The Offload: Opportunity missed for players in All Ireland League

Fewer provincial players turned out than expected in first weekend of URC hiatus

Opportunity missed in AIL

It’s a little unfortunate that the month-long hiatus between fixtures in the United Rugby Championship didn’t have a more direct benefit for the All Ireland League (AIL). The fact that the provinces afforded some of their players time off in terms of mini-breaks last week meant that fewer than expected were playing in the AIL at the weekend.

Under the rules of the tournament, a Division 1 club is permitted to field up to six professional players, no more than three of which can be forwards. There is no limit to the number of academy players that can line out in league matches. No matches until the final weekend in November in the URC means that many provincial players are looking for game time.

Ideally clubs would be beneficiaries, able to call upon players while providing them with a decent level of rugby. The provinces have scheduled A interpros for the weekend after next when the AIL takes a seven day break. It just feels like a little bit of an opportunity lost, a notion reinforced by watching the Division 1A game between Lansdowne and Young Munster on the main pitch at the Aviva stadium.

It was a superb game, between two well-coached teams, playing some excellent rugby with several outstanding individual performances, not least from Young Munster’s former Ireland underage international Conor Hayes. It was the high quality manner in which he scored his hat-trick of tries that embellished the scoring feat.

The presence of Munster tighthead Keynan Knox (Young Munster) and Leinster loosehead and a try scorer, Peter Dooley (Lansdowne) - both started on the bench - brought its own spice to a thoroughly entertaining spectacle from which the Limerick club emerged victorious, 24-20. Hopefully more of the provincial brigade will be available next weekend in the club game.

Number of the week

4 - The combined number of youth and senior women's teams that Sligo RFC fielded on the one weekend, the first time to do so in the 131-year history of the club. The Under-14s took on Claremorris, the Under-16s (Tuam/Oughterard), the Under-18s (Corrib) and the seniors played NUIG.

Quote of the week

"To be honest, he's very like Joe (Schmidt) in terms of the way he sees the breakdown and in terms of the way he coaches it. He (Schmidt) was obviously a big influence on Paul, like he was on all of us. I think that's an area of our game that was very strong for us during the Six Nations. It has to be because it's the core of our attack." James Ryan speaking about Paul O'Connell's influence as a coach with Ireland.

Stephen Aboud could be on the move

It is five years since Stephen Aboud accepted an invitation to join the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) as head of technical direction for player and coach development having spent the previous 26 in a variety of roles at the IRFU with a responsibility amongst other things for producing elite young player and coach development pathways.

The improvement in the results of the Italian underage teams during that period has been conspicuous and the latest example was at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo in Treviso at the weekend when Italy Under-18s beat the Ireland Clubs Under-18s, 41-10. The Italians, under the coaching baton of Roberto Santamaria, had beaten England 27-17 during the summer in England with last year’s group of players.

Wexford Wanderers number eight Grant Palmer gave Ireland an early lead with outhalf Tom Larke (Old Wesley) adding the conversion and subsequently kicking a penalty. The home side had wrested control back by the interval, leading 12-10 before scoring 29 unanswered points in the second half. The Italians racked up six tries and a penalty try.

Irish coach Brendan O’Connor, a member of the Ireland team that got to the Under-21 World Cup final in 2004, and his assistant, former international centre Kevin Maggs, only started working with the group last week in King’s Hospital but the nature and size of the defeat will be disappointing.

Aboud’s contract is up next year - the volatility and politics within FIR make nothing a formality - and it will be interesting to note his preference, whether to stay on or consider offers from elsewhere. Given the work he has done and progress made, the logical decision for FIR is an easy one, their goal to persuade Aboud to stay on and provide the scope to continue to develop those structures.

Amazon Prime frustration

Amazon Prime’s coverage of the internationals between Scotland and Tonga at Murrayfield and Wales clash with New Zealand in Cardiff polarised opinion to a point where it’s apt to describe the viewer experience as patchy; and that’s largely and literally down to the reception.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that those who were operating off a WiFi feed were hamstrung by pictures that repeated and then jumped forward. That was the experience of this column and it was initially disconcerting to watch the same shot repeated in quick succession only to then jump forward to catch up with the live action. There was also a lack of synchronisation in pictures and sound from time to time.

The complaints were not limited to town, city or region in Ireland as Welsh and Scottish viewers expressed their frustration. In response to one particularly exasperated customer, Amazon Help responded on Twitter with the following advice: “For optimal experience we recommend watching on a Fire TV stick, Fire TV stick 4K, Google Chromecast, Xbox One, Samsung UHD TVs *2018, 2019) or LG (2018 or 2019) TVs.”

The good news is that Ireland internationals are on RTE and Channel 4 but to catch the other big games it’s time to sort out that Amazon Prime connection and also some of the half-time interlude which is partially a test card.