Tuesday 18 June 2019

Ross Byrne, right, and Nick McCarthy of Leinster celebrates at full time of the Guinness PRO14 Final match between Leinster and Glasgow Warriors at Celtic Park in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Ross Parker

Wise Leinster heads left singing in Glasgow rain 

The rain had eased from sheet status to a steady film by the time the presentation was being made on the pristine pitch at Celtic Park. Whatever about the players, you wonder if all the extras in suits even notice they're getting soaked while the main men are collecting their silverware. But it's the end of the season. They are thinking only of the night ahead and the holiday to follow. For Leinster, every one of them will enjoy that break with the sweet satisfaction of having come through a long campaign with another trophy.

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Departing Munster forwards coach Jerry Flannery and backline and attack coach Felix Jones. Photo: Sportsfile

Not a great time for Munster to be out head-hunting 

A week ago, we were speaking to a man about the moving parts in the machine that is Munster Rugby. Specifically about the bits at the heart of the operation. He mentioned two persons of interest to fill the role of attack coach if per chance it became vacant: Rob Howley, who in roughly five months will be late of Wales, and an unnamed coach currently earning his corn in the English Premiership. Very soon after that conversation, Howley's name was in the public domain. And before you could say: 'That must be a bit awkward for Felix Jones,' there was a gap on the coaching...

Tyler Bleyendaal. Photo: Sportsfile

Munster out-half Bleyendaal as resilient as the city of his birth 

Watching Tyler Bleyendaal's clinical influence in the Champions Cup quarter-final win over Edinburgh two weekends ago, it was easy to forget that here was a man in his fifth season in red. That's what happens when you are signed as the star attraction, and then, through a series of unfortunate events, find yourself in rugby's equivalent of a cast of thousands. Munster's roster at the start of this season featured five out-halves: Joey Carbery, JJ Hanrahan, Ian Keatley, Bill Johnston and Bleyendaal. It wasn't meant to be like this.

6 April 2019; Benetton players Giovanni Pettinelli, left, and Federico Ruzza celebrate a last minute try during the Guinness PRO14 Round 19 match between Leinster and Benetton at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Benetton have the final word as Leinster are caught out at the death 

The prospect of the best team in the league playing the most improved team on a lovely evening at the RDS would be enough to drag in a few casuals with time on their hands. That Benetton were starting the night in the mix for a play-off spot added to the attraction. The only issue was how much hunger Leinster, home and hosed in the Guinness Pro 14 semi-finals, could bring to the table given the degree to which they have been filling their faces in this competition.

'The idea of the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship countries - plus USA and Japan - having a season-long shindig with new TV money ending with semis and a final in the northern hemisphere took some beating for neck' (stock photo)

Brendan Fanning: 'Global vision shows how little things have changed' 

When the debate was raging in this country about turfing non-Ireland qualified (NIQ) players to make way for home-growns, the Remainers, if we can call them that - those who wanted to keep unfeasible numbers of NIQs in place in the provincial sides - would lean for support on the development post. In which case, for example, it was marvellous to have Ruan Pienaar rolling over season after season in Ulster because of the wondrous effect on the local scrumhalves who could admire him from close range.

At fancy dress parties, Sean Cronin does not go along as Phil Taylor, but then neither does he become Edward Scissorhands.’ Photo: Sportsfile

Brendan Fanning: 'For fancy dress, Cronin does not go as Phil Taylor, but nor does he become Edward Scissorhands' 

The summer of 2007 was an uncomfortable period in this country. It wasn't that we had a scorcher that made it hard to go outside, rather by the time it was over an unease was growing around a group who carried on their shoulders huge expectations. The group was the Ireland rugby squad, and those getting antsy were the hungriest hoors ever to assemble on these shores: the Celtic Tiger...

Photo: David Fitzgerald

'I just have to get up and get on with it' - Much of the pressure on Johnny Sexton today will be self-induced 

In Rome this afternoon there will be the standard template for measuring who wins between Italy and Ireland. This will revolve around the various battles from set-pieces to the speed of loose ball and points in between, all of it totted up on scoreboard. There will be a man of the match award to be sorted. Player ratings to be handed out. And then there will be the Sextonometer: the number of...

‘If close to the World Cup the penny drops with Schmidt that the captain is no longer first choice, then days like this will be seen to have been wasted.’ Photo: Sportsfile

Brendan Fanning: 'Time to find Best alternative' 

France. Is there anything as unhinged in modern rugby as the way the French go about their business? Fourteen fully professional teams in the Top 14 supported by another 16 largely pro teams in ProD2 - the template you'd think for producing a national side who contested meaningfully for Six Nations and World Cup honours. Football may be France's first love, but rugby is big business with a senior male playing population of 110,000, second only to England. And to Ireland's cost they will be hosting the 2023 World Cup.

Ireland boast such a depth of quality that even on occasions when Johnny Sexton may be absent, Joe Schmidt can call upon a host of talented performers to fill the void. Photo: Ramsey Cardy

Joe Schmidt's top priority after the 2015 World Cup was building depth at 10, how has he fared? 

The dust hadn't even begun to settle in Cardiff on Ireland's first ever World Cup win over France when already the body count was getting in the way. If Argentina, Ireland's opponents in the quarter-final, had installed a sniper in the upper tier of the Millennium Stadium, he could hardly have done a better job on taking out the team leaders. Johnny Sexton, Paul O'Connell and Peter O'Mahony were all...

Mark McCafferty. Photo: Getty Images

Brendan Fanning: 'The more things change, the more they stay same' 

In the space of three days this month we had as many news stories reinforcing some fundamentals about our game. First, agreement was reached in principle for the buy-in to England's Premiership by CVC Capital Partners, a private equity firm. Second, Bernard Jackman got the heave-ho from the Dragons. And third, French rugby was hit with its second death of a young player this season. All unrelated, each a reminder of the way rugby staggers along from one collision to the next.