreigners, such as Pienaar and Muller or Thorn and Nacewa. This can be seen when Ireland play as a nation, they always seem to be just lacking the so called 'X' factor.

    The main thing I want to see is Scotland testing out all the youth they have. The likes of Scott, Hogg, Dunbar, Grove, Weir need more chance to play at top international rugby and then take that experience back to their respected clubs. We can all see the potential for these players to be some top stars at a later date but the SRU really need to push them through and develop more youth as well.

  • Comment number 9.

    Hi John - can I suggest it is the lack of support by fans in Scotland and Wales that is one overlooked problem. It's difficult to really battle with the intensity that has been shown by Ulster, Leinster and ASM Clermont Auvergne if you don't have hordes of passionate fans. This directly impacts on all facets of the game including underage, finances and the team pride.

    The cause for this however is a mystery...could it be that the locals have not truly bought into the representative teams that were been established since professionalism (think of the defunct Celtic Warriors, Border Reivers and Caledonia Reds) whereas in Ireland provincial rugby has always existed (I acknowledge the interpros were poorly attended before the advent of professionalism but it was an easy buy in from fans).

    Or has moving to larger new stadia impacted on atmosphere and local support (Swansea, Llanelli, Cardiff?).

  • Comment number 10.

    @4, Edinburgh weren't guiltless either. Very early on in the first half when ulster were the edinburgh no8 kicked the ball back towards his own teammates, having come across it from an outrageously offside position and got away with it, right in front of Poite's eyes. This is only one example.

  • Comment number 11.

    It's a very tired argument that people come out with when they talk about teams breaking the rules in the breakdown. Teams like Leinster and New Zealand play for quick ball and do live on the edge of the law in the breakdown but this ultimately makes them exciting street wise teams. There is nothing to stop other teams doing this. Leinster did get lucky with a few decisions yesterday but so did Clermont, Ulster and Edinburgh. Leinster won because they took their chance when it came whereas Clermont didn't. End of story. This is why Clermont lost the game. It wasn't anything to do with the Ref. Edinburgh lost because their execution at crucial moments let them down. How many times did they knock the ball on?? The loss had nothing to do with poor refereeing. Credit where it is due to Leinster and Ulster.

  • Comment number 12.

    There's a cynicism to the way Irish teams play that I find extremely unattractive. Yes, play the referee or reap the consequences when your opponents do, but the frequency with which Irish teams blatantly transgress the rules moves the game closer to football's endemic cheating. How often was Mike Blair required to find his way around a recumbent Ulsterman behind the rucks in the first half? Once or twice you could say was coincidence, but it appeared to be a constant feature. I'm sure various other things would be going on and Edinburgh are not innocent, but it is an approach to the game that I find makes me cheer any Irish team's opponent.

    If you wish to emulate the more positive aspects of Irish rugby, it's perfectly simple, win. Look at the size of the crowds that have attended home matches for both Edinburgh and Glasgow this season and you'll see winning brings crowds back with their friends in tow.

    Edinburgh have strengthened their squad with former internationals, which should rub off on the youngsters in the team, so, as long as they keep their coach, the future looks bright.

    Glasgow have a strong squad, but their change of coach is a backward step and I fear for their future. I hope I'm wrong and that the team play well despite Townsend and the SRU's best efforts to ruin things.

  • Comment number 13.

    Ireland clearly have a model that works... they blend the quality of home grown players plus foreign internationals into only four sides.

    In English prem the quality is spread over more sides and is thus diluted

    Wales have an issue with regions becuase their geography does not split so well into regions

    France have too many foriegn players and not enough "club men"

    So how to compete with the irish provinces? Find a model of club rugby that suits your country down to the ground and run it properly.

  • Comment number 14.

    Refereeing in top level rugby is not an easy job and with the exception of the Ulster try I thought both refs did well (despite my reservations that Wayne Barnes would ruin it). More top quality southern hemisphere players made the difference for Ulster and Leinster just edged a very competitive game thanks to 10 minutes of brilliance from Kearney. Scotland need another pro team, maybe two, whether they could support this is another matter

  • Comment number 15.

    Edinburgh need to keep doing what they are doing - pour all their efforts into the Heineken Cup as they did this season.

    Glasgow prioritized the Pro12 this season but it was the wrong strategy in my opinion. It lacks the intensity and importance of the Top 14 and Aviva Premiership.

    The Heineken Cup is where the money and prestige is. You can match yourself against the best in Europe, not just 2nd string development sides.

    The Pro12 is just a development league for internationals and keeping people in shape for the Heineken Cup. The Irish teams do it all the time - keep the best players for the HC which hardens them up against the best sides in Europe.

    It takes time but the Irish sides have made rotation an art form. Blooding youngsters all the time because in the Pro12 they can. In a more intense league they could not do this. The Welsh and Scottish sides should be looking to copy the Irish but it takes time.

    Auto qualification and no relegation every season means you can focus on the Heineken Cup with no fear.

    Edinburgh have put Glasgow in the shade because of their HC semi and will reap the financial rewards despite a poor Pro12 season.

    Edinburgh might be deemed as a small side but they have now raised their profile on the European stage.

    All about confidence and belief.

  • Comment number 16.

    In my view, If Edinburgh and Glasgow are wanting to challenge those at the very top the SRU needs to identify 'X-Factor' players and bump up the cash to bring them here. To name a few but to challenge Ulster and leinster properly next season the pro teams require a Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, Martin Castrogiovanni, Bryan Habana, et. al. One or two players people would pay good money to watch week in week out. Instead of leasing out Pro teams to the Carruthers, get people with money to self-finance players wages and when the time comes, offer £50,000 a year more than Ulster is offering to re-new Pienaar's contract.

  • Comment number 17.

    First of all. Two great games during the weekend. Close contests as always during the Heineken Cup and high both in quality and drama. Clermont lived up to their tag of 'perrenial bridesmaid and never the bride'.

    I agree with John Beattie about experience and x-factor. However scrummaging? I don't think so.

    The Irish teams are hardly the greatest scrummaging units. Leinster became stronger as the game went on, but that was more down to the fact that Clermont's coach Vern Cotter subsistituted his starting props, Faure and Zuratkashvilli, in order to introduce some more energy and halt the momentum that Leinster created during that 10 minutes of 'Kearney time'.

    The final will be a great spectacle though. i'm thoroughly looking forward to it!

