The Offload: Now all eyes turn to Josh van der Flier

Gavin Cummiskey reveals his end of season ‘The Offload awards’ and his best quotes

No O’Brien, no Leavy - all eyes now turn to Josh van der Flier to step up and deliver at the Rugby World Cup. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

No O’Brien, no Leavy - all eyes now turn to Josh van der Flier to step up and deliver at the Rugby World Cup. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

No miracle for Seanie

Silence the imagination. Fifty-five minutes into a hellish World Cup quarter-final against the Springboks and Seán O’Brien is followed into the fray by Jack McGrath and Iain Henderson.

His screeching voice immediately audible on ref link as he rips the ball from South African hands.

But no, O’Brien’s Ireland days are finished by badly damaged hips. He always needed a medical miracle. It now seems certain that the 2017 Lions tour was the last peak scaled by the greatest flanker Irish rugby has ever known.

Three performances shine brightest: his bullocking second half against Northampton in 2011 alongside those All Black defeats in 2013 and the 2016 warzone.

Dan Leavy has long been primed to succeed him. In 2018 Leavy willed that idea closer to reality but now all eyes turn to Josh van der Flier (who has undergone two major surgeries in the past 18 months).

Such crisscrossing of generational players felt essential for the Schmidt era to finish in uncharted waters.

The damage rugby does to its opensides – Sam Warburton gone age 29, Sam Cane returned this weekend from a broken neck.

Hope lingers with Cian Healy’s fully deserved two year contract extension. It’s worth pausing to consider the 31 year old’s body of work; the power-lifting kid from Belvedere College that became the best loosehead on the planet in 2013, broken by the rigours of the game as Jack McGrath climbed into his blue, green and red jerseys.

Somehow, Healy has risen to produce world class performances in Leinster’s two May finals. “55 minutes and the body is aching,” he grimaced on collecting Saturday’s man of the match crystal as Johnny Sexton cleverly tricked O’Brien into collecting the Pro 14 trophy on his own.

It was the last sighting of the Tullow Tank inspiring a generation of Irish rugby players who didn’t exist until he did.

World Cup semi-final the ultimate aim for Nucifora

At the 2014 Women’s World Cup as Ireland beat New Zealand in France , David Nucifora and Joe Schmidt joined the young Sexton clan in the main stand.
Simultaneously, the greatest moment in Irish (women’s) rugby unfolded as the most important deal for the Irish (men’s) game was sealed.

Nucifora can get painted as the bad guy in Irish rugby – see his killer line last week about Rob Kearney’s manager: “I haven’t dealt with that fellow . . . didn’t realise he was Rob’s agent.”

But there’s enough credit in the bank for the former Wallaby hooker to shrug when it was highlighted that Ireland Sevens players are operating below minimum wage. 

Sevens is Nucifora’s gift to the IRFU, coming with the promise of Olympic exposure, and Genuine strides were made with victory over England at Twickenham on Saturday.

But pull back to see the big picture: Nucifora gets bad mouthed for not oiling the amateur chains of the women and club games. That argument stumbles if we consider why his position was created in the first place. His role was to modernise and now sustain the high performance arm of the IRFU. 

Professional, not amateur, rugby is his brief. Hence the three year contract extension. Nucifora was brought in to implement strategies the Irish couldn’t sort out amongst themselves. On his watch lasting and long overdue progress has occurred via provincial cross-pollination.

John Cooney taking Ruan Pienaar’s slot in Belfast paved the way for Jack McGrath to become the rock upon which Ulster can now rebuild.

It’s conceivable that 10 years ago Joey Carbery would’ve slipped through the net entirely. Or be dancing across the back field wearing number 15. Instead he’s the face of Munster’s bright red jersey campaign.

Such player movement will keep the Irish provinces competing with increasingly wealthier English and French clubs.

He’ll be fixing Munster’s coaching issues this summer. Just like he solved Connacht with Andy Friend and Ulster with Dan McFarland.

The AIL and women’s game will continue to suffer but that’s been the way since the game turned professional. 

Now, yes, the Sevens boys and girls would make more money flipping burgers. Not a good look at all but Nucifora’s word is final. Or at least semi-final. 

That’s the aim above all else, a place in the last four of the World Cup. What was it Machiavelli said about the ends?
 

By the numbers: 57 - Players used by Leinster this season. Nobody mention salary cap.

The Offload awards

Best Sexton Hits Bronze: Matt Fagerson in the Pro 14 final. Silver: Allan Dell in the Six Nations. Gold: George Kruis. Twice in the Champions Cup final the giant Englishman nailed the Irishman.

Coach Of The Year: John Fogarty and Andy Farrell were deservedly promoted, Andy Friend and Dan McFarland steadied the Connacht and Ulster ships, but Leo Cullen’s ability to apologise with such authority on the eve of the Pro 14 final (coupled with results) leaves him top of the pile.

Breakthrough Artist: Has to be Joey Carbery’s stunning recovery from the Castres hiccup to magically create Keith Earls’ try in Murrayfield. His hamstring injury derailed Munster’s season.

Dream Team: The joke that was Guinness Pro 14 offering. One Leinster player (Scott Fardy) and only three nominated from a list of 45 makes the tournament organiser’s appear out of touch with reality.

Player Of The Year: Jack Conan and Marcell Coetzee would be pushing James Ryan if Ryan was a ball carrying number eight. The 22-year-old is already the best player on the island.

High Water: Mark Jacob Stockdale’s try to topple the All Blacks is forever frozen in time. His fumble a few months later will be forgotten.

Low Water: Mark Triumphant English “bullies” heard across the ref link and Joe Schmidt getting played by Warren Gatland over the Principality stadium roof were contenders but Lindsay Peat saying what she said the week of a test match yet nobody in power seeming to care was the saddest reality.

Quote of the week: Will we see you again in the blue jersey? Rob Kearney: “Yeah, please God hopefully.” Robbie Henshaw: “Noooooooooo.”

Quotes of the season

“Yeah, it is a reality check. That’s how it is going to be at the World Cup. Against the All Blacks two years ago we got bullied here. You got to be prepared to give as good as you get. I know the players are disappointed that we didn’t have the same physical edge as England. We don’t have the same personalities so we got to make our solutions better.” Joe Schmidt post defeat to England last February in Dublin.

“We reset to zero.” If anyone murdered four words it was this sentence delivered by Johann van Graan ad nauseam.

“I wouldn’t like my kids to do something like that. You live and you learn. I apologise to the kid. He’s a great kid, a great player. I gave him my jersey and apologised as much as I possibly could.” Simon Zebo condescendingly apologises to Michael the Kid’ Lowry over absolutely nothing.

“Let’s see how Ireland handle being favourites.” As Steve Hansen predicted in November, the weight around the neck of Irish rugby proved too much to handle.

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