No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man
It feels like yet more of the same for Irish Rugby – pumping Italy in Chicago, Leinster and Munster picking up Pro14 wins in South Africa, Ulster scraping a win in Treviso and of course Connacht winning at home, all speak of the same message – Irish rugby success.
And although it’s great to get excited about Jordan Larmour’s exploits in the US, the real story of the weekend is the seemingly never-ending depth of talent in Irish Rugby. Leinster contributed something like eight starters in Chicago and three from the bench, yet the likes of Tadhg Furlong and Cian Healey, absent for Ireland, weren’t even called upon for the Leinster’s clash against the South Kings. Sexton too was given another week off, as were Ulster’s Iain Henderson and Rory Best.
So, whilst we can talk about rotation in the US and growing experience in the playing pool at test level, the difference between Ireland and other teams is that the same happening at club level. When Leinster find some of their players rested by Ireland, they’re rested for Leinster too. This weekend was not just about growing international experience, it was about blooding new names in the Pro14 right across the provinces.
And even at Ulster, often seen as the least productive of the academies we’re seeing young talent take their chance. Robert Baloucoune once again looked comfortable before he succumbed to injury, and centre James Hume performed well enough to ease some of the anxiety Will Addison’s Irish call-up will have caused in Belfast. Addison’s been Ulster’s best player so far this season.
I’ve also got a growing sense that something might click with Dan McFarland’s Ulster before the end of this season, simply because they’re picking up results despite themselves. I know Belfast ears were burning when McFarland said he would be looking to add to the Ulster squad in the new year, but realistically he’ll find the shelves pretty much bare in a World Cup year. The relative inexperience of some of the squad might be a weakness that starts to cure itself in the new year as debutants and novices gain experience.
Another team might have buried Ulster in the first half in Treviso, but Ulster held out and they’ll be better by the end of the season for it. Three of Ulster’s next four competitive games are against the Scarlets, and the outcome will in many ways shape the rest of Ulster’s season. I’m pretty confident they won’t lose all three, and if they manage to win two or more it sets up nicely the middle phase of the season.
I know there has been a lot of chat about Owen Farrell’s tackle and that his evading punishment was some form of gross injustice. I think on balance the tackle attempt was fine. But for me the real injustice of the weekend was the stinging accusation that James Haskell was drunk on TV – incoherent and mumbling true – but that’s what he’s like when he’s sober, so who could really tell?
Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut
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