    By the way there is a great post on the semi finals on dumptackle's new rugby blog:

  • Comment number 18.

    For those who keep on whining about the 'shadowy world' that Leinster, Munster, Ulster inhabit as they keep on winning important matches, throw your short term memories back to the great Toulouse & Leicester teams when they dominated the HC. Did mine eyes deceive me then or was I watching the Vienna Boys Choir all clothed in purest White, eyes raised innocently to the Heavens??!! Give me a break - these comments are nothing more than envy and jealousy dressed up to feign righteousness. It always seems to be the same issues - no relegation in the Celtic (Rabo Direct) League thus our league is a joke, Players can be rested more often, rugby not as 'tough/real/hard/attritional' (take your pick), and of course the old chestnut 'we cheat'!!
    My only gripe about the Irish provinces is that their success has not been transferred to the national squad - partly due to the conservative natures of the head coach and the governing body and, partly (as one comment states) because of the foreign players on the teams. I think that the IRFU has made a mistake in limiting the number of foreign players, particularly given the performances of these same players. They have helped to raise the standards of play immeasurably for the provinces. Keep on importing them I say - they are the best teachers for the young guys.

  • Comment number 19.

    I don't know why this is being made so complicated.

    If you split a whole country (plus a bit) into just 4 teams of course you will have an advantage. How would Southern England or South Wales do I wonder?

  • Comment number 20.

    Why is it that success breeds contempt?

    Most of above comments seem focused on somehow undermining the Irish sides, of course you're not going to like how they play since it comes at the expense at your own team. Why is the attitude these days centred on the argument, "that we're not as good as you, so you aren't allowed to be better" a la the standard bull coming from the English clubs recently.

    Fair play to john for acknowledging the true situation. Scotish, english, french and welsh clubs need to look to themselves.

  • Comment number 21.

    What's all this coming from that the Irish sides couldn't prosper without foreigners? Ulster started with 11 Ulstermen and Leinster fielded 12 along with two practically Irish qualified players and one player who is only on a three month deal. In my eyes the basic truth is that Ireland have some of the strongest players in Europe but our manager turns them into a pretty average team.

  • Comment number 22.

    And also the Irish provinces don't have nearly the number of foreigners that the French sides do. Also I agree with #17 the provinces aren't all that strong at the scrum. Remember the Heineken Final last year?
    Another invalid point - "Irish sides only focus on the H-Cup". Irish sides have dominated the Pro12 last year and this year.

  • Comment number 23.

    #2, #4 and others are being extremely selective in their judgements. Did you watch the whole match? What about the situation when Pinnear kicked ahead on the right touchline and was deliberately blocked by an Edinburgh player - or does that not count. In every game both teams will 'get away with' something that a different referee or linesman will pick up on. E.G. There is a good picture of Johann Muller in the air with the ball while Denton has his hand fully over Muller's face. Is this a foul, yellow card, sending off? Who knows?
    The simple fact is that there were no English or Welsh teams in the semi finals and, IMHO, this leads to a load of sour grapes. The "English" commentary on the match on Sky was totally biaised against Ulster from the off.
    What is not in doubt is that both teams in the final are from Ireland and based on the 40,000+ who travelled to support Ulster in the semi there will be massive support for both at Twickenham, providing we can get tickets. There are frequent sell outs at Ravenhill to support Ulster and the merchandising is not extortionate. There is passion on and off the field and this is sadly lacking elsewhere.

  • Comment number 24.

    #19 I know we only have 4 provinces but we are a nation of 5m people and rugby isn't all that popular here in terms of playing. Wales have 4 sides, Scotland have 2 sides. England and France are far bigger countries and rugby is more popular there.

  • Comment number 25.

    i have to congratulate Edinburgh firstly, for a good battling performance. they played better rugby than Ulster and have been the most exciting team to watch throughout the tournament- great last try ran from own 22 showed this further! there are fine margins between winning and losing- in the first half when Edinburgh has the ascendancy and they were down to 14, they they couldn't capitalise and score points. in the second Ulster had field position but Edinburgh looked dangerous going forward bar the handling errors, which put paid to any try scoring chances.
    2 points i am disappointed at- 1. the ball clearly came out of the scrum for Pedrie Wannenburg's try. and 2. Stephen Ferris should have clearly been carded for the most blatant and cynical slap down possible. Ulster took control in the second half. Edinburgh dominated the second. just because they dominated the second did not mean they deserved to win- as a game is for 80 minutes- it was just that they took their points and did not concede when down to 14.
    anyway, great effort. i have to say i am a bit disappointed with some of the signings made by both clubs. i have heard that Edinburgh maybe collected 1 million or so from the H'Cup run, whilest Glasgow will get a decent amount if they get in the play offs. yet they have signed the likes of Richie Rees and John Yapp? why don't they sign some quality players like a Ruan Pienaar.

  • Comment number 26.

    John, I think your article maybe exaggerates the gap between the Irish provinces and the representatives of Wales, Scotland and England. There is, of course, no doubt that the Irish teams have developed highly effective strategies for edging tight encounters, but the margins are very tight. Higher levels of basic skills would not go amiss (look at how many Edinburgh moves ended with a silly handling error), and a little more composure when it comes to putting points on the board. In short, a little more professionalism and belief and the playing field will be level again.

  • Comment number 27.

    It is a tricky one when talking about refereeing not to sound like sour grapes, many have made valid points here but if the other team is getting away with it then more fool us for not adopting the same tactics. So well played Ulster, it should have come as no surprise to Edinburgh how they played the game, we need to look at ourselves and not drop passes or miss glaring overlaps. More pressure games and experience will help.

    I would like to see a ruling regarding blocking runners, refs are hopeless at picking it up and it's turning the game into American football.

  • Comment number 28.

    Given the close scores there isn't a great deal to choose between the teams in the semi finals and all 4 are capable of playing some great entertaining rugby, but the difference for me is that the Irish teams are better at playing on the edge and adapting to the particular referee. Whether thats experience, being more street wise or verging on cheating is a matter of opinion. And sometimes its just a matter of luck that a couple of calls at crucial times go your way such as the Ulster try.

  • Comment number 29.

    didnt take long before someone had to mention 'english' biasm. well done to the two irish sides, 2 great teams that play on the edge.(and what is wrong with that) if it was an english team doing that im sure they would be vilified on hear by you bloggers!!!!!!

  • Comment number 30.

    Presume this blog was written with tongue in cheek?

