Cut. Paste. Remove Abusive References To IRFU Officials And Toilet Humour Puns On Their Names. Post.

The Mole wrote a series of bad-tempered pieces relating to the IRFU document regarding future policy towards non-Irish eligible [NIE] players before Christmas. Quite baleful [bile-fuelled?] stuff, actually, and not entirely concomitant with the holiday season. As a result, they never saw the light of day. UNTIL NOW … … no, really. Here’s all the views that are fit to print.

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If in the past the Mole has been guilty of presenting the IRFU as a thoughtful, inclusive and rational governing body, he would like to apologise. After all, this is the same organisation that launched a massive ticket price-hike in the middle of the worst recession in the history of the state, and signed Eddie O’Sullivan to a contract extension before the disastrous RWC07. Which was just a blip, lest we forget.

While the IRFU can’t compete with its esteemed older brother the RFU in terms of outright f*ckwittery and politicking, it can certainly make the effort. And it has! 

Where do you even start?

Firstly, there is absolutely no appetite for this move amongst Irish rugby supporters. If a radical initiative like this had been proposed in the aftermath of RWC07, which was by any measurement a pretty spectacular failure, then it may have been more well-received.

As it is, most people were disappointed with being beaten so convincingly by the Welsh in the quarter final, but stoically took the defeat for what it was: being beaten by the better team on the day. While it was a significant let-down, there had been the enormous high of the win over Australia earlier in the tournament, and a very satisfactory victory over Italy in which we had dealt well with the usually uncomfortable position of being favourites.

Despite the shocking run of results in the warm-up games [four losses from four, with two of them qualifying for the abject variety], Declan Kidney had managed to assemble a squad that put together some very strong performances and claimed a huge Australian scalp: a stunning contrast to our typical World Cup performances, it should be acknowledged. Our final placing – between fifth and eighth in the world, with nothing much separating any of the teams in those grades – more or less reflects our standing in the world game.

However, it would seem that the IRFU have taken a different – and much harsher – stance. It’s reasonable to look at this directive as a response to the outcome of RWC11, coming as it does within three months of the tournament and before Ireland have played another game.

That the failure to get ‘over the line’ against Wales and achieve the stated goal of the IRFU strategy [i.e. getting to the semi-final] is seemingly been placed at the feet of the provincial set-ups rather than as a failure of the squad and management in a one-off game of knock-out rugby is – in the eyes of the Mole – erroneous. On the day, the Irish team were significantly out-coached and more marginally out-played by a talented Welsh outfit who were unfortunate not to make the final. That this loss came at the hands of a team with whom we have a 50/50 record since the last World Cup [see below] may be considered galling, but it should by no means come as a complete surprise.

    • 08/03/08 Croke Park Ireland 12 – 16 Wales [Home Loss]
    • 21/03/09 Millennium Stadium Wales 15 – 17 Ireland [Away Win]
    • 13/03/10 Croke Park Ireland 27 – 12 Wales [Home Win]
    • 12/03/11 Millennium Stadium Wales 19 – 13 Ireland [Away Loss]

Nor should the failure of the Irish team and coaching staff on the day be parlayed into an ill-founded, ill-argued ‘blame game’ that centres on the supposed inadequacies of player production in the provincial set-ups, rather than the more obvious and uncomfortable idea that a game between relatively evenly-matched teams was decided by a significant coaching coup overseen by a former IRFU employee [one Warren Gatland] over  the current incumbent.

Are the IRFU seriously suggesting that Ireland lost because Isa Nacewa plays fullback for Leinster? Or because Pedrie Wannenburg plays for Ulster in the backrow? Or because Doug Howlett plays on the wing for Munster? It would seem that yes, they are.

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“… a successful Ireland team is the catalyst for success at all levels below that.”

Really? Ireland won three out of five games in the 2011 Six Nations and almost lost to Italy. Italy. I’m all for not underestimating teams, but that was very close to the worst start to a Six Nations in the professional era. That wasn’t a “successful” Irish team. How was it the catalyst for the successful Leinster team that won the Heineken Cup later that year?

If anything, going from a side that just scored eleven tries in their last two HEC group games [six vs Saracens in the RDS and five vs Racing in Paris] to an Irish side that played such an obviously sh*t brand of rugby for half the games of the Six Nations actively impeded Leinster’s success last season.

