The Six Nations has passed and for many an awful lot has changed forever. Take Jacob Stockdale for example -a young guy by no means certain of his place in the Irish team before the Championship – going on to play every match in a Grand Slam winning side and set a Six Nations try scoring record.
When he next plays for Ireland he will do so shouldering a weight of expectation such that he will have to adjust mentally to deal with it. Before then he will have to return North to Ravenhill and Ulster.
From an unstoppable test team to a far too often stoppable Club one -and that’s tough too. I know many players who through there careers found it tough to adjust back down from test rugby.
I was a little different. I know it sounds a rather basic thing, but I was all too often just happy to be back in familiar surroundings and sleeping in my own bed. I didn’t feel any anti-climax, deflation or emptiness returning to my club side -for me I was happy to be back home.
As much as Irish pride feels like its peaked, it hasn’t and Irish eyes are already looking east with thoughts of Japan. Many would love the World Cup to be somehow brought forward to this summer and we all know how difficult its going be for this Irish squad -talented and well coached as it is -to maintain this level of momentum all the way through to summer 2019.
England may have some seriously bruised egos and damaged Six Nations pride but they have time between now and next summer to re-establish themselves on an upward trajectory. Whilst not enough has changed with the Scots to ascertain in what direction they’re really moving, France are definitely on the up.
Ireland definitely have a more easily negotiable Pool notwithstanding the weekend addition of Romania.
The Spanish rugby journey to the cusp of World Cup qualification was close to being the story of European test rugby – second only to the exploits of Ireland. It’s a huge shame they ran aground in Brussels. World Rugby can’t simply disassociate themselves from refereeing selections and nudge the blame on to Rugby Europe. The farce of a touch judge helping England prepare for Ireland was followed by a Romanian referee in charge of a match that determined Romania’s World Cup qualification.
At best both incidents are pretty bad for optics and suggest a professionalism deficit at World Rugby. Whilst the conduct of the Spanish players post-match was inexcusable, failure to properly address their complaints will do absolutely nothing for World Rugby’s reputation.
If the solution means offering to replay that match, then so be it.
This weekend I’ll be keeping a close eye on Ulster to see if there is any prospect whatsoever of them recovering their season. A trip to Cardiff to face in form Ulster old boy Nick Williams might not be the best place for them to start but they have to start somewhere. Fingers crossed a little Stockdale magic inspires the rest of the squad.
It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.
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