The Offload: All eyes turn to testing time in Munster

‘Risky’ rugby hacks sidelined for annual Lansdowne dance; British and Irish Lions

All eyes on Munster tests

Rugby being cancelled in New Zealand just as it returns to Ireland is a sure sign that we will be feeling around in the dark for some while yet.

The show must go on, right? But the Munster case last week and attempts to contain an outbreak of Covid-19 in their squad provides a taste of what lies ahead. One infected academy player, another six forced into isolation, including a senior player, is not enough to postpone this weekend's interpros. But a sprinkle of positives results from Monday morning tests at Munster HQ in the University of Limerick would be.

The French pre-season has been plunged into crisis after a cluster of infections forced Stade Francais to abandon their trip from Paris to a training camp in Nice (who the hell came up with that bright idea?). The entire club remains in quarantine. Several warm-up matches have been cancelled in France due to positive tests. Ulster are due down in Toulouse for the Champions Cup quarter-final on September 20th.

Even Covid conquerors New Zealand had to cancel the Canterbury Crusaders against the Auckland Blues at a sold-out Eden Park following an increase in cases that wouldn't have raised an eyebrow in Ireland's new bar and grill culture; 46,000 tickets must be refunded as Auckland slid back into lockdown.

Makes you remember virologist Cillian De Gascun's warning back in April when discussing the difficulties of team sports coming back on stream right around the time he anticipated a second wave. That time being now. Nobody wants DeGascun's concerns to become a reality. All eyes on those Munster test results.

This column aspires to be Covid-reference-free next Monday.

Rugby writers shut out

The IRFU are not taking any chances. Your beloved rugby writers have been categorised as too high “risk” to attend the Leinster-Munster dance at Lansdowne road on Saturday night.

While not quite John Charles McQuaid levels of censorship, following months of fruitless negotiations behind the scenes when no amount of examples from other elite sports could change their minds, the hacks have been couched.

The Government’s strict 200-person capacity at outdoor events has even annoyed the provincial coaches as only 50 players are permitted to tog out.

You probably know this, but eyewitness accounts provide a slightly more credible form of journalism than reporting off the telly. Leinster against Munster should be a gift from Hermes himself: a chance to tell a unique story as it unfolds in the empty arena.

We saw this coming last May when Martin Murphy – the affable military commander who runs the stadium – said: "There would have to be a lot of control over [journalists] coming in and out because every reporter is almost a sole trader, in that you are responsible for yourselves, rather than sitting under some controlling entity, and it was felt that there was potential risk in the numbers that are coming in and the ability to vet people."

The roving reporter is too loose a character to abide by Covid rules! Now, full disclosure, there are some odd fish in the pond who love a wee snoop into restricted areas but nobody is foolish enough to spoil a once in a lifetime opportunity to be a primary source on Irish rugby’s historic return.

A media presence would be essential for the very reasons the IRFU might not want them on site: accountability. Even Trump allows his harshest critics into the White House. The 200-people limit, a ridiculous one-size-fits-all number used across all Irish sport, is not a valid reason to block access. The archbishop would have approved.

Word Of Mouth

“You’re f****d mate!”

How England coach Eddie Jones eloquently brought an end to the career of his captain Dylan Hartley.

By The Numbers

200 – total number of accredited people allowed into Aviva stadium for Leinster versus Munster.

Gatty’s Chiefs to be ‘used’ by Lions

Great to see Saracens being rewarded for their financial doping – which led to relegation and a €6 million fine – all in the name of the British and Irish Lions.

Not many will complain about Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell suiting up for the Chiefs in the 2021 Super Rugby season. And don't forget property magnates Mako and Billy Vunipola with Elliot Daly and Jamie George hardly going to miss a chance to stake their claim for the Lions tour of South Africa.

“They are just using us,” was All Black John Kirwan’s protest on New Zealand television.

The plan appears to be in motion because it helps Warren Gatland on two fronts. The double jobbing Gatland’s first season back coaching his local team was a disaster as the Chiefs lost all eight matches.

“It would be to get [the players] enough rugby to make sure they are firing come the Lions tour,” said Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall. “I talked to Warren on Monday and he was very happy with the situation.”

A peek into the future perhaps. The cream of northern hemisphere rugby in weekly club conflict with the best All Blacks and the Sarries debacle gets a silver lining.