Strange days. The best-case scenario has rugby returning before summer as panic is eventually replaced by relief and even a little joy. In the likely event that this season is already over, and an unbeaten Leinster campaign will never come to fruition, The Offload feels obliged to dish out meaningless Lost Season Awards.
(For the worst-case scenario read The Road by Cormac McCarthy).
CJ Stander was already the strongest candidate for outstanding Irish player. Run the numbers. The decision to switch him from number eight to the blindside flank, to accommodate the rise of Caelan Doris, only lasted four minutes due to the Blackrock prodigy being knocked out on his international debut.
Stander, who was aware of increasing personal criticism, went into overdrive with two man-of-the-match performances in victories over Scotland and Wales. Interestingly, he evolved from one game to the next with 18 tackles and 14 carries for 27 metres, with four defenders beaten, against the Scots before dropping to nine carries for a paltry nine metres against Wales but this was supplemented with six passes. At Twickenham England kept the burly South African behind the gainline yet he still topped the Irish statistics with 18 carries (albeit for 17 metres) and 12 tackles.
The breakthrough artist of 2020 is probably going to be denied the pitch time to establish himself, until next season, but Ryan Baird will keep. The 21-year-old lock's recent hat-trick against Glasgow had a little bit of everything.
That’s Doris, Baird and Stander mentioned in the same story. Now, all we need is this muscular trio to feature in the same pack.
Word of mouth
"As a father of a child with a serious respiratory lung condition and many others like her, I urge the public to please listen to the professionals. I will do everything I can to protect her. Everyone has a part to play. I'm usually a private person but the actions of some people is really starting to worry me. This an extremely worrying and scary time and we all need to take immediate action. Please." – Keith Earls, Munster and Ireland
By the numbers - 148
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones was due to equal Richie McCaw's international caps record against Scotland.
Madigan steps in again
The past four years have provided a cautionary tale for Irish players – in their prime – seeking a significant increase in salary over wearing the green jersey.
Ireland survived despite missing the highly skilled options to select Donnacha Ryan, Simon Zebo and Ian Madigan.
The latter’s decision to leave Leinster may have proved a lucrative career move but the 30-year-old has been stuck on 30 caps since coming off the bench against South Africa in June 2016. As Joey Carbery’s injury layoffs surpass his time on the pitch and Paddy Jackson’s removal from the IRFU payroll, Madigan watched from afar, all the while struggling for minutes in Bordeaux and then Bristol.
Now, by signing with Ulster, he has decided to do something about what he always stated was the number one priority: playing for Ireland.
In Belfast Madigan will face a similar challenge to what he encountered in France and England as Billy Burns is not only the established Ulster outhalf but the current third choice internationally behind Johnny Sexton and Ross Byrne.
Madigan will seek to move past Burns and Bill Johnston or he’ll play out an already interesting pro career dancing between inside centre and fullback (arguably his best position). Either way, Ulster should find plenty of use for him.
Interestingly, the English clubs – and not the RFU – blocked Maro Itoje’s opportunity to keep wearing the red rose after joining Ryan and Zebo at Racing 92 on a lucrative one-season deal. Seems like the stranglehold rivals will have on cheating Saracens is only just beginning.
Ahead of the game
Imagine an international women’s side playing on the same bill as their men. It is already happening in July – presuming rugby is back up and running – when the Black Ferns face USA at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium on the same day the All Blacks play Scotland. And that’s not all as New Zealand and Australia will compete for the Bledisloe and O’Reilly Cups at Marcel stadium, Melbourne on August 8th and SK Stadium, Wellington on August 15th.
"Every year the standard of rugby, not just here, but around the world, is growing and we need to be ahead of the game," said Black Ferns coach Glenn Moore.
A few years ago the IRFU were offered a semi-supplemented chance to bring their women’s squad down to Australia with the men’s touring party. They declined. They do have Test matches to announce this summer, presumably in Donnybrook, as preparation for the NZ 2021 qualifiers in September.
What feels vital, in these unusual times, is that planning for the, however uncertain, future remains in place.