Dublin guide, check. Music, check. Gigs, check. Films, check. And now, The Clink can also cross off rugby from its list of stuff that we blog about.
You might be asking why start a blog about rugby when the season is nearly over? Well, that’s easy. Right now, we are entering into the most exciting couple of months of the year. The quantity of subject matter is absolutely massive, so with plenty to talk about lets look back at the week just gone.
Last Tuesday saw the end to weeks of predictions (and the start of yet more predictions) as the 2009 squad for the British & Irish Lions was announced. This was (another) great day in recent history for Irish rugby, as 14 Irish men were named in the squad (the highest from the four countries), 8 were named from Munster (the joint highest from any one club in history) and an Irishman was named as the squad’s captain – Paul O’Connell.
The 14 Irish men that are going to South Africa are:
- Paul O’Connell (Mun),
- Brian O’Driscoll (Lei),
- Alan Quinlan (Mun),
- Ronan O’Gara (Mun),
- Rob Kearney (Lei),
- Luke Fitzgerald (Lei),
- Tommy Bowe (Osp),
- Keith Earls (Mun),
- Jerry Flannery (Mun),
- Donncha O’Callaghan (Mun),
- Jamie Heaslip (Lei),
- David Wallace (Mun),
- Stephen Ferris (Uls),
- Tomás O’Leary (Mun).
Given the huge popularity of rugby in Ireland today, you will no doubt have heard all this news before. In more recent news, disaster struck one of the Lions squad members on Friday night when Tomás O’Leary was stretchered off after only 6 minutes. It occured at Musgrave Park, during the Magners League clash between Munster and Scarlets. I was at the match, and it wasn’t pretty viewing – the scrum-half was injured while tackling a Scarlet player and his ankle got trapped between the mess of legs. News has now emerged that O’Leary sustained a fractured ankle and will be out for 3-4 months, hence missing the Lions tour.
Today the blogosphere has been awash with speculation of O’Learys replacement. There are many choices:
- Peter Stringer (Irl),
- Danny Care (Eng),
- Dwayne Peel (Wal),
- Chris Cusiter (Sco),
- Mike Blair (Sco).
Given the huge amount of speculation for the original squad picks, and how many were wrong, I believe it is premature and useless to try to read the thoughts of Ian McGeechan and Co. McGeechan has surely shown in his 37 man squad that he has a skill for picking a balanced squad, full of experience and fresh blood, natural flair and solid talent.
While the Munster blood in me is screaming for Stringer to be called up, my head is telling me he isn’t the best choice. Yes hes a great player, with the one of best services in the modern game, and worthy of a call up, which would be well deserved after a long and disguished career. But given that the opposition is who it is, arguably the most physical team in the world and one with a strong historical reputation for playing dirty, Stringer is lacking in the size department so a scrum-half with a bit more bulk is required for the job.
McGeechan today is quoted as saying that he will not rush to make his replacement announcement. “I’m not looking to name a replacement for 10 to 14 days. There’s still some rugby to watch,” McGeechan said. It looks like I’m not the only who’s looking forward to the end of the season.
This is also a plus for Stringer. With O’Leary out of the picture, Stringer becomes the first choice No. 9 for Munster. This gives him two Heineken Cup (yes Leinster fans, Munster have two ERC matches remaining) and two Magners League matches (Cardiff and Ospreys) in which to shine and prove he deserves a place on the squad.
Dwayne Peel is not so fortunate – his club, Sale Sharks, just finished their season on Saturday with a win against Northampton. Peel only came on a replacement in the 65th minute, and has no matches left to play. Cusiter plys his trade in France, with Perpignan who are the Top 14 league leaders, but sat on the bench last weekend. Danny Care meanwhile is the starting scrum-half at Quins, who just played their way into a home draw for the Guinness Premiership semi-finals. Mike Blair’s Edinburgh have two Magners League fixtures left, but after a poor Scottish performance in the 6 Nations, one wonders how strong his chances are.
So while my heart is crying for Stringer, I can’t help but feel the honour will go to Danny Care, who has been good for Quins but average for England and has a reputation for getting himself sin binned. O’Leary will be sorely missed.
I already mentioned the Munster vs. Scarlets match in which O’Leary was injured – Munster won convincingly 29-10, getting the all important bonus point which puts them ever closer to securing the title. Leinster also had a convincing 5 try win at the weekend, beating Glasgow 36-13.
Across the water, the regular season of the Guinness Premiership finished, leaving four teams to battle it out for the title. The semi-finals will take place on 9 May, with Leicester facing Bath and Harlequins must battle London Irish.
Which bring us up to date and ready to look forward to this weekends match. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can’t call yourself Irish. It’s quite possibly the biggest Irish sporting occasion since, well, the last time these two teams played in April 2006. Yes, I’m talking about Munster vs. Leinster. Its the clash of the (soon to be) 3-time winners and that other Irish team (my “journalist” neutrality goes out the window on this one). More to come about this later in the week.
UPDATE: As if I hadn’t talked about scrum-halves enough today – there is now news of Eoin Reddan making a return to the Emerald Isle. Not to his native Munster, but to Leinster. Reddan is signing a 3-year deal with the province, leaving Wasps with whom he won winners medals in the Powergen Cup, Heineken Cup and Guinness Premiership. Reddan has 14 Irish caps, constantly struggling to edge out Peter Stringer for the No. 9 jersey, but with the introduction of Tomás O’Leary has since fallen out of the squad. Its a great signing for Leinster, and great to see an Irish player returning home.