How was the absolute egg laid at RWC07 and the p*ss poor Six Nations that followed ‘a catalyst’ for Munster winning the Heineken Cup in 2008? If you’re going to say because national failure provoked provincial success, you work for the IRFU.

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Eddie Wigglesworth and Philip Browne seem to have missed the point of Ireland’s exit from RWC11 completely. We didn’t lose to Wales because Isa Nacewa plays fullback for Leinster; we lost because we were completely out-coached and more marginally out-played on the day. Do you think having a better sub prop on the bench is going to change the outcome of a 22-10 game where scrums were a non-issue for the vast majority of the match?

Would Ireland be in a stronger position if Leinster had persevered with Ronny McCormack, Royce Burke-Flynn and Stephen Knoop, or if Munster had just given Timmy Ryan or his brother whole tranches of gametime for them to get plowed backwards? Let me answer you that one: we would on our absolute b*llocks.

As for succession planning, it’s been going on right under the IRFU’s respective [sometimes gouty] noses:

Six Nations 2009 [RWC11] – bold denotes a different player

Horan 31 [Healy 23]; Flannery 30 [Best 29]; Hayes 35 [Ross 31]; O’Callaghan 30 [O’Callaghan 32*]; O’Connell 29 [O’Connell 31]; Ferris 23 [Ferris 26]; Heaslip 25 [Heaslip 27]; Wallace 32 [O’Brien 24]; O’Leary 25 [Murray 22]; O’Gara 32 [O’Gara 34]; Fitzgerald 21 [Earls 24]; D’Arcy 29 [D’Arcy 31*]; O’Driscoll 30 [O’Driscoll 32]; Bowe 25 [Bowe 27]; Kearney 23 [Kearney 25]

* Both of these players have been replaced in the starting HEC game line-up for their provinces in recent weeks by younger, Irish-qualified players: 28 year old Donnacha Ryan in for 32 year old O’Callaghan and 25 year old McFadden in for 31 year old D’Arcy. Oh, how did that happen? All the provinces want to do is pick foreign players and old guys, apparently.

There have been 6 long-term changes to the starting line-up in 30 months. Essentially, just under half the team has been turned around, and another three [O’Gara, O’Callaghan and D’Arcy] should – should, should, should – go within the next two/three months.

Nobody wants to see an international team that is consistently in flux. It simply doesn’t work.

The great Brian O’Driscoll is out for the season, so Kidney is finally forced to try somebody else in the No13 jersey. It’s extremely likely that we’ll be looking at 10 different players in the starting lineup in comparison to that which took the pitch against Wales less than three years ago.

*     *     *     *     *

“We’re spending about €2.5m a year on our academy structures and they’re churning out players,” he says. “The worst possible scenario for us is that we have nowhere for those players to play because there are blockages in the system. So what we’re trying to do is loosen up some of those blockages without changing the whole system.” 

Yes. You’ll have ‘nowhere for those players to play’. All those brilliant players you’re churning out will have nowhere to play, because about 24 [6 NIQ places per province] of approximately 160 [40 players per province] professional playing positions in Ireland are ‘blocked’. Thankfully, nobody gets injured in rugby. Ever. Surprisingly, no young player ever outperforms an older player and gets selected ahead of him. Far-sightedly, we never offer long-term national contracts to past-prime players. Critically, no player should ever leave the country to play in a different environment. What could he possibly learn? Who has ever benefitted from playing in a different league? Certainly not Mike Ross, Eoin Reddan, Tommy Bowe, Leo Cullen, Shane Jennings, Damien Varley etc.

“We’ve got to make sure that [decent coaches deciding not to come to Ireland because they don’t have any real say in who they can either pick or contract] doesn’t happen,” admits Browne. “Both ourselves and the provinces will have to sell the system that we have. The proof will be in the pudding.” 

What’s this “we” talk, white man? The system that “we” have?

“We’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen. Now, I haven’t actually thought about it at all, and there’s absolutely nothing in the document we’ve just released to counter-act the overbearing influence that the likes of myself and other under-qualified numpties will have on professional coaches but … eh, to sum up … eh, the proof is in the pudding.”

