French TV coverage
La Rochelle were worthy and deserving winners and Leinster can have no complaints based on their performance but one aspect of the afternoon that was disappointing was further examples of how French television coverage of matches in European tournaments do not show any 'worthwhile' replays of any contentious moments that do not favour the French club.
There were a number of La Rochelle clear-outs at rucks and tackles during the course of the match that warranted a second look or further investigation but not once was footage ‘available’. Yet on several occasions when a Leinster player was involved in an incident where La Rochelle might have benefitted from a replay they were shown ad nauseam.
It’s far too common an occurrence in the manner in which French television covers European matches for this to be an aberration. EPC Rugby are going to have to take some sort of proactive stance on the issue and ensure that there is a balance to the pictures that are made available and that they are not just at the whim of the French television director.
There is also a responsibility on the television match official to be vigilant in real time. It would be interesting to learn whether England's Ian Tempest on duty at the Stade Marcel Deflandre was satisfied that he didn't miss anything during the course of the 80-minutes.
The difference between the forensic replays available when games are played in Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales and those of French television are poles apart. There's also an element of it in the Six Nations Championship too. It shouldn't be the case and it's about time that the issue was meaningfully addressed.
Listen without prejudice
The match commentary team for Channel 4's coverage of the Champions Cup semi-final between Toulouse and Bordeaux-Bègles consisted of Miles Harrison, former Lions, Ireland and Leinster number eight Jamie Heaslip and ex Women's XVs and Sevens international wing, Danielle 'Nolli' Waterman.
The tripartite arrangement struck a nice balance between analysis and occasional whimsy with Waterman’s contributions in particular sharp, incisive, informative and when a moment lent itself tinged with humour.
During her playing career she was the youngest at that time English international when making her debut against Ireland as an 18-year-old in 2003. She scored 47 tries in 82 caps in a garlanded career - she was part of the England team that won the 2014 World Cup - that included playing Sevens in the 2016 Olympics.
Waterman retired from international rugby in 2018 and club rugby in September 2020. She is a level three accredited coach. Last October she made her Six Nations bow with a microphone completely unprepared for the social media abuse that ensued to the point that it left her feeling “very low” for weeks afterwards.
She admitted: “When I first started commentating, I would look online straight away to see the reaction and go down rabbit holes, getting more upset at what I found. You get into that habit as a player. I would not even acknowledge the positive ones; I would be looking for the negatives and it would just spiral.”
She spoke about her experiences in a documentary ‘Finding Her Voice,’ and resolved that she was not going to let the trolls win. She explained: “Sport is so often dominated by men that becoming a commentator or coach might not even enter a young girl’s thought process.
“I hate the thought of anyone not seeing people they can relate to in these roles and the more they see these different options because someone that looks like them is doing it, the better.”
She can teach plenty of boys/men a thing or two about rugby too; all they have to do is be prepared to listen without prejudice.
Connacht’s loss . . .
Pita Ahki’s superb performance for Toulouse in their victory over Bordeaux-Bègles was recognised by the man-of-the-match accolade and offered a reminder of just what a pivotal player the 28-year-old Auckland born centre has become for the French club.
Connacht supporters might continue to be faintly bemused on the basis of his short stay with the province. Ahki joined Connacht in October 2017, ostensibly on a short term contract, signed by the then coach Kieran Keane, ostensibly as cover for Bundee Aki who was required for Ireland duty during the November test series.
In March the following year it was announced that he would be joining Toulouse in the summer of 2018. During his season with Connacht he managed just three starts and the same number as a replacement. It therefore came as something of a surprise that Toulouse snapped him until it was revealed that Luke McAlister, who was in Toulouse at the time recommended his brother-in-law.
It proved a prescient signing as he has been a standout player for a club that won the French Top 14 in Ahki’s first season at the club. Initially signed on a one year contract, he was offered a two-year extension before his first season was completed. While others in the Toulouse backline might command the headlines, Ahki has proved to be a brilliant signing.
For Connacht it is a case of what might have been.
Word of mouth
"We don't move on from this quickly. That was a chance to be in a European final. I'd be really disappointed with the situation that we're in." Ulster head coach Dan McFarland didn't try and downplay the disappointment of the province's 33-24 defeat to the Leicester Tigers in the European Challenge Cup semi-final at Welford Road.
By the numbers
6 - The number of points that La Rochelle scored, conceding none, while they were a man down following Wiaan Liebenberg's yellow card in their first half of the Champions Cup semi-final against Leinster.