The Offload: Leinster young guns left high and dry in Pretoria

Nevin Spence memorial unveiled at Kingspan Stadium, and Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg on retirement

Leinster’s largely young and inexperienced side finally came unstuck against a talented Bulls team laced with Springboks on Saturday in Johannesburg. Photograph: Steve Haag Sports/Deon van der Merwe/Inpho

Leinster’s lambs cooked on the veldt

Before you run on to the field at the Bulls’ Loftus Versfeld stadium, a large sign awaits you in the tunnel. “Altitude. 1360m. It matters”. Leinster found out how true those words were on Saturday, joining a long roll of talented players that have been left utterly exhausted and badly defeated in Pretoria. After their heroics in Johannesburg, Leinster’s largely young and inexperienced side finally came unstuck in the thin air against a talented Bulls team laced with Springboks.

Leinster appears to be damned if they do and damned if they don’t by the peanut gallery. When they win emphatically in the Champions Cup with their full cohort of Irish internationals, they are monopolising talent and providing unfair competition. Yet when they decide to give youth a chance and lose heavily against talented opposition they are accused of misplaced arrogance for fielding a weakened team.

The scoreline was not pretty at 62-7, giving South African Sevens product and Springbok Kurt-Lee Arendse room to weave his magic from full-back with two well-taken tries that will create a difficult video session for Leinster’s defensive coaches.

South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber was no doubt an interested spectator given his impending move to Leinster after the World Cup. Speaking to South Africa Rugby Magazine, former Springbok lock Victor Matfield believes that Leinster has got a proven winner who will ensure that the trophy cabinet in Dublin 4 is well stocked.


“From Leinster’s point of view, they dominated last year, but didn’t win a trophy. That’s something Jacques can bring to them. He understands how to win trophies, how to win big games. That’s a mentality that can make Leinster just more powerful.”

Nienaber is, of course, a World Cup winner, but his rise to the top of the coaching ladder has been unorthodox. His friendship with Rassie Erasmus started during their national military service in South Africa and that connection helped give Nienaber the opportunity to begin his career as a physio for the Free State Cheetahs.

He spent over a decade working in strength and conditioning, before making his name in coaching as a defensive coach initially with the South African schools’ set-up and then Western Province. Nienaber witnessed a difficult defeat for Leinster’s young side but ultimately it will simply give him a bigger and better toolbox to use next year.

Once more unto the breach

It is the Six Nations championship that many in the Irish Women’s team will want to quickly exorcise from their memory. The build-up to Saturday’s game against England in Cork showed how the continued coverage and discussion around the team’s history is causing significant strain.

Ireland backs coach Niamh Briggs: “Dredging stuff up from the past, while we have to learn from it and I’m not saying we don’t – we have, we are learning – I just think we’ve got to keep moving forward now." Photograph: Ben Brady/Inpho

Niamh Briggs, the assistant coach for the side, highlighted her frustration at trying to keep a focus on the job on the pitch while also dealing with necessary legacy issues. “Dredging stuff up from the past, while we have to learn from it and I’m not saying we don’t – we have, we are learning – I just think we’ve got to keep moving forward now. I’ve come off social media and everything over the last week, it has just been so draining to see that and for people not to understand what we’re doing here in this building and where we’re going.”

It seems perverse that there was almost relief from fans that the scoreline against England was not heavier at 0-48. This highlights how difficult life has become for the Ireland team. Given England’s status as one of the strongest teams in world rugby and a set-up that is light years ahead of Ireland in terms of professionalism, there were some small glimpses of hope for the last game against Scotland next Saturday. The inevitable difficult debrief will wait one more week, until then, the team will be fighting to prove the world wrong.

Spence memorial marked

Ulster fans arriving for Saturday’s comfortable home win against Edinburgh at the Kingspan stadium will have noticed a change to the Memorial Stand, which has now been officially dedicated to the late Ulster centre Nevin Spence on the 10th anniversary of his death.

The Nevin Spence memorial stand is decorated with the player’s large, elegant signature and will mark a man that has never been forgotten by Ulster fans after he died in a tragic farming accident alongside his brother Graham and father Noel in 2012.

The former Ballynahinch player was an outstanding footballing centre and had represented Northern Ireland at schoolboy level in soccer before focusing solely on rugby while attending Wallace High School. The stand will sit beside the Nevin Spence Centre at Ravenhill where visitors can learn about the history of the game in Ulster.

Ulster will play Connacht on the May 5th in Belfast in the quarter-finals of the URC. Ironically Ulster’s last home game against Connacht September honoured Spence’s anniversary with the western province memorably gifting a special jersey with his name and number on it. Spence would have been 33 this year and his early years at Ulster promised a strong future in the professional game. The new stand in Belfast will remind all rugby supporters of a talented and personable young man who was taken far too young.

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By the Numbers: 2025

World Rugby has announced a new policy to accommodate fans with colour blindness that will come into action by 2025, with teams including Australia, New Zealand and South Africa being asked to change from their home jersey for this year’s World Cup when colour clashes are difficult for affected fans to decipher.

Word of Mouth

“I was spending hours on the physio bed every day to get right and I have just got to the point where having a young family, it breaks my heart when my son comes up to me and says, ‘Dad, do you want to go and play football in the garden after training?’

“But I’m absolutely knackered, I’m in too much pain that I can’t go outside. I’m like, ‘Enough is enough, family is my priority and rugby has started to become a job’.” – Scotland and Lions full-back Stuart Hogg speaking to RugbyPass on his decision to quit the game at only 30 years old after the World Cup.