“If you sign off on a player as a number 15, but want to play him in any other position when there are no exceptional scenarios that warrant that, then you will not get permission,” explains Wigglesworth. “You’ll have to play him as a 15.” 

So the provincial coaches will have to run every single team-sheet by some jobsworth in the union to see if that’s okay? Yep, first-rate coaches will be lining up at the door for a job where you don’t have final say on a single team selection you make.

“Let’s get things straight coach. It’s your job to coach the team, but it’s our job to stick our oar in and make things difficult for you. By the way, you have to select Mushy at loosehead today.”

“The provinces tend to look at things in two or three year blocks, whereas we look at the longer term and in terms of World Cup cycles. It just wasn’t a runner to leave things as they were, particularly with the challenges around succession planning in a number of positions on the field.”

We’re great forward-planners. That’s why we got Alan Gaffney as a backs coach after Leinster had hired him, and that’s why we took on Greg Feek as scrum-coach for the Irish team … eh, after Leinster had hired him. We forward-plan so well that we ignore things like enormous recessions that might have an impact on ticket prices, because in the grand scheme of things, all that will be forgotten.

It just wasn’t a runner to leave things the way they were, especially not after we had had our most successful World Cup ever and had seen one of the provinces win the Heineken Cup in tremendous fashion, and another win the Magner’s League in record-breaking style. No, things were going too well, so we decided to try and step in and, y’know, f*ck things up a little.

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15 thoughts on “Cut. Paste. Remove Abusive References To IRFU Officials And Toilet Humour Puns On Their Names. Post.

  1. There are so many issues wrong with this it’s kinda hard to know where to begin other than with a shot of tequila.

    From a selfish Connacht fan point of view I’m very worried. Even though we are not part of this “process” this is bad news for us. When Will Chambers leaves Munster they will be forced to bring through an IE player. I hope they have good centres coming through, otherwise Eoin Griffen and/or Dave McSharry, who are beginning to have a great partnership, will be on their wishlist.

    Du Preez will go and Brett Wilkinson will be tempting.

    Payne will leave Ulster, and while Gavin Duffy will probably be too old to tempt anyone by 2013 Tiernan O’Halloran will do nicely I’m sure. And a Mike McCarthy shaped replacement for Muller would be appreciated as well, I’m sure. This whole idea will denude Connacht even more than before. All this after the IRFU said the other three provinces had agreed to ‘facilitating’ the movement of players to Connacht. Looks like the traffic will be all one way.

    In fact, mentioning Gavin Duffy is important. This whole idea is to ensure there is never more than one NIE player in any position. Earlier this year the FBs in the provinces were Jones, Duffy, D’Arcy and Nacewa with Kearney out injured. Did all Irish supporters rest easy with the looming RWC safe in the knowledge that the Connacht, Munster and Ulster starting FBs were IE? No, of course not. Instead Fitzgerald, Earls and even Bowe were all mentioned as possible RWC starters in the event of Kearney not making it. The 1 NIE in each position was effectively in place as far as the FB position was concerned, and it was worthless.

    I’d write more, but I’m frothing at the mouth and need a napkin before I short the keyboard.

  2. Well you got me started so you’ve only got yourself to blame…

    Ruan Pienaar is the only NIE scrum half in Ireland. Now, we’ve never been blessed with the greatest scrum halfs (halves?) and you’d probably have to go all the way back to Colin Patterson before you felt comfortable, but we’ve got a handful of guys that will do the job.

    When Pienaar leaves he must be replaced by an IE scrum half in Ulster. So now there is a 9 shaped hole in the NIE quota of one player across all positions. So when Munster or Leinster are looking to fill their NIE quota they will be forced to sign an NIE scrum half, even though they’ve been getting on fine without one until now. How is that helping to develop IE players?

    Ok, they don’t have to sign an NIE if there is no need, fair enough. But I wonder is that the plan in it’s entirety? Is the grand plan something even more sinister where provinces are weaned off NIE players altogether?

  3. Parte the thirde

    “Project players”… the words alone are enough to make Irish fans shudder. Strauss at Leinster looks set to become the first IE project to wear the Ireland shirt. I have nothing against the guy, I’m sure he’s a gent, but I’m not comfortable with project players as a concept.