    There really isn't anything for English premiership clubs to 'learn' that they don't already know. If premiership teams had no threat of relegation, were concentrated into four or five teams and operated with a salary cap of £7.5m you might see a bit more of us.

    In a tight premiership season the top half of the table are concerned with getting into the playoffs and the bottom half about keeping out of the drop zone. HC is an opportunity to rotate your squad and give the young lads a run out. It's just not a priority.

    Unfortunate, but there you are.

  • Comment number 31.

    You're talking absolute bulls**t and you know you are.

  • Comment number 32.

    EricaC - luck/skill (the more I practice the luckier I get!) Ulster's kicks just landed and either went out to gain huge territory or made it very difficult to return them, while Edinburgh's didn't, very fine margins

  • Comment number 33.

    I'm sorry, I just read through some of these arguments and I honestly can't believe some of the comments. The fact Leinster are competing for their 3rd henieken cup in 4 years is a clear statement of Irish dominance. The teams always competing at the top of the pro 12 and magners has consistently been Leinster and Munster. Ulster crushed a terrible leicester in the groups and put in a terrific performance against Munster, granted they didn't play well in the semi they still came away with the win, a hallmark of champions. What you need to realise is that only 3 years ago Ulster we're nowhere in the magners but with a new coach and some new recruits and a 5 year plan are beginning to reap the rewards. For some of you to insult the Irish teams is disrespectful.. Right now there is no doubt in my mind, the teams to beat!

  • Comment number 34.

    As someone who has spent many Friday evenings over the last few years at a soaking wet Ravenhill watching Ulster getting tanked sometimes by "B" sides, I'd first of all like to pay tribute to the current management and players at Ulster for making a miraculous turnaround over the last 2/3 years. When I go to Ravenhill now, I expect Ulster to win regardless of who it is -and their record this season supports that. Likewise in Dublin on Saturday and at Twickenham on 19th.

    What I would say is that this turnaround is not, as some on here would seem to like to think, due to some classroom sessions on how to foul and get off with it. What it is due to is a strong academy feeding young local talent through into the squad and when they get there they are supported by a core of strong players in key positions (some recruited from overseas) who have an extended role to support and nuture these young players (Gilroy and Jackson being fine examples) to advance the squad for the future.

    Players need to be streetwise no doubt and those in sides like Ulster, Munster and the other provinces undoubtedly are! But if your only answer is that you are losing because other teams aren't playing fair, then you really have got problems!

  • Comment number 35.

    I am getting tired of this condensed player pool myth.

    England have 50 million people, Ireland has 6 million people. Ireland has a pro rugby team for every 1.5 million people. If England had the same ratio of players to pro teams that Ireland has now then there would be 33 pro rugby teams in England of that standard!

    If you look at it from the player number point of view then you get the same result. England has far fewer pro teams in proportion to player numbers than Ireland. Ireland has 25 thousand senior male player. England has 131 thousand senior male players. England should therefor have 20 pro sides of the same standard as Ireland.

    The player pool in England is more condensed than in Ireland. Get it?

    As a suggestion to improve the standard of rugby maybe the relegation system doesn't produce the most adventurous approach. I would change that. I would also have the RFU give far more financial support to the clubs. Even to the point of buying up sides that are bankrupt and running them themselves.

    Personally I don't see a gulf in standard between the Irish sides and the rest. Leinster have been super for a while but when this current crop of players start to fade other teams may well catch up.

  • Comment number 36.

    Reading a few of these comments....yes it is clear that the Irish provinces are some of the strongest in Europe over the last few years. Munster, then Leinster and now Ulster have joined the party.

    Let us not forget though that the Irish group of players are only split into a few provincial teams, which helps their cause in Europe. If England and France were to do the equivalent, they would be incredibly strong and dominant too.

    Club rugby and International rugby are separate entities and should be judged in that way. If the Heineken Cup final is contested by two Irish teams, it doesn't mean that suddenly Ireland are the dominant force in Europe (as the Six Nations has proven). The remain though a very good side and capable of toppling many a good team.

    By the way I am saying this as an All Blacks supporter (not English or French).

  • Comment number 37.

    I grow quite tired of lots of English rugby fans talking about how having four teams means Ireland rugby concentrates its players. If you want to make that argument then look at the numbers. A Tom Fordyce blog before the 6 nations gave numbers of over 18 males playing rugby in each of the 6 nations. England had 166,000; France 110,000; Ireland 25,000; Wales 22,000; Italy 15,000; and Scotland 11,000 (all rounded down). If we just look at top level (league) teams then England have one team per 13,800 players ; France have one team per 7,850 players; Ireland one per 6,250; Wales one per 5,500; Italy one per 7,500; and Scotland one per 5,500. England should be dominating.... So #19 it's a useless argument I'm afraid!

    I'm an Ulster fan and will happily say that Edinburgh played some brilliant rugby, it's just the small margins. I thought at first Terblanche had hit Ford with a closed fist and was going to get red, think the decision was right with the yellow. On the Wannenburg try, if it had come out, the advantage would have stopped, Ulster would've had a penalty and scrummed again and there would've likely been a yellow for one or other of the Edinburgh props and a penalty try. Ulster won that match in the scrum (although Pienaar was fantastic) and the front 5 had only one player who is not from the province.

    Rugby goes in cycles, Ulster lost great players elsewhere when we were struggling (no discredit to those players) and the best of those are now returning in the shape of Tommy Bowe and Roger Wilson. At the beginning of the professional era English and French clubs were much better, Ulster's '99 win was brilliant, but involved a lot of luck. Mid '00s the Irish clubs arrived properly on the scene. No doubt in 10 years the Welsh teams will be on top of the game, just enjoy it while it lasts!

  • Comment number 38.

    there are some dillusional people out there. every team in history plays on the edge. Some you get away with (eg Neil Back v Munster in H cup final) and some you don't. Results speak and at the minute the results say that the Irish Provinces are doing things right. Having watched lots of rugby in Ireland and Scotland. How is playing in front of 2000 at a virtually empty Murrayfield going to attract big players or motivate current players? The Irish provinces have long history of identity and therefore players and supporters raise their games. All being said, I'm sure that there will be swings and roundabouts to come

  • Comment number 39.

    Yes the irish players are centred in four teams but so are the welsh and it should be extremely obvious why this is the case..neither can compare with the playing numbers in france and england. The playing population in france and england demands many teams, ireland could only just about support 3, connacht almost were dissolved, ten or so years ago. Its only been with the recent success that the sport has taken off and its still a distinct fourth.

