Tuesday 18 June 2019

Neil Francis: Jordi Murphy should tear up his contract and stay - Leinster charity is not the answer

Leinster will have many matches throughout next season when they will think, ‘damn, I wish Jordi Murphy was here’. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Leinster will have many matches throughout next season when they will think, ‘damn, I wish Jordi Murphy was here’. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

We begin this week with some Winston Churchill: "I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle."

Churchill also observed about socialism that "its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery". I'm afraid I have to concur with Churchill's view: socialism and communism just don't work. If Cuba, Yemen, Albania and North Korea are the last working models of hard, left-wing philosophy well . . . QED.

In the last few weeks on this island Josef Schmidt and Chairman Nucifora have tried to work a redistribution of wealth, a kind of nationalisation of assets. The Leinster Academy and all of its graduates are to be part re-distributed because the academies in other parts of the country are not as efficient.

The dogma of redistribution never works. Weakening the strong to subsidise the non-performing franchises may seem like a logical and even plausible idea - in the end you may get some limited success but for every one successful transplant you will undoubtedly pick up three failures. Pressuring players or telling them it is in their best interests to move is as questionable as forced marches or the Gulags.

There are other considerations which also have to be taken into account.

In 2003 Gary Ella took over from Matt Williams as Leinster coach. The season was an unqualified disaster. Leinster finished eighth in the Celtic League and did not get out of their pool in the Heineken Cup. During his brief stay in charge Ella put forward a proposal that the Leinster Schools Cup be changed from a cup competition to a league format. The thinking behind this was that the schools system was failing to produce enough quality players for the professional programme, and a change to a league system would elicit the right type of player. Some of the press enthusiastically lapped it up and serious consideration was given to the idea. Fifteen years later and the Leinster Schools Cup, unchanged, is still going strong and the participating schools are producing players of such quality that the rest of Europe is looking to see how they do it.

It is truly incredible that a man who comes over from Coogee in New South Wales and spends a season in Leinster before being fired has his proposal looked at by the governing body. This is a competition that spans three centuries, that was inaugurated in 1887 and has enthralled generations with the purity and quality of its play. A competition whose tradition is the bedrock of schools rugby in Leinster, and they considered altering the inalterable fabric of this competition because of the deluded notions of a man you wouldn't put in charge of a sweetshop.

There are things that you do not change. Ever.

Trying to get things done by committee or by consensus, particularly when you are trying to steer a sporting union or organisation, is no good. Adopt a large telephone company mentality and your organisation becomes moribund.

There is merit in having an autocracy of Joe Schmidt and David Nucifora running the show. They are in complete control of what goes on in rugby matters in this country. That is for the most part a good thing, leading to forward progress and unparalleled success for the national team. Everyone does as they are told or you get to wear a pair of concrete leg warmers.

The redistribution of wealth prima facie is a good thing - a good thing for the national side and there should be trickle-down benefits for the provinces, but there is a catch.

My suspicion is that there is to be a fair amount of player distribution. But messing with the ethnic fabric of three of the provinces is not a good idea. The 'Leinstrification' of the provinces will undoubtedly lead to resentment and disillusionment not only in the playing ranks but on the terraces - or are the fans not a factor?

Already Munster, Ulster and Connacht have two or three Leinster cast-offs playing in nearly every game. If it gets any higher you reach the laws of diminishing returns. Cheering for Dubs who happen to play for your team can sometimes stick in the craw!

In the Kingspan there is the possibility that there is the preference for South African accents rather than Dublin ones on the paddock.

The Jordi Murphy story is worthy of examination. Murphy's woes started at the scene of Ireland's greatest rugby triumph - the win over the All Blacks in Chicago. The Leinster openside was having a brilliant day until he tore his cruciate. Long before he got back to full match fitness his future was decided, a little myopically if you ask me.

At that stage Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien and Rhys Ruddock were starters, the shadow back row was Dan Leavy (just about), Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan. Coming back from injury Murphy would either have to bide his time or start playing very well, very quickly.

The decision was made: Dominic Ryan had already gone to the Leicester Tigers and Murphy was also surplus to requirements. The word went around that the money he was offered was not good but the truth is that he was not offered a contract at all. Who decided that?

A deal was done with Ulster, who were persuaded that he would be a good fit.

Roger Wilson, a very solid and hugely under-rated player, was gone. Chris Henry, who will be 34 in October, would soon follow and Robbie Diack, who turns 33 at the end of this year, was also at the end of his useful rugby life.

It leaves Ulster a little light as their South African imports Jean Deysel and Marcel Coetzee are high-quality players but spend a huge amount of time in rehab.

Matty Rea is a very decent prospect and showed his quality this season but the guy who impressed most was Nick Timoney, who has played in most of Ulster's big games and has seen service in more than 20 matches. He has been a real success particularly given his home province Leinster didn't want to know about him. Greg Jones, another Leinster import, played very well in the high quality under 20 Ireland side and he will press for game time too.

You have the prospect of an all-Leinster back row playing in a goodly amount of games. How does that sit with the Ulster fans? How does it sit with any aspiring Ulster back row player who gets pushed out?

Murphy will be a huge addition to Ulster's roster and could be their stand-out player for the forthcoming seasons. The issue here is that he should be a stand-out player for Leinster. Leinster fans and the Leinster squad don't want him to go to Ulster. Heaslip has retired. O'Brien has been injured all season and given the way he plays there is no guarantee that he won't be injured for part of next season. Ruddock has also picked up an injury in significant parts of the last three seasons; every time he gets some traction and some form he is out again. Van der Flier is an injury away from having the injury-prone label stuck on him. Conan has been in brilliant form this season and last season but he has consistently failed to make the jump from Champions Cup standard to international, and currently and for the foreseeable future Jordi Murphy will keep Conan out of the Ireland squad.

Why are they letting him go to strengthen Ulster and weaken Leinster? The blue province will have many matches throughout next season when they will think, 'damn, I wish Jordi was here'.

I think the notion of 'game time' is overdone. Ask Johnny Sexton what he thinks of game time. Examine how good Robbie Henshaw was last Saturday after two months' rest - he was the best player on the park. Less is more.

Socialism doesn't work. Leinster should keep all of their quality unless the players themselves really want to go. They have the dough to keep them. In the free market economy when the rest of the players/provinces see where the standard is they gravitate there without the need for any government handouts. It is up to the other provinces to catch up, not stick their hand out for other people's assets.

Jordi should tear up his contract and stay.

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