    But from now on, the only way to sign an NIE and not lose him will be to sign a non-capped NIE to a three year contract, which will allow him to re-sign as an IE player once his contract is up. So the most effective way to hold onto decent NIE players, as far as the provinces are concerned, will be to max out on players who are effectively all “projects”.

    And as has been mentioned enough times not to need repeating, those are the only kind of players the provinces will be able to attract, because any NIE worth his salt with international caps and half a brain will know to avoid a short term stay in Ireland. This of course also means our competition in Europe gets tougher as players who might have come to Ireland are guaranteed to be playing for the opposition.

    The IRFU must have been hugging themselves with frantic joy when they thought this up.

  4. Last thing (maybe, possibly…)

    There are a number of players coming to the end of their careers internationally, but who might still stick around for a season or two. Doesn’t the act of retiring from internationals make those players NIE in everything but the title?

    If retired players are starting, then they will be depriving young IE players game time. Will the IRFU step in and tell BOD he can’t play for Leinster, or tell ROG that he has to cede his position to Keatley?

  5. Great stuff. Brave stuff. But great. I suspect we all need to get a bit angrier before this nonsense goes away.

    Incidentally, umm’s point about the scrum-halves (yep, with a v…) points to a whole unforeseen level of stoopid in this whole thing.

    The succession plan is much, *much* dumber even than I thought. My knees are weak, and not the good way…

  6. There are varying factors as to why these changes to the set-up in Ireland have taken place. If some changes look like it will make the provincial coaches job more difficult, that is irrelevant. It is also irrelevant what rugby ‘supporters’ of Munster Rugby or Leinster Rugby or Gerry Thornley think about the changes. They can watch on TV in their armchairs or write articles about American football instead if the change doesn’t suit them. The game existed long before they got fed up watching GAA.
    Kidney though under pressure is still well regarded in 10/12 Lansdowne Road. However, losing to Wales in the RWC 2011 gave the three wise men and their alickados the perfect opportunity to push these changes through as quickly as possible. Ultimately, it is about developing home based Irish eligible players and putting out the best possible first XV for Ireland. Rugby Clubs in Ireland that actually participate and run the game in Ireland have been treated very badly by the IRFU logistically and financially in the last five years.
    This is one of the first times that professional franchises like Munster Rugby and Leinster Rugby have been inconvenienced by the blazers. If they don’t like it, overseas and or ineligible players and coaches can head off to the lower standard leagues of England. I’m delighted the younger Irish players are finally going to get a chance to play and that all the money we have poored into the youth academies will for the first time in a significant way produce a crop of players that can go one step better in the next RWC which will take place in England 2015.

    • There’s a few things here.
      What are the varying (various?) factors?
      Coaching a provincial team will ideally lead to coaching the national team, but not if the coach’s track record is poor. Irishmen Mark McCall and Conor O’Shea are in charge, in very different roles, of Saracens and Harlequins. McCall was unlikely to progress any further in Ireland after his spell with Ulster ended unsuccessfully unless he went abroad. In a similar vein, are Eric Elwood’s career prospects benefitting from Connacht losing repeatedly? If the Irish provinces lose competitiveness, it is likely that the coach of the national team will be an Irishman appointed from abroad who is working with a successful team.
      The rugby ‘supporters’ buy tickets from the IRFU along with merchandise. They also turn up and support. The game will exist long after they’re dead but while they’re alive, they’re a useful source of income and goodwill.
      Was the loss to Wales a good thing then? If Ireland had reached the final of the World Cup, or even beaten Wales, would these changes still have been advisable. Is that not a reactionary basis upon which to make a strategic decision?
      Rugby clubs have been treated very poorly by the IRFU. However, as rugby clubs constitute the IRFU and provide representatives to their committees, some of this is of their own making. The lack of flexibility towards kick off times, the pursuance of ‘shamateurism’ and an inability to agree on what is best for the club game, particularly in relation to the AIL are all somewhat self imposed. Most clubs now host burgeoning mini rugby set ups, mainly as a consequence of the wholly voluntary effort of club members along with the increased profile of rugby, a lot of it generated by the success of the provincial teams. How clubs deal with this generation, and their parents, will decide their future.
      It is unlikely that Isa Nacewa, Ruan Pienaar, Dougie Howlett, BJ Botha or John Afoa would be playing in the lower standard leagues of England. They would be playing for the provinces’ competition in France and England. If the provinces are no longer competitive, and unable to generate the revenues associated with home knock out matches, it is conceivable that these top class players would be joined by some high profile Irish names.