  • Comment number 40.

    The irish provinces may have strong scrummages but they certainly do not have depth in their front rows.

    At Leinster you have Mike Ross and Cian Healy, the two starting irish props and then on the bench Van Der Merve (South African prop).

    At Ulster you have Tom Court who is probably third choice prop in Ireland and then usually on the other side of the scrum is John Afoa (New Zealand prop). Declan Fitzpatrick is there as the usual back up.

    At Munster there is BJ Botha (South African prop) and then Kilcoyne and Archer.

    My point is that if you look at the game versus england in the 6 nations Mike Ross had to go off and it was the first time he had had to in the 6 nations. Up until then he had played every minute.

    Tom Court came on and had to play out of position. What happened was the biggest demolition of a scrum on an international stage that I had seen in a long time.

    Irish rugby is riding its like with props at the moment.

    Of the three best props at each club:

    2/3 at Leinster are Irish and and international standard (the other foreign).

    At Munster 0/3 (one being foreign)

    Ulster 1/3 (one being foreign and Tom Court counting as one is fairly generous as it is).

    The English game was a reality check.

    Ireland DO NOT have any depth in their props at all.

    They have two who are of good international standard, the rest are off the pace or from the Southern Hemisphere.

  • Comment number 41.

    For me a few small improvements could make a big difference to Scottish rugby. Firstly, we need bigger attendances at club and international level. Glasgow and Edinburgh should both encourage local young teams and school teams to come along and support with cheap tickets, they will be the future after all and their interest in Scottish rugby is crucial. It irritates me immensely when I go to Murrayfield and I almost feel in the minority as a Scotland fan, we may have more fans there, but it's often the French, Irish and Welsh making the most noise (perhaps because they're usually winning!), we can't expect Murrayfield to be a fortress when we can't even fill it.
    Over the next five years I would like to see a third and depending on success a fourth Scottish province join the pro12. We need Scottish players to be able to play regular pro rugby in order to develop and a third Scottish side would allow more players to get their chance. For what it's worth I would like the two teams to be based in the Borders and Aberdeen, two of our richest rugby playing areas, judging on birthplace of the current Scotland team. I think within a couple of years we could provide a third team and depending on finances and success of that team consider the fourth.
    I do also feel that the current selection of players in Scotland and able to represent Scotland in the future gives us our best playing pool since perhaps the 1999 squad. We need to develop a winning habit, particularly with the seedings for the next world cup being made at the end of this year! With luck we could replicate Samoa's surprise win over Australia at the start of last summer and win the next two games against Fiji and Samoa, win two out of three in the autumn tests and we could maybe get a reasonable draw for England 2015.

  • Comment number 42.

    It's interesting that when something is pointed out it's deemed sour grapes, you'll find none of them from me, I'm a Welshman still basking in our third gs in seven years so however many H Cups are won outside of Wales I'm co tent in he knowledge our international team is making the correct strides. Additionally, I was not seeking to highlight Irish bias from the refs and completely agree with the points re leicester and toulouse when they were winning. I was pointing out that the 'bigger' teams when they're winning seem to be allowed to 'get away with it a bit more'. What I also think is that while the irish teams don't focus entirely all their efforts on the H Cup, the rivalry that exists between the provinces (something which is not only as a result of rugby but all the gaa sports too) the success will never be translated on to the international field where they should really be dominating Europe.

  • Comment number 43.

    @40 What are you on about?
    Anyone from Ireland with the slightest knowledge of the game would know we don't have the remotest level of prop depth. We were barely hanging on internationally with hayes for years, we were lucky ross showed up and healy smoothly replaced horan who doesn't even contest for the place due to slipping badly down the pecking order. The issue isn't even remotely news.

  • Comment number 44.

    Watching the game live in the Aviva stadium on Saturday, I got the distinct impression that Ulster got nothing from the referee. Yet a couple of friends watching on TV thought Edinburgh unlucky. Amazing what a commentary might do!
    I agree about the coaching John and yet Brian McLaughlin the Ulster head coach is not being retained- Unbelievable.
    I do like the suggestion of a home and away 6 nations and get rid of the Autumn internationals that only benefits Aus, NZ and SA, although some way must be found for the Pacific Island Nations and US and Canada to gain experience.

  • Comment number 45.


    Why are you saying "what are you on about" as if i am factually incorrect.

    I'am not saying that it is breaking news.

    John said that Ireland had depth. I'am saying that they don't in a very crucial position.

    It's nothing to do with whether it is recent news or not.

  • Comment number 46.

    Leinster fan here, and it gives me enormous pleasure to see the large number of bitter, resentful and nasty little comments being posted by our British friends in response to John's article.

    Despite the unpleasantness that lurks at the heart of your dislike of my countrymen, your pathetic comments will merely serve to heighten my enjoyment at the routine thrashings we will continue to administer to your hopelessly inadequate club sides over the next few seasons.

    Five European Cup winners in seven seasons.

  • Comment number 47.

    Using the phrase "reality check" kinda implies the idea of "breaking news". Also i don't like reading a detailed breakdown of the prop situation in ireland as its our greatest problem with little possibility of swift resolution. ;p

  • Comment number 48.

    Preserved Killick

    Think you have misunderstood some of the comments.

    Don't think everyone is bitter and resentful. Of course there are a few but don't get too worked up about it. A lot of people hate someone whos better than them.

    Others though respect them. Well done for wins at the weekend. irish rugby in great place right now. Hopefully it will eventually replicate onto the international stage.

    (diehard scottish rugby fan saying that)

  • Comment number 49.

