Sport Rugby

Saturday 24 February 2018

Tony Ward: Any player feeling sorry for themselves at this time of year needs to find a new job

Tony Ward

Tony Ward

Out of the frying pan into the fire – that's how it must seem to our four professional teams. No sooner have back-to-back Heineken Cup dogfights disappeared over the horizon, than the back-to-back inter-provincial series looms large.

And with the greatest of respect to our Pro12 brethren in Italy, Wales and Scotland, it's this all-Ireland aspect that turns this observer on.

There was a time when six inter-provincial matches, generally played in the most atrocious November/December conditions, represented the high point of representative rugby outside of the international arena.

Add four Five Nations games and, perhaps, one touring test friendly prior to Christmas in every odd year, and that was about the extent of it.

Now it's highly competitive action almost every week. Demanding? Yes. Do I have sympathy? No, not a bit. As I have often said, not for a minute do I begrudge today's ultra-fit professionals their lot, but do I envy them? Yes, I do. What a dream way to earn your daily bread.

Imagine being paid for doing what is your passion and spending every day taking care of your conditioning, surrounded by a team of experts.

So, if there is any top rugby player out there feeling sorry for himself right now, the time is right for a change in career.

The derby excitement is, no doubt, much the same in Italy, Scotland and Wales when Treviso and Zebre, Edinburgh and Glasgow and Llanelli and Ospreys go to head-to-head for local bragging rights. There is a sense of anticipation over and above the ordinary.

It may not mean a lot relative to Pro12 or more particularly Heineken Cup, but Ireland's inter-provincial rivalries, which stretch back to when the GAA's Railway Cups were in their pomp, still stir the tribal soul.

So, wouldn't it be nice if there was an Irish mini equivalent of the ITM Cup, Ranfurly Shield (New Zealand) or Currie Cup (South Africa) for the provinces to play for in these home-and-away Pro12 games?

I know the IRFU player-management policy – whereby many of those likely to be involved in the upcoming Six Nations take an enforced rest – must be factored in, but this opens the door for fringe players to make their mark in highly competitive fare.


Ravenhill, the Sportsground, Thomond Park and the RDS will have served up a festive feast by the end of next week, providing competitive, atmospheric inter-provincial rugby. I repeat, I envy this generation their lot.

And I'll not mention Mike McCarthy, vis-a- vis Eric Elwood's young Connacht guns fronting up to Joe Schmidt's Leinster before a full RDS!

Who will be at the Connacht helm when this fixture next comes around only time will tell, but, whatever your take is on Eddie O'Sullivan, the fact that such a successful and proven indigenous coach didn't even warrant an interview does little for the image of Connacht or Irish rugby.

What would it have taken to grant him the allotted time for an interview?

O'Sullivan has clearly trodden on precious toes in rugby's high places. Perhaps there is a moral there going forward, but not to interview a three-time Triple Crown winner immersed in the Connacht culture, is not just disappointing, but represents a clear two fingers from a governing body that allegedly wants to encourage home talent down the coaching road.

Former Leinster captain and 47-times capped Ireland prop Reggie Corrigan experienced something similar back in May when the then Leinster scrummaging coach applied for broadly the same position with the IRFU.

Much like O'Sullivan, he too was deemed unworthy of an interview and, to add insult to injury, was relieved of his specialist coaching position with Leinster at almost the same time.

I know professional sport is ruthless, but surely some form of acknowledgment (by way of interview) for loyalty is the least those who have served their time deserve. Either that or I'm missing something obvious here entirely.

Any one from Sean Holley, Alex King, Pat Lam, Tony Hanks, Dan McFarland or Billy Millard could well prove capable of leading Connacht into a successful future, but that is not the point.

If the governing body, and specifically the coaching arm in Lansdowne Road, cannot see the negative message to aspiring young 'home' coaches that O'Sullivan's ostracisation sends out, then we may as well abandon indigenous coaching now.

It would be quite within CEO Tom Sears' remit to fish fresh waters for his new main man, but surely granting a modicum of respect wouldn't be too much for province or Union to grant.

Irish Independent

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