      • Varying, yes. It is the appropriate word for that sentence. Add it to your lexicon, or wordstock if you prefer. Forget about the coach for a moment. It is the first XV that matter most to Ireland. It doesn’t matter how good your coach is if your players are comprised of ruck inspectors and the Wanderers F.C. back line. Brian Ashton when he coached Ireland and Nick Mallett in Italy are perfect examples. Anyone who doesn’t like change in the game doesn’t believe in the skills, abilities and potential of our own players. Tag or mini rugby or 7’s does not get people playing the proper game. Ask any busy club, and they will tell you they struggle to put out XV’s but their is more interest in the mini’s or the dreaded tag. Tag, a merketers dream when you need to target armchair props and barstool backs in the pubs. Many of those watching rugby watch for the entertainment value as it is a better product than association football or GAA. If the changes were not put in place the game in Ireland would continue to become the spectator sport into which American football has sadly decended.. As for the overseas players, they would be playing in the lower standard English leagues. Look how overseas players has badly damaged the fabric of English rugby. Finally the key Irish players are well looked after above and below the table, so fear not an exodus of our finest talent.

  7. It may be “about” developing players, Alston, but while you were blathering about the people who disagree with you being bored of GAA, everybody else was pointing out reasons why it will in fact do nothing of the sort, all of which you have ignored.

    Besides, in which universe are young fellas like Spencer, Cave, Gilmore,Marshall, McAllister, Healy, Cronin, Toner, Flanagan, Ruddock, Ryan, Madigan, McFadden, O’Malley, Macken, Conway, Dave Kearney, Felix Jones, Zebo, Barnes, Keatley, Murray, Archer, or Sherry *not* being given a chance to play?

  8. Look,

    the IRFU are shitting themselves.

    They discovered pretty decisively that punters appetite for Irish rugby tests in Lansdowne doesn’t stretch to forking out 120 lids. They have since discovered, via the Irish Rugby market research questionnaire and via subsequent matches, that the Ireland fan isn’t too happy about forking out 80 or 90 lids either.

    Meanwhile, the provinces are tripping over trophies, playing teams stuffed with many of the same players the IRFU is charging the Bangkok wholesale price of a left kidney to go and see – and charging around 20 lids a game if you’re a season ticket holder.

    “Not to worry, we’ll finally have a SF appearance in the world cup and Team Ireland will be back as flavour of the month”, they avowed over a light lunch of quails’ tongues and albino caviar.

    And so to plan B.

    “The only time you will get to see 15 starting stars of world rugby is when they’re in green”, they tub-thumped belligerently, sporting the medals Grandpapa earned for laying communications cable at Bletchley Heath and brandishing a cheese knife. “If you have to watch a spotty twenty-year-old drop a garryowen under his own posts instead of Isa Nacewa slicing through six tackles and unleashing an offload with the user of only the ring finger on his right hand – well then, serves you right for buying poxy provincial tickets instead of Deccie Wonka’s golden ticket to rugby nirvana.”

    Which, if Joe Schmidt had been Ireland coach and Declan Kidney Leinster coach (prolonged involuntary shuddering), might have worked. As it is, I’ll take my chances in the RDS and won’t pay more than about €65 lids for an international ticket.

  9. Younger players like Henry, Ryan, Conway or Barnes will not develop if they are only given 20mins at the end of an already boxed off match. It is very unfair to them as players as making an impression on a game is usually their only vehicle for making a case for inclusion into the first XV.
    It also plays right into the hands of the schoolteachers philosophy of only picking players he has coached before for the Ireland XV. Kidneys painfully slow to change things, and only when he gets tapped on the shoulder by his bosses and coaxed by Irelands actual coaches.

  10. Pingback: Why the IRFU would have let the Heineken Cup die… | honconnacht

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