    To all
    Please do not blame a team for playing the ref, lets face it if it was our team we would not care. What really needs to happen is for the IRB to clean up and simplify the rules at the scrum, tackle and breakdown and then train the bloody refs so we get some consistency. I do not know about anyone else but i love the game ( swansea, ospreys wales me) the thing that has really fragged me off in the last five years is the seemingly increased amateur nature of the reffereeing compared with the more proffesional nature of the players and their support structure. As for the HC semi finals enjoyed the mental toughness that the irish brought to the game just goes to show what you can do with good imports alongside quality homegrown talent, the obvious downside is the young guys fighting for the imports position do not get good game time and the national team inevitably suffers (the propping issue in ireland a particular problem) the answer maybe to limit the quantity of players in any one position its not easy as the clubs have to make money or they go under, and the money is in france and england no surprise there but are they building on foundations of sand by buying up the best of the rest time will tell I really like the suggestion of home and away in the 6N that and a summer time league would certainly benefit both unions and clubs in the northern hemisphere. The international players would get to play for their respective clubs the unions would generate good gate money and we could do away with some silly 'friendly' games the added benefit for the northern unions would be an annual international structure that would increase our chance in the big one RWC. Anyway good luck to both teams in the final i will support the team that has the most Irish players other than that looking forward to a good game. Last thing Edinburgh why yapp he's c**p Rees he is good will really add pace in pass and thought far better than brynmoors boy.

  • Comment number 50.

    The Irish have been getting away with murder at all levels. Others call it playing to the ref and laud it. I call it a highly frustrating and damning indictment of the game.

    New Zealand are beyond ridiculous for this, the 2011 World Cup Final was a joke. We need to clean up the game.

  • Comment number 51.

    Clean up the game? You don't want to clean up the game, you want to sterilize it, neuter it, castrate it. Playing on the edge, cheating, however you want to call it, its been at the heart of rugby for a long time. Sure theres sometimes an issue with incompetent referees but for me one if you rip part of rugby's heart away everyone loses, even those teams who are simply so woefully incapable of cheating they have to complain about it.

  • Comment number 52.

    Hi John, as a former referee and a current Leinster supporter I take issue with some of the inferences on other posts that the Irish are getting away with illegal practices that the other countries do not.
    1. As a referee we took the view that there were 30 cheats on the pitch and the referee and it was up to us to prevent them cheating or catch them doing it which is prctically impossible to do 100% of the time, so no matter what level you played at you always played the ref.
    2. ALL professional teams video analyse not only the opposition but the referee too as any small margin can be the difference between winning and losing.
    3. The reason Ireland do not have a good supply of props is that 12 years ago a decision was taken to prevent any player under the age of 19 from propping full on as the IRFU feared an injury and corresponding lawsuit from any palyer injured while playing rugby. This has come home to roost now in the guise of Iraland being demolished in Twickenham because it is hard to learn the dark arts of the front row without experiencing it until you are 20.
    4.Leinster always had brilliant backlines to watch but up till recently never had the forwards to get them the ball, but like Harlequins and Wales they are a joy to watch in full flow which is more important than grinding out wins.
    PS. congratulations to Ulster getting to the HC final but alas the two best teams in Ireland will not be there as Leinster reserves were not allowed enter the competition.

  • Comment number 53.

    #46 are you the ex606 wum ? just wondered

    Having been involeved in both Ireland and England what im seeing are a couple of aspects that England doesnt have the benefit of . The emergence of more GAA honed players into the rugby scene. Kearney being and obvious example but there are others as many kids in Ireland play GAA or hurling at some point.

    I also see an increased focus by the Provincial Youth systems into Club Rugby rather than pre dominantly rely on the Private or trad Rugby schools such as Blackrock or CBC, for their senior squads.

    What we see then is an increased player selection pool from very small to just fairly small when we bear in mind Ireland only has @200 Clubs to the UKs 2000.(IRB Stats )

    Admittedly we havent solved the front row problem and we do lack depth but the shape of front rows are a changing so that may be resolvable. Also the National team does not meet expectation which is definately an issue but that is left for better brains than I

    I do however think that Irish Provincial Rugby has only just begun coming of age. The youth school and Club talent available is growing in quaility. Its predominanty home grown and that gives the youth hope of making the pro squad and hence the Investment in their time. Finally theres fierce pride your province. its greater than just energetic support, its commitment and hunger and belief.. i dont see that over in England.

    All sports in Ireland have historically been super competative(polite understaement) , just ask Kilkenny GAA what they think of Waterford GAA etc so If in Munster nothing is impossible to the brave and faithfull whats the equivalent in Berkshire? its not that im being derogatory but that 16th man has oft been quoted in terms of Irish Rugby... Maybe we just care more.

  • Comment number 54.

    The performance of the Irish provinces in the professional era and again this year is great for the sport generally. There was, and still is, a risk that the financial clout of France and eventually England will lead to domination of the sport by these 2 nations but at club level Irish provincial Rugby has reversed that possibility to be THE dominant force in European Rugby. Fantastic, even as an Englishman this is fantastic for the sport and I only wish I could be at Twickenham for the final!!!

  • Comment number 55.

    It's disappointing to see so many negative comments from Scottish posters implying Ulster and Leinster won by cheating better than the rest. I was at the Aviva and the foul and negative language from Edinburgh supporters shocked my children. We applauded Edinburgh who played well, and cheered hard and loud for our team Ulster, who had the edge on composure even though they underperformed their potential.
    Is it worth considering that the Scottish teams lack strength in depth because their supporters don't turn out?
    A handful at Edinburgh home matches, capacity crowds at Ulster and Leinster. How can you build and sustain a quality team with such low gates? You can't.

  • Comment number 56.

    The main difference is down to two areas: Belief and streetwise.

    Munster and Leicester used to lead the way in Europe because of the same factors and the other Irish provinces have taken a leaf from the Munster book and combined it with their normal play. It is the same in the RaboDirect with the main three provinces scraping a win in matches that they should be losing. I've suffered great frustration as a Welsh fan seeing a Welsh region beating an Irish province on the pitch but not being streetwise enough to close out a win.

    My team (Scarlets) have played the provinces ten times this season (8 league and Munster twice in the HC). The results have been 1 convincing win (home against Connacht), 1 large loss (away against Munster in Aug), 1 draw (home against Munster the other week) and 7 narrow defeats (less than 7 pts) which includes the two HC matches. With the exception of the first Munster game in Aug the Scarlets were on average the better side in the remaining three, but the Munster streetwise attitude won through.

    I recognise the earlier post which states a lack of transference to the Irish national side as we seem to have the opposite in Wales, we currently have a streetwise national team but regions who play well and fall short due to a lack of nouse.

  • Comment number 57.

    13 averageBBC_journalist - succinct and spot-on.

  • Comment number 58.

    51 yyrabb

    I really hope that you're joking. The increasing level of professional fouls must be a concern for anyone who loves the game. I don't think that any particular nation is more guilty than another...although I do sometimes think that some are more likely to get a way with it than others.

