The chairman of the Ulster Rugby Supporters club appears to have been holidaying in Spain, judging by his ambiguous references to Don Quixote amongst other quixotic comments.

I’m, as the song says ‘ain’t going nowhere’, marooned in the inglorious weather we rather quixotically label Summer.

You know it’s bad when the farmer’s complain it’s cold, as Ulster’s man, down on the range, Henry Johnston was heard to mention the other day. We were rather unfortunate to taste the days of summer last week when the sun blazed from the sky and barbecue sales soared.

That was before the wind picked up again, the sky resumed its sullen look and the landscape its sodden appearance.

You can be spoiled by a bit of sun, just as you can by too much rugby.

There’s a glut of it these days, much of it at unearthly hours or awkward times. You have to be empowered with a special enthusiasm, for example, to arise from your pillow in the early morning to watch Ireland toil in the States. Toil they did in humidity that would make a sauna seem tame.

Factor in TG4’s commentary which, player’s names apart, I don’t profess to understand a word of and it required a special quality of Bear Grylls type endurance and fortitude to see it through to the bitter end. Alas those survival qualities deserted me at half time and I retired to bed, unconcerned about Ireland’s fate.

I may attempt to repeat this piece d’resistance this Sunday morning. But with my 65 mile jaunt round the Ards peninsula on a bike on the NDCC sportive looming the next morning the slightest sign of tedium will see me retire to the bed in favour of sleep.

Much is being made of Joe Schmidt’s arrival in the Ireland camp and how it will transform Ireland’s fortunes in the Leinster mould of his previous tenure. I may be in a majority of one in thinking that all is not the coming of a rugby messiah many are predicting.

Kidney was a very successful provincial coach whose provincial coaching ability did not translate to international level.

For those who point to his Grand Slam success, it was in hindsight but a blip in a downward spiral of a moddlin’ and confused coaching strategy. Schmidt will try and translate his Leinster coaching style into Ireland‘s international aspirations.

There are early signs, little ones, of where it will go when things go wrong in my opinion. When Ulster beat Leinster at the RDS earlier in the year, Schmidt bad assed the referee in what was seen as an uncharacteristic outburst. When Leinster subsequently beat Ulster at the end of season to give Schmidt and Leinster the much heralded and predictated send off, all was sweetness and preordained light.

There was conspicuously no reference to the stilted refereeing performance of John Lacey and Ulster were left to slope off into the twilight with nary a thought presented for their season.

Looking at team selection for Canada it looks as though the Ireland team will be built around Leinster with Munster supplying the rest and Ulster adding little flourishes here and there.

That is my prediction which may take time to crystallise over the next season. Paddy Jackson for one may consider his international career will stall for awhile. It may be he is seen as a remnant of the Kidney era and damaged goods as a result.

Meanwhile the coach will bask in the goodwill of a new boy on the job until things don’t pan out as they should and the first mutterings of the national hacks down there begin to surface in tandem with the Landsdowne money men rocking the leg of chair in the background.

All very pessimistic it must be said, but when you have the national media led clamour for a new coach and the resultant appointment being made with little time for reflection and blue sky thinking, one feels touched by a sense of déjà vu.

Meanwhile the juniors, one of four rugby tournaments going on involving Irish players, has been something of a shining light in a sea of ordinariness. Whilst England toiled to a highly ‘engaging’ thrashing of the USA, a game SKY naturally televised as their main fayre, the real game was taking place over on the red button where Ireland and the baby Blacks went toe to toe.

What this game showed was the small margins by which victory at the top level of the game is dictated. Thomas Farrell made what was probably a spur of the moment mistake when he tackled a player whilst in an offside position. The BB’s punished the resultant yellow card with 3 tries. The juniors almost snatched victory from the jaws of defeat but ultimately it was a costly piece of misjudgement.

Again how the junior players translate their ability into the higher levels of the senior game will remain to be seen but on the evidence on show here, there is talent aplenty floating around the junior echelons of rugby.

The Lions circus continues on its state hopping way with meaningless games interspersed with real tests such as that offered by the Queensland Reds. I haven’t caught too many of these games as Saturday morning is time spent on outdoor matters and I really can’t drum enough enthusiasm to sit down and watch a Welsh select plus a few others go about their business even if there a few Irish players involved.

It strikes me there are uncanny parallels with the 1997 Lions tour to South Africa with the Australians keeping their test players hidden away until the main event. This proxy war was played out in 1997 but in addition the tour started off with English players in overwhelming predominance for the starting test XV.

As the tour progressed and the Lions were given many opportunities to fine tune their game the coaches took a pragmatic view of form and ditched reputation as their criteria for selection. The result was an underwhelming presence of English players although they formed the critical elements of the team at scrum half, lock and outside centre.

The key area of front row which had Rowntree et al preselected, pre tour, was transformed by the diminutive props of Ireland and Scotland. Whether this critical selection of players showing form will take place this time round remains to be seen given preponderance of Welsh players in the squad.

Again it could be a case of an international team’s coaching and style not translating into a multi national touring team.

I will, I suppose get round to watching the Lions play the tests but for now my enthusiasm for watching Lions rugby remains at levels akin to reading the performance specification of microorganisms copulating under laboratory conditions.

Interestingly Willie John McBride featured on SKY talking to Keith Wood about touring with the Lions, a subject Willie John can still imbue with all the infectious enthusiasm of a schoolboy let loose in Amsterdam’s red light district.

Mercifully the great man kept the well worn stories of Moff and company to a minimum and engaged with Woodie, at Lions legend level.



1 Comment

  1. The U20 v the Baby Blacks was one of the best performances by any Irish representative team I’ve seen for some time. Woody and Willie John I really enjoyed. The current Lions, well I have mixed feelings but then admit to having being spoiled having experienced the 1974 Lions 1st. Test at Newlands!

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