It will be an exciting few months in Irish rugby, as the schools cup competitions kick off, along with the 6 Nations and the U20 6 Nations. What direction will Joe Schmidt take after an ignominious World Cup exit?
Murray Kinsella, The42: Leinster’s young guns setting new standards for Cullen’s squad
Despite finishing the ERCC on a heavy defeat at Wasps today, Leinster’s performance last week at the RDS at least provided hope for the remainder of the Pro12 campaign. A young front five held up well at the set piece and provided energy around the park, while Josh van der Flier and Garry Ringrose continued to impress in first team action. The centre was tenacious in a strong defensive performance, but it is his attacking talent which is the most promising aspect of his play – as Kinsella highlights well. In addition, Luke McGrath’s increasing prominence is a good sign given the slowing of first-choice scrum halves Isaac Boss and Eoin Reddan.
Whiff of Cordite: The Lengthening of the Days
A good overview of the selection questions facing Joe Schmidt when the 6 Nations begins. The most interesting points are the discussions of Stuart McCloskey and Jared Payne, and their fates seem inextricably linked: in my opinion Schmidt’s best attacking option – especially in light of Payne’s performance at Ravenhill today – would be to play McCloskey at 12 and Payne at 15, with Kearney dropping out of the starting 15. This would enhance their starting backline in two ways: Payne himself offers a different style of play at fullback to the Leinster man, but perhaps more importantly Robbie Henshaw would benefit from playing in more space in the outside centre channel. Whether or not Schmidt is prepared to sacrifice the stability which Payne brings in the most pivotal defensive role on the park remains to be seen, let alone whether or not he will abandon one of his key lieutenants at full back; Kearney has not missed a 6 Nations minute under his former provincial coach, and has started every game in the competition for Ireland since the 2012 tournament.
The Irish Independent: Schools Cup Rugby preview
For those interested in following the schools rugby competitions in all four unions over the coming months, The Independent’s coverage is excellent. This week’s supplement previews all four tournaments at length, and identifies players to watch across the country. There will be many outstanding players on show who feature for underage international teams over the next few years, and begin to filter through to the provinces’ academy systems. From last year’s schoolboy ranks, St Michael’s second row James Ryan has already featured for Leinster A in the British & Irish Cup, and is the favourite to be named this week as the Ireland U20 captain for the upcoming 6 Nations.
Paul Kimmage, The Irish Independent: Cutting the umbilical cord is never easy, as Alan Quinlan has found out
Alan Quinlan was vocal in the aftermath of Munster’s embarrassing defeat to Stade Français in Paris two weeks ago, and for a member of the media with such close ties to the province – and to head coach Anthony Foley in particular – to make such comments was striking. While the availability of the insight of recent former players such as Quinlan and Gordon D’Arcy is extremely interesting, Kimmage shines a light on the way it unavoidably changes relationships for the individuals themselves.
Britt Robson, MinnPost: Sam Mitchell Q&A, part two
Robson is the beat writer for the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, and this two-part interview with the team’s interim head coach Sam Mitchell is fascinating in its candour. Mitchell was thrust into the role after the passing of head coach Flip Saunders a few days before the 2015/16 season began. He has come under scrutiny for his attacking gameplan, which is seen by many as an archaism in modern basketball, but this discussion provides context and fantastic depth of insight into the decision-making of both team and coach. Mitchell also speaks at length about the problems that youth basketball engender in players – an interesting counterpoint to recent comments on the ‘stifling’ academy systems of Premiership rugby clubs – and the franchise’s commitment to player development. Part one of Robson’s conversation can be found here.