The 6 Nations cometh and for some the excitement rises with the anticipation of a trip to Rome, a journey to Wales or a short walk from the pub to Murrayfield. For others the Aviva and Dublin beckons should they be lucky enough to get a ticket otherwise it’s a plain old dander to the local to watch on TV.
Pour moi, it is downtime, the rugby hormones subside at the thought of team Ireland going about their business amidst the hubris of predicated media team selection vis-à-vis the Kidney pick where much is predictable and little is left to the imaginative.
The rugby messageboards, that forum featuring the metaphorical ‘words of the prophets written on the subway wall’, are full at this time of the year of Irish provincial rugby supporter’s choice of player in the pack, on the wings and unceremoniously out the door of squad selection.
Most provincial supporters have their favourites and usually it is one of their own team’s players, irrespective of form or reason. Sure as moths follow light, they will see attributes trimmed and tailored to match their respective candidate’s elevation to the national team, blithely ignoring glaring faults.
‘In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade and he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him low or cut him till he cried out in his anger and his shame, I am leaving, I am leaving but the fighter still remains’.
There are of course the untouchables such as Brian O’Driscoll who will slot straight into the 13 jersey should he remain injury free in the interim, between now and next Saturday.
BOD as is the favourite acronym of typists such as me, is of course a legend in the game. I always wondered how sporting legends make the decision, to step out of the limelight, walk away from the arena or cheat father time.
It must be difficult, I imagine, objectively deciding your sporting fate. In boxing many incumbents have lingered on, succumbing to a slow unsporting death in the arena or be enticed to return as the glory fades and the body physically wanes, often with unedifying results.
Rugby like boxing is a physically and, mentally challenging sport and at some point, more often than not the body tells the mind it has had enough whilst the mind convinces the body there is still enough fuel in the tank for another season.
For me BOD is at this point in his career. No-one can tell him his time has come and/ or be certain he knows his own sporting mortality as the Lions tour looms. O’Driscoll is not the boxer cameoed in the S&G song as he is unlikely to leave the arena in such a humiliating fashion.
Sporting seccession should be on the minds of the Irish coaching hierarchy but do they really know their own instincts?
Since I typed the above, the Ireland team has been announced and greeted by Ulster fans with all the warmth associated with reading the death notices. I understand their antipathy, it lingers around me like a wet towel from a cold shower.
BOD will play, but who will fill his boots when he retires? There are a few 13’s but only one really specialist outside centre and he was deemed surplus to requirements following the Wolfhounds match on Friday night.
Darren Cave is a specialist 13 and plays that position for Ulster. He is the one true and experienced player at outside centre, yet has never seen the light of day at top level. It is possible we may never know if he will make the Irish international team.
Perhaps he needs to drop that languid style of his and adopt a more frenetic dancing feet style of play. Irish commentators and it seems even the coaches have this obsession with dancing feet. First it was Luke Fitzgerald, then along came Earls and we have back three players who could be Fred Astaire’s on the rugby pitch.
Of them all only Gilroy possesses the one thing that is next to impossible to coach, a genuine side step of both feet. This is a rarity in Northern Hemisphere rugby, perhaps the last great exponent being the recently retired Shane Williams.
Gilroy has been selected for the Ireland game, one assumes the media outcry had he been dropped would have been too much for Kidney to handle. With Zebo’s position secured on the other wing, Kearney barring an injury undroppable, and the BOD, D’Arcey, Sexton trio sacrosanct, it will be Gilroy carry the can for any mission failures should the backline misfire in Cardiff.
Just like Trimble before him and Court before that. They are all Ulster players and a pattern is emerging, that is being seized upon by Ulster supporters as evidence that Ulster players are the sacrificial lambs for duff Ireland performances.
I wrote last time out how we lie in no man’s land between the southern media down there and the English media over yonder. There aren’t many figures who want to broach the questions to Kidney.
Not that there’s much point of course because it’s anecdotal and for which there is no hard evidence in support. Only a growing perception that is swelling like a malignant tumour and presenting a mushrooming disenchantment with Irish international rugby.
Further dropping of Ulster players as the 6N progresses will simply reinforce that perception and foster a deep resentment that the IRFU might struggle to shake off in years to come.
Once this perception grows every little indicator pointing to a slight on Ulster players assumes a poisonous arrow for some Ulster supporters. They have my sympathy, I struggle to empathise with team Ireland.
The situation regarding selection and treatment of players is unlikely to change much in that only injury and scapegoating of players, as happened during the Autumn Internationals is likely to induce change and see more/less Ulster players in an Ireland jersey.
It’s like it or lump it for Ulster supporters with a grievance against Kidney’s Ireland. I for one couldn’t care less though I do not like to see players tarred with a certain brush and given a duff card for failures they themselves could do little to prevent. Tom Court’s very public humiliation for the failures of Irish rugby to nurture true tighthead exponents is one such act that sticks in the craw.
Come Saturday afternoon, if I have finished my bits and pieces I just may turn my attention to Team Ireland otherwise I’ll be watching it later on SKY plus.
I care a teeny little bit but things would be radically different were it Ulster playing and that is the most glaring difference between my love affair with Ulster rugby and my insipid warmth for Team Ireland.
I’m disconnected and don’t look, any time soon, like being encompassed by thrill of the Green. April and Twickenham can’t come soon enough. Looks like I might even get tickets for this one and people have had sense to bring this game to the attention of a much wider audience than a backwater stadium in Barnet.
Standing up for the Ulstermen! Always SUFTUM!