Rugby is not a dirty game insists Leinster scrum coach John Fogarty. One of the names aired to replace Greg Feek after the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Fogarty is not reticent about his ability to step up to the national scrum coach job nor about the state of rugby as a clean sport.
Following a chain of incidents in Munster’s fractious match against Castres, Fogarty maintains that despite some “niggle” the game is in a better place than when he was a frontrow player 10 years ago.
“I think the game is a lot cleaner than it would have been 10 years ago, for sure,” says Fogarty. “The players are so much smarter about how they go about their business. They’re held accountable by the team as well as coaches. Talk about the Irish team, you’d be murdered if you were to be acting ill-disciplined.”
Munster coach Johann van Graan cut a sullen figure after the 13-12 defeat in Stade Pierre-Fabre, while Peter O'Mahony sought out referee Wayne Barnes to remonstrate, claiming that flanker Chris Cloete had suffered contact around the eye area from Castres scrumhalf Rory Kockott.
O'Mahony was also flattened off the ball by replacement hooker Marc-Antoine Rallier, while Sam Arnold became animated in the second half over foul play.
Consternation also surrounded the feet-first tackle by Benjamin Urdapilleta that forced Andrew Conway to knock on just before the try line. All of it peppering a free-for-all breakdown area and three yellow cards.
“Same here [Leinster], we don’t want to give away stupid, needless penalties,” adds Fogarty, who said he saw just parts of the Munster match. “The discipline can be 10 weeks, 12 weeks. So it costs you massively as a player.
“In these games, there’s going to be niggle and there was niggle in that game, I presume. There’s pressure in those games to get results and that leads to niggle. It’s something the playing group is very conscious of, but it’s no issue.”
The omerta that used accompany cynical fouls as players sought their own retribution is no longer a feature of the game, he says. Citing the many television cameras and additional eyes on the game, players are satisfied that they do not need to seek summary justice and that officials have deliberate dangerous play under control.
“The referees and the citing commissioner are controlling that part of it,” he says. “It’s not the case that people are looking to do each other in. There’s enough on [Leinster coach Leo Cullen’s] desk, he’s not looking to find incidents in games.
“It is a good thing that there’s a mechanism there in place to deal with all that. Referees are getting better and better as a group. The game is becoming cleaner, they’re flowing better. I don’t see any issue.”
Fogarty hopes his career pathway will lead towards Ireland after next year’s World Cup.
Current Ireland scrum coach Feek has taken on a broader coaching role with dual responsibilities between the NEC Green Rockets who are based in Japan and with Ireland. In his fifth season with the national team, he will continue on as part of Joe Schmidt’s team until the conclusion of the 2019 World Cup.
“Of course, that is the direction,” says Fogarty of his ambitions in coaching. “As a player, I wanted to test myself at the highest level and that is the highest level.
“As a coach, I want to be able to coach as high as I can go. That is the ambition.
“Again, arriving at that point at the right time is the most important thing as well. From the IRFU’s point of view, or my point of view, it is making sure I’m able to deliver.”
Much of the decision-making will also come down to Andy Farrell, who will take over from Schmidt next year. Farrell’s close association with Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster as well as the Ireland forwards will give him all the accurate intelligence on Fogarty that he needs.
The role is an IRFU appointment and it is in Irish rugby’s interests to have an Irish coach involved at the top level. But as with Schmidt, a coach is unlikely to be foisted on Farrell without his express approval. Fogarty understands how the system operates and believes he is now ready for an important upwards change of gear.
“Of course, I do,” he says. “I do feel I can add value. I am adding value here, I hope. I do feel I could.
“Every year throws up new challenges. The [Leinster] group, having four looseheads and four tightheads, having that change of players continually challenges us as a group and me as a person.
“That’s as far as I can talk about it. I’ve not been talking to anybody about it.”