Foreign player system back to bite Connacht
Prop Joe’s philosophy is “Buy for a dollar, sell for two”, which makes him an ideal business associate of Spiros “Vondas” Vondopoulos and The Greek, who say “It’s just business. Everything is just business with us”.
The Wire has many cagey characters but all agree business is the driving force behind the dark acts of decisions. This week Gerry Thornley announced the departure of Mike McCarthy from Connacht to Leinster and with it the wheel of business turned once more.
There obviously is a Catch-22 for Connacht which runs far deeper than the loss of a player I’ve admired for some time. It’s the message there is an advantage to be gained from a stint at Connacht (shop window and international honours) but for really ambitious players the province should be viewed as a temporary arrangement in building profiles before moving on to reap the real rewards.
However, Connacht, with so many positive changes, have developed an ambition of their own and consequently find themselves in a Catch-22. Developing players for Ireland but stunting their own development. I wonder if McCarthy was a starting player in Munster but approached from Leinster would it happen? This is not a Leinster issue. What therefore is the strategic position from the IRFU – cannibalism?
On the announcement of the foreign player system I highlighted the potential death knell for Connacht where the big three’s limitation on attracting players from abroad would create an internal cannibalisation of Connacht. Secondrow Eoin Sheriff may be involved for Saracens next Sunday and of course there’s Tom Hayes in Exeter Chiefs, both allowed to drift across the water.
I, for one, am delighted for the players but feel for Connacht who when trying to attract more stars – such as Dan Parks – will no doubt face the question: ‘why would I go there when you can’t keep your best players?’
Massive pressure remains on all teams, none more so than on Munster and Saracens. What will Saracens do differently to redress the balance? Rob Penney managed transition in the cauldron of Thomond Park with a fantastic win, with Chris Ashton , who scored a try against the All Blacks, failing to cross.
I was unimpressed with both Northampton and Saracens. They couldn’t be as bad this weekend so the question for Ulster and Munster is what to expect and what needs to be done to avoid a defeat.Ulster’s challenge will grow considerably if Northampton change their half-back pairing, where scrumhalf Martin Roberts’ pass was extremely slow and full of air, which made it hard for Ryan Lamb to get his backs moving. Stephen Myler may bring a better kicking average as Lamb’s misses were inexcusable.
The Saints need to lower the height of both their scrum and lineout maul. Their attack never troubled the Ulster defence and they lacked unity of effort. If given a choice of hooker I would take Rory Best 1,000 times over Dylan Hartley (now suspended). The Ulster veteran was still smashing Saints in the 73rd minute, long after Hartley had departed. In Ravenhill many aspects are crucial to Ulster but continued excellence at the breakdown will kill Northampton.
Energy and enthusiasm are huge components in the Heineken Cup, where Simon Zebo’s work-rate and quality at the breakdown were exceptional. Interestingly, there is a habit developing in Munster that Ulster have managed to avoid where over enthusiasm at the breakdown is costing them hugely.
The high energy game from Munster forces an unorthodox arrival of backrow players into the fast evolving breakdown, such as when a brilliant Ronan O’Gara kick from his 22 forced Saracens scrumhalf Neil de Kock into a midfield catch with Zebo smashing him. Mike Sherry, full of enthusiasm, slipped over De Kock to concede the first kickable penalty which Owen Farrell missed.
This happens too often which with a better average from Farrell will kill Munster.
There are many team policies around the breakdown (Richie McCaw!) but there are some simple principles. A player must sprint the first five metres as this brings him towards an evolving breakdown. He must then curb his enthusiasm while reading the ever-changing environment. He then picks the spot, powers through it but must prepare physically for the arrival of numbers on both sides especially from behind.
Openside Chris Henry has been brilliant in remaining a terrible nuisance but limiting the penalties; watch his core, trunk and rear end when the bodies are piling in.
Munster may struggle if Saracens start with John Smit and Mako Vunipola, releasing a livelier bench. Will Farrell miss four again? They looked far more threatening with him at 10. It took until the 73rd minute, with Smit throwing to Steve Borthwick, for the first contact between Barrett and O’Gara. Why so long? Saracens’ lineout malfunctioned so badly they couldn’t mount a challenge. Let’s hope it’s repeated.