    My own frustration lies in the fact that it is becoming near impossible under the current Laws to succeed without cheating...sorry, being streetwise! Winning the ball at the breakdown, especially if you are the defending team is less and less about strength and commitment and more and more about illegal techniques to get/impede quick ball. This is the fault of the administrators and the media folk they abase themselves in front of rather than the players.

    The sad truth is that if cheating....damn, I still can't get it..."being streetwise" is the only way and we sanitise by calling it something less ugly, then the message is out there that it is the best route to winning. Young, aspiring players learn that being an efficient cheat...sorry "operator" is the only route to success. Then you create an environment in which the only crime is to be caught...rather like what was happening on city trading floors and I don't hear too many purrs of admiration for those guys.

    The idea that rugby is morally superior to football is sadly now well and truly least at pro-level. While there are less histrionics and insulting the ref, the level of constant technical infringement and professional fouling has left football miles behind.

    Good luck to Leinster or Ulster but I won't be going to the HC final at Twickenham! My date at HQ is for the preceding weekend when my club, going for its first shot at silverware in over 100 years will be contesting the RFU Senior Vase. On the coach at 8.00 am...a pie and a pint...and cheer the lads on to glory (hopefully). That still seems a bit like real rugby and I can't wait!

  • Comment number 59.

    The answers are more in why the other countries teams haven't performed as well as much as in why Ireland have. To me it's roughly (though obviously there will be individual exceptions) as follows:-
    Scotland - lack of a decent player pool. Their national form demonstrates they simply don't have the players. The best ones tend to leave the regions for better money and trying to develop new players with just two regions with limited resources is always going to be hard. Sure Edinburgh have done really well in the Heineken Cup this season but it's been at the price of their league form. Something they're lucky enough to be able to get away with thanks to their guaranteed Heineken Cup places.

    Wales - For years before this one their national sides performances suggest a weakness in stregnth of depth of players and spread across 4 (well mainly 3) regions this deminishes them a lot. Add to this a seeming lack of cohesion at the Galaticos of Swansea and Neath and it says a fair bit. You'd say the improved national performances would indicate an improvement in the future but the skills drain to France is going to cost them.

    Italy - Similar to Scotland really now but also their old league format ment that their top players were spread around a fair bit. Something they probably couldn't afford to do. Of course now they're regional they face the problems of having limited choices with only 2 regions.

    France - The most money brings in a wealth of talent from across the globe but they've got a competitive league to think about and very often this can be some of the clubs main focus. You only have to look at some of the big name French clubs, Stade Francais for one, who weren't at the Heineken Cup this year to see their focus has to be split.

    England - Pretty much the same problems as France really. The top talent spread over more clubs, the need to have to compete on more fronts, a greater desire to do well in the domestic league and then you throw a salary cap that restricts the top teams from having a more competitive squad.

    Ireland - Have combined the strengths of the regional system in being able to combine all you international players into a few teams, three effectively in Ireland, with a talented international pool to pick from, an expetation of doing well, the advantage of being top seeds in a lot of the groups (a big advantage in helping to get through and one that is self perpetuating) and the ability to sacrifice their domestic league if need be all combine to generally put them%

  • Comment number 60.

    top of the pile.

  • Comment number 61.

    A lot of posters here, particularly Scots, appear to have trouble understanding the difference between "being streetwise" and "being much better at rugby than the team I support".

    For the record, when you are discussing Leinster, Munster and Ulster it's the latter description you need to be reaching for.

  • Comment number 62.

    The point John makes about the grass-roots system and the motivation within it is a good point! The club game means alot to many people, every weekend a coach will travel anywhere up to 500 miles just for a single game (Ballymena to Garryowen).

    Furthermore, players do move from the amateur game to the pro game. This season it was Leo Auva'a, Last season, Fergus McFadden played many times for Old Belvedere. So this is a source of motivation for many young players playing in the All Ireland league.

    I would also say that while Ulster and Leinster were both complimented on the scrummaging, the number of Irish front row players is minimal and it is a problem of great concern for the Irish teams which needs addressing and fast.

    What confuses me is that the Heineken Cup has two Irish teams in the final. Two teams playing enthralling rugby, yet the Irish national side have gone to the dogs. How does this stack up? How can the French and the English clubs be doing so poorly, yet the national teams doing well? Are we back to the number of professional clubs?

  • Comment number 63.

    61 Preserved Killick

    A sad fact in all sport is the tribal human reaction i.e you cheat!...but I'm streetwise!

  • Comment number 64.

    I just think that sides like Leinster and Ulster with the passionate home grown players they have , and excellent ability to pick foreign gems would find it hard not to be successful , if only cardiff could be more like them ( ospreys,dragons and scarlets also) , all the best to them I say

    us taffs have alot of catching up to do in club rugby .

  • Comment number 65.

    @62. Magical Marshmallow

    I believe a lot of the reason why the English and French sides aren't as competitive as their national teams come down to a few reasons

    1. Number of clubs. Put simply Ireland effectively has 3 top teams (Connacht for the most part being left out in the cold) France has 14 England 12. You spread the international level players out amongst them it gets diluted.

    2. Priority on the domestic league. The French English clubs by nature place more of a priority on the their domestic leagues. This is partially due to the increased level history of these leagues, club rivalries and the perceived level of acheivement in these leagues. But it's also due to the fact that they don't have the luxery of ignoring it. Look at Edinburgh great progress in the Heineken cup but if they were a side in the French or English leagues they'd have to worry about relegation and qualifying for next years competition. Edinburgh don't and have the luxery of sacking off the Rabopro12 to focus on the Heineken Cup.

  • Comment number 66.

    "A lot of posters here, particularly Scots, appear to have trouble understanding the difference between "being streetwise" and "being much better at rugby than the team I support"."

    Yeah, yeah. If you were so superior, you wouldn't have been at risk of losing for most of the match. Commenting upon a way of playing is not sour grapes, it is stating an opinion. Much like your own myopic view of your team, it is not an opinion that is required to be shared by anyone else.

  • Comment number 67.

    #66 Drowningnotwaving - very succinctly put, i couldn't agree more.

  • Comment number 68.

