The Offload: Class act Kelleher ready to stake his claim

Powerful Leinster hooker looks a potential ready-made replacement for Rory Best

Ins and Outs

Every cloud has a silver lining, right? That would be the try scoring, offloading Ronan Kelleher at the Sportsground last Friday night. This always happens after a World Cup.

From the rubble of 1999 came Ronan O'Gara and John Hayes. After 2003 Gordon D'Arcy returned like phoenix from the flames. The 2007 exclusion of Tommy Bowe, Luke Fitzgerald, Rob Kearney and Jamie Heaslip seemed ridiculous come the 2009 Lions tour (and still does).

Post 2011 Declan Kidney's time in charge limped on to Rome in 2013 before the Joe Schmidt era brought unparalleled success. Dan Leavy and Garry Ringrose, followed by Joey Carbery and Jordan Larmour, were new stars to rise after the 2015 disappointment.

Now Andy Farrell is gifted an immediate replacement for Rory Best. It is probably too soon for the 21-year-old but needs must and Kelleher's a class act. There'll be others. Hopes are high that Kenyon Knox, Craig Casey and Ryan Baird will be ready around the same time James Lowe becomes a temporary Irish man.


The wonder is if CJ Stander and Bundee Aki will stick around for another World Cup cycle. Declaring for Ireland has proved a very smart career move by the South African and New Zealander after both felt the Springbok and All Black trains had left the station.

Neither man owes Irish rugby an extra day's work when their current contracts expire. Stander continues to be immense and is staying at least until 2021 but Aki's deal is up this summer. Connacht know they will struggle to keep him. Leinster have Joe Tomane and Munster are about to sign Damien de Allende so a provincial switch is unlikely.

And anyway, the lure of Japanese Yen might prove irresistible as both men take the long road home.

Word of mouth

"It would be scary if he took over France or somewhere with their players and resources." – Johnny Sexton on Joe Schmidt's next move.

Brought to book

Not long now. On November 21st Joe Schmidt’s autobiography – the laughably titled ‘Ordinary Joe’ (of course, he is anything but) – hits the book shelves. Surely there will be some deep insight into what the hell happened to the previously regimented Ireland side to cause such a spectacular collapse in 2019.

The 54-year-old has been penning this tome for over two years. Publishers Penguin Ireland are adamant there was no ghost writer involved in this marathon project.

The IRFU were keen to avoid anyone else writing an unofficial version and Schmidt has gone to some ridiculous lengths to keep information about his teams and strategies secret from media and the opposition so a tell-all is not expected. It should be a fascinating read though, but will it be the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me Joe?

We suspect a Volume II will be needed and it might need translating from French. Schmidt – the "accidental coach" that he has claimed to be for the past, oh, 16 years – is not done yet. Johnny Sexton made a strong point last week. It would be scary to see what Schmidt could do if Bernard Laporte gave him the keys to Marcoussis and charged him with keeping the Webb Ellis trophy in Paris after the 2023 World Cup.

Numbers Game

1 - Number of November internationals for the Ireland women’s team.

England have three.

Can’t see can’t be

There was an international rugby game in UCD on Sunday afternoon. The backdrop for Ireland versus Wales told us what we were watching: low level amateur sport. If women’s rugby wants to be taken seriously it needs to taken seriously by the main men inside the IRFU. And then, in turn, the media will follow.

Test matches should be held in Donnybrook with the occasional upgrade to the Aviva Stadium, Thomond Park and Ravenhill.

England won their first game in France for seven years over the weekend and it took place at one the most atmospheric stadiums in Europe, Stade Marcel Michelin. Why? Because both unions gave the fixture the respect it deserves.

The English and French women get the same national jerseys as their male counterparts. It was like watching two totally different sports. One very amateur, the other very professionally promoted.

Reasons to be cheerful. Éimear Considine at fullback and the fact that Beibhinn Parsons is only 17. She’s a special talent. Ideally Parsons’ career is not comparable to Simon Geoghegan’s in the 1990s.

England play France at Sandy Park and Italy in Bedford over the coming weekends but that's it for Ireland. Their next match is at Donnybrook against former coach Philip Doyle's Scotland on February 2nd. 'Can't see can't be' never felt like such a relevant catch phrase.

PS. Ross O'Donoghue was excruciating to listen to on commentary for Irish Rugby TV. He decided to repeatedly argue about the identity of Welsh try scorer Sioned Harries even though Leah Lyons – who was a class act as usual – knew what her regular opponent looks like. They deserve more than this.