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'That's bananas': Irish legend gobsmacked by Stormers' travel plan

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Marty Melville/AFP via Getty Images)

Brian O’Driscoll couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing last Sunday when listening in from the BT Sport studio to what match commentator Nick Mullins was saying about the onerous travel plan the Stormers were set to undertake to ensure they could fulfil their next two matches. Having travelled from Cape Town at the start of the new year to box-tick a January 8 URC assignment at Glasgow, Stormers defeated London Irish seven days later to enhance their Heineken Champions Cup round of 16 qualification prospects.

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With their two-game UK tour over, it was here that the logistics were about to become incredibly exhaustive for the reigning URC champions. This Saturday, Stormers have another Champions Cup pool match to play, this time at home in Cape Town versus Clermont, before they again quickly commute north in order to fulfil their January 27 URC game in Ireland versus Ulster.

It’s an itinerary that bowled over the legendary Irishman. “It was Nick Mullins who brought up what the Stormers’ next route is,” said O’Driscoll, chatting to RugbyPass ahead of this weekend’s round four European matches.

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“Their travel plan over the next fortnight: Heathrow, Dublin, Doha, Jo’burg, Cape Town, play Clermont; Cape Town, Jo’burg, Doha, Dublin, drive to Belfast, play Ulster, drive to Dublin, Doha, Jo’burg, Cape Town. That is bananas.

“Talking about player welfare: Okay, they don’t have to fly out of (many) time zones, but we have got to look at the scheduling. A little bit of that is obviously their relationship with Qatar Airlines, having to fly through Doha and all that carry on, but in the long-term that is another reason for the South Africans to lose a little interest because it will just take the good out of their ability to play against the best teams in Europe.”

Away from the eye-watering Stormers travel schedule, O’Driscoll is a fan of seeing the South African teams take part in the Champions Cup. Collectively, the Stormers, the Sharks and the Bulls have won seven of their nine pool matches so far with the unbeaten Sharks qualified for the round of 16 and the Stormers and the Bulls on the cusp of joining them this weekend.

“They have been a really good inclusion in the URC and once they get their feet under the table as well in Europe, they will get a better sense as to what they need to do,” reckoned O’Driscoll. “The format at the moment probably suits them a little bit where some of them haven’t sent their strongest teams away from home but yet they will be very tough to beat in South Africa… You will see all three in the last 16.”

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If there is a downside to all the Champions Cup changes in recent years, it’s that the current pool stage doesn’t seem to be as intensely competitive. Previously, when all teams had to play six group matches and just eight qualified for the quarter-finals, the margin for error was minimal. Now, with the two pools of twelve format scheduling teams to play just four games each before 16 clubs advance to the round-of-16 knockout stage, there is the possibility that teams could advance this weekend having won just one of their four recent matches.

“I’m so mindful I’m not here to bash it,” said O’Driscoll, a three-time Heineken Cup winner with Leinster. “Has it lost a little bit of its mystique and energy? If you are honest it has, but you have to understand the circumstances we found ourselves with this format. It’s a covid format. We have had one year of it and will know a lot more after year two.

“Having teams limp into the knockout stages having won one game out of four doesn’t feel right. I just think in Europe’s elite competition you don’t want it to be easy to limp into any knockout phase. Dominic McKay (the EPCR chairman) came on Rugby Tonight a few weeks ago and he spoke candidly that they are exploring all options. Also, the South African teams coming in is a new dimension to it.

“We will fall back into a format pretty soon that is going to be a little more challenging, a bit less inclined to be able to pick and choose which games you will be able to go for and which ones you hold back. To pick and chose second-string teams because you don’t fancy a game doesn’t feel like Europe’s elite competition.”

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2 Comments
H
Henry 522 days ago

I mean, Direct to heathrow, or Amsterdam, or CDG … I know you still have to get a local connection.

H
Henry 522 days ago

6000 miles more or less from South Africa to Europe. And 1 hour max time zone. Diff. Sweet! (I’ve done it). Oh wait … they have to fly via Doha … oops … I feel sorry for the players … please, guys, pay up and take the direct flights!!

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Jon 5 minutes ago
Buoyant England travel to New Zealand full of hope but are they walking into an All Blacks ambush?

> New head coach Scott Robertson has kept only forwards coach Jason Ryan and conditioning coach Nic Gill from the previous regime *and so there is little institutional knowledge inherent in the new team.* Shows you what the English know about sport. Isn’t just fantastic that the best rugby team, or brand, on the planet has three brothers playing together? One a bull, the other a dancer, and last a .. boxer? Looks like a boxer bless him. > But Robertson has been working to fix that issue, with senior players and coaches having been regularly meeting to work out how they will operate together both on and off the field to ensure there is strong decision-making and a deep understanding of how the team wants to play. Have they? I would suggest then it is not a case of fixing things, that is not what Razor does. Razor will evolve the relationship between player and coach into a more symbiotic relationship. This wont be a coach that shouts down at his players theyre not doing good enough. I can imagine one of the first key areas he will be implementing is the respective leadership for each coaching group. Tight five, Loosies, Halves, Centers, and Back Three, will each have their own leadership team and an agile approach to the playing group relaying what they believe is happening on the training paddock, and in games. It will be a very big step to get everyone involved, able, and thinking about contributing to that process, but I believe a very beneficial one if successful. > England may have their best chance to win in 21 years, but they may also be walking into an ambush – *about to be hit* by a young, gifted, supremely physical and athletic All Blacks team coached by a man who has made every post a winner so far in his career and has this uncanny knack of getting the best out of people. Or, by a group hurting from not getting over the line and proving to everyone they are the best in the world, full of experience and cohesion, grit and motivation. You only need to look at someone like Patrick Tuipulotu to see someone with a fire under his belly from missing out on the last RWC due to injury, and having lost to this opposition in the previous one. It will be very interesting to see how this ‘Razor’ plays it. Does he stick with the traditional and protect the time honored All Black values of commitment, or does he evolve and pick the best players to win the Rugby Championship - and by association this test series - like Akira Ioane?

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FEATURE Buoyant England travel to New Zealand full of hope but are they walking into an All Blacks ambush? Buoyant England travel to New Zealand full of hope but are they walking into an All Blacks ambush?
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