    As someone who has played in both Scotland and Ireland professionally and having read all the comments relating to Johns article I am amused at the constant reoccurring themes about Irish and Scottish rugby. My opinion all be it a humble one is that Ireland have a good structure to the professional game and have built on the success of the provinces whereas Scotland have spent many years searching for a structure that suits with not a lot of joy. I as an Irish man having lived in Scotland for many years and have listened to the constant critisism of everyone else and how Scottsih rugby and Scottish teams are given a raw deal which I believe is cr*p. If people believe everyone else lives on the edge of the law do not fool yourselves that the Scottish teams don't try to emmulate this. Scottish rugby needs to make a decision on the way forward and spend the time and finance to support this. The Scottish rugby supporters have to support this and stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. Support the game and support the structure. I have read the critisism about foriegn players although I find this amusing as Scotlands National coach is not Scottish and Edinburghs coach is an Irish man. Edinburghs best players are a fijian and a dutchman and we know that if there was the finance that both Edinburgh and Glasgow would recruit more foriegn players. My view is to support what John is asking and that is how to improve Scottish rugby. Stop complaining about everyone else and take a look in the mirror. Look after your own affairs and help the SRU to take Scottish rugby to the next level. Irish rugby is about to get its hands on Europes gretaest prize for the 6th time and its about time Scottish teams were challenging for this.
    I congratulate both Edinburgh on their fantastic efforts in the Hieniken and Glasgow in the Rabo respectively but hope that they can build on this for the future.

  • Comment number 69.

    Edinburgh did very well to get as close as they did to Ulster. There should be a lot more come from them but they also need to build a genuine club identity away from Murrayfield. Ulster have come a long way and their imports are top class. Leinster are a great team. Yes, they rode their luck but the way Joe Schmidt has them playing makes the most of their talent and is quite unlike a lot of the northern hemisphere, not least - Ireland.

  • Comment number 70.

    As ever, the theme of the original blog has become obscured as national rivalries are played out (which I don't have a problem with) and the bar room intellect is stretched ( #31's erudite response says it all).

    The sane and the knowledgeable will have watched the HC games over the weekend and said - great stuff, cracking match, good luck to yer. But that's NOT the same as pretending Irish clubs are way ahead of everybody else which is the basis of JBs rather tongue in cheek article.

    Lighten up.

  • Comment number 71.

    Is it just me or do most of these posts sound like sour grapes. That said, as long as you all keep this attitude, that should go a long way to ensuring that the Irish teams continue to be successful in the coming years! Or else I guess you could decide to congratulate 2 teams on their successes to date and put some constructive criticism back towards your own teams who havent been so successful. Roll on Twickers!!

  • Comment number 72.

    A recurring theme throughout this blog seems to be the prevalence of Irish cheating, living on the edge, being street wise or whatever term you wish to call it. Only around post 50 does someone rightly and sensibly make the point that every team is "at it" but we supporters tend to focus more one what the opposition get away with than any deficiencies in our own team.

    Let's consider for just one second the small margins that would have rendered the original blog as redundant. Edinburgh attacking the Ulster line in the first half, dropped the ball and turned over possession. Clermont attacking the Leinster with 90 seconds left did the same. Added to that Edinburgh contrived to drop more ball than a team at this level should, and thereby killed any attacking momentum they created. If these actions had been completed succesfully we may have had a different outcome.

    In short, the team that executes the combined skills of attack and defence better usually wins, and over the weekend this was proven to be the case. Irish provincial rugby is strong at present because it appears to have more of its on-field and off-field structures functioning correctly, but don't be fooled into thinking that it has always been thus and ever will be so... so let's just enjoy it while it lasts.


  • Comment number 73.

    while we are at it, labeling Ulster as having only good imported players is pretty disrespectful to the players who are born and bread locally. Rory Best, Stephen Ferris, Andrew Trimble are all experienced and top table players. We now have young talent such as Craig Gilroy and Paddy Jackson breaking in to the team. Does anyone really believe that they dont have fantastic careers ahead of them at the top table?

  • Comment number 74.

    @ le taloneur#30 & #70 - nice moniker and even better trollwork.

    Like every Premiership club wouldn't give 100 English titles for one hallowed Heineken. Oh and just check out the names of some of those young Leicester unknowns who got embarassingly unmanned in Belfast on 13 January this year (carve their names with pride) -

    Murphy (is this tyro related to the Ireland reject consistently voted the best Premiership player?); Tuilagi; Youngs; Castrogiovanni, Mafi, Parling, Croft. Give these guys another couple of years to develop and who knows?

  • Comment number 75.

    I am not sure if home and away 6 nations would add anything to the game and just drive a wedge with the pro teams - a far more exciting prospect would be to invite a Southern Hemisphere team to the tournament every year on a rotation. With NZ, Saffas, Australia, Samoa, Tonga maybe Canada on a rotation it gives all nations an extra home game and the tournament an extra dimension. For the invite nations the players are only going to play in it only once or twice in their careers (as each team will only play once every 6 years) so it becomes something special to them) with an extra game we might even win one?

  • Comment number 76.

    Good on the Irish clubs, but why can they not convert their success into International success.perhaps they have too many foreign players in key positions, 4 clubs, but 6 foreign first choice props, so is this holding them back oin th eInternatinal scene. Bet the final is a cracker and it may even set a world record for a club game. go Irish go.

  • Comment number 77.

    # 52 givetherefabreak As we say in Belfast - you're a cheeky wee skitter & you know it! lol (For the moderators: Skitter = rapscallion, urchin, little monster)

  • Comment number 78.

    A few years ago people may remember there was talk of the English and French joining up with their SH counterparts in some sort of annual competition, leaving the Celtic countries behind.

    Faced with this challenge and that of professionalism, the Irish/Welsh/Scottish RFUs set up the Celtic league which would give them competitive rugby on a regular basis. The IRFU in particular went about creating a structure that would enable them to compete with countries boasting 10 times their population.

    This involved numerous changes such as centrally contracted players, evolving what was a moribund provincial set-up into cohesive club teams and a host of others. They essentially tapped into the underlying strengths of rugby in the country.

    This has largely bourne fruit in what can be seen now in the successes of the provincial teams and the strength of that structure means that Irish teams at both club and international level will always be competitive.

    That's our story.

    So beyond all the claptrap about playing refferees better or salary caps or whatever other excuses you can come up with for your own shortcomings, why not accept the challenge and get your own houses in order.

  • Comment number 79.

    Good Blog John, it's a shame about some of the one sided negative comments.

    To address some of the points I disagree with :

    1) Ulster rely on foreign imports. True to an extent without them we wouldn't be so competitive as we have gaps in certain positions, but the starting lineup on Saturday had 11 Irish qualified players and 4 foreign players. Compare this to Northampton in the final last year who had at least 3 foreign players from memory in the starting lineup. Ok, so we probably would have started with 5 foreign players if Afoa had been available, but the fact that D Fitzpatrick was able to slot in shows the strategy behind bringing in these top players, and growing the home talent.

    2) Irish sides cheat more. I just disagree they don't cheat any more or less than any other side. There was a great shot of a French player trying to pull Leo Cullen's head of at a ruck in the dying minutes of the Clermont game. Or how about when Hines held to Ulster players and then later blocked another in the group stages. All teams break the rules at times.

    3) The Pro 12 doesn't have relegation, unlike the poor English cousins who have to be more competitive in their domestic lead and can't give the attention to the HC.
    The favourite side going into the final is the most competitive side in the Pro 12 - they came second last year and are leading the table by quite a bit this year, equally the second team going into the HC final made the playoffs of the Pro 12 last year and sit just outside the top 4 this year.

  • Comment number 80.

    I think the Irish have done very well. They have made the most of the less important/intense Pro 12 to blood and rotate players in readiness for the HC. The French and English teams do not have quite this luxury but nevertheless rotation is the key. French and English teams should use more rotation to build a strong squad that is capable of fighting on all fronts.

    Obvious advantages for the Pro12 teams are automatic qualification for the HC every year and no threat of relegation. Dragons look unlikely to threaten the other Welsh regions for qualification and Connacht can just rely on their fellow Irish regions to do the work for them.

    This means the Pro12 clubs are well placed to put all their resources into the HC with no worries.

    The Scottish and Welsh clubs should be following Edinburgh's example.

    The Irish are very savvy, yes it could be interpreted as cheating but if that's the case other sides should do likewise. I call it being street wise.

  • Comment number 81.

    A little off topic but what I am finding interesting is the large turnover of players coming in/heading out this year not only from the Scotland pro teams but in general. Edinburgh have announced so far to my reckoning 8 players (please feel free to add any I've missed) that are set to leave for various reasons: Chris Paterson, Mike Blair, Phil Godman, Andrew Kelly, Alan MacDonald, Kyle Traynor, Jack Gilding, Esteban Lozada. A few of these are understandable but I have to admit to surprise at Kelly, MacDonald & Traynor who I believe still have something to offer in the squad. Fair enough these are all being replaced Nel, Tonks, Basilaia, Atiga, Rees, Yapp and I think a Lock from the Newcastle Falcons but will they push the team forward? Next year will certainly be interesting to see how Bradley integrates these new faces into the team.

    I understand that that Warriors are set to release around 9 players at the end of the season, and seeing the likes of London Irish and Gloucester releasing rafts of players there appears to a real migration of players coming. Hope a lot of these guys manage to find clubs and keep themselves in the game.

  • Comment number 82.

    I love the suggestion by a some that the way to catch up with the Irish is to concentrate the resources into fewer teams.... population of Ireland is 4.5M with 4 provincial teams, population of England is 52M with 12 top tier teams. Just do the maths.

  • Comment number 83.

    Lets face it, with only two pro teams we cannot compete. we cannot generate enough interest in the game domestically and we do not have enough youngsters competing for players within the system. leinster and ulster (previously leinster and munster) do not necessarily develop all thier own talent, they take advantage of the less well off provinces doing it for them.

    we need more pro teams. we have 4 regions in scottish rugby. bring back caladonia reds and border rievers and find a system to make them financially viable, whatever that may be. yes neither the reds or the rievers will be world beaters but the competition they can provide is vital. it is through this that edinburgh and glasgow can become the leinster of ulster of scotland.

    if we stick with two teams we can sit and watch italy overtake us!!!

  • Comment number 84.

    Maybe the Irish were street wise blah ,blah etc but the results were very tight and the ref missed so much , anyway he's French , I'm fed up with the whingeing about various other teams on this blog and on the radio {John ,can you do something about your pal Ritchie Gray the commentator ,he's a bit of an embarrassment with his comments,leave him at home } The ref could have been less lenient with both side but wanted to keep the game flowing. As far as the Irish provinces are concerned ,there is a long tradition of supporting them and they have capitalized on that. Edinburgh deserve all the plaudits for getting to the SF ;it was not the ref or the streetwise Ulster that beat them , it was the handling errors at crucial times. After all they were one score away from the final ,I still ca'nt fathom why the team at the foot of Rabo12 can do that and while the Irish provinces do not turn out a decent national team ,in fact they seem to be in decline. Well done Leinster ,going to Bordeaux and beating a team with a great number of the French xv players takes some doing even though Fofana was a bit unlucky at the death. I'm sure the final will be a great occasion.

  • Comment number 85.

    #19 Doesn't understand Irish rugby or sport vast area's of Ireland are dominated by Gaelic sports in fact rugby is only the fourth most popular sport in the whole country. Yes he's right about South Wales, they would have a unbelievable team (the Welsh international team) but what about the other 3 regions in Wales? #82 is right Ireland have done well with a similar population to Wales where Rugby is god. Another point when you talk about Irish side's scrummaging just think back to the England game where they were destroyed.

  • Comment number 86.

    John as you said above a game is won and lost in the scrum, I watched the game via French TV online (Which I think is shocking, should have been on national TV, but that's a side issue) The game was lost in the front row. Edinburgh had what people call the Scotland front row and they got murdered. The last time a saw a scrum go back that fast was at school when 3rd year played 4th year pupils!!!!

    We need 4 professional teams, they need second teams, they need feeder clubs. If your not playing in the first team, you play second string, third string, etc, etc, etc. But player in the professional squad should be playing every week.

    Back to TV, can some please explain to me what Rugby is doing on "Alba"?!?!?!?!?!?! and why do you have to wait until late on a Sunday night to see the hightlights on STV?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

  • Comment number 87.

    We need to concentrate on just improving our national team, more importantly this Summer tour. I'd like to see a team like this:

    15. Hogg
    14. Brown
    13. Dunbar
    12. Scott
    11. Visser
    10. Laidlaw
    9. Prygos
    8. Wilson
    7. Barclay
    6. Denton
    5. Kellock
    4. Gray
    3. Murray
    2. Ford
    1. Jacobsen

    16. Lawson
    17. Cross
    18. Hamilton
    19. Rennie
    20. Cusiter
    21. Weir
    22. R. Lamont


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