AS the sun sets on the international window for the ‘22/’23 season, there isn’t much time to sit back and relax as the “business end” is already underway for Irish clubs and provinces. Well, for some at least.
Irish rugby continues to prove its success in Europe with Munster, Connacht and Leinster all through to the United Rugby Championship semi finals this weekend, and Leinster playing in the final of the Heineken Champions Cup the weekend after.
It was a mighty round of quarter finals in the URC with a fierce battle between Connacht and Ulster taking place in Kingspan Stadium on Friday night last. The boot of Jack Carty was the key to Connacht’s victory over the Ulstermen, winning by 15 points to 10. All of Connacht’s points coming from said boot.
Leinster made dust of Durban’s Cell C Sharks, beating them 35-5 in the Aviva Stadium. Overall, the introduction of the South African teams into the URC has been a success. The Celtic and Italian teams enjoy their 2 week South African trips throughout the season. It seems to be a good opportunity for some epic team bonding and seeing some wild African animals, with minimal time difference to affect any sleeping patterns. Oh, and the rugby is good.
The South African teams haven’t been as content with their experience. Management of the Cell C Sharks sounded slightly disgruntled when talking about their URC journey in the wake of Saturday’s pummeling from Leinster. Their trips to Europe are much more frequent than those of their Northern Hemisphere counterparts and business class is not always an option. I suppose it’s one of the few downsides of having gigantic players in your team that cannot fit in economy seats. Then sometimes having to take two connecting flights instead of one, travelling for up to 20 hours. Despite having 3 out of 4 South African teams from the tournament reach the quarter-finals, and one making it to the semi-finals, they may not deem it quite as successful as it appears.
The last URC semi-final place was up for grabs in Scotstoun in Glasgow on Saturday evening, where Glasgow’s unbeaten home run of this season came crashing down against an exciting Munster side. Despite losing O’Mahony, Snyman and Murray to injury in the first half, Munster prevailed and were able to stem the flow of a 14-man Glasgow side to get a well earned victory.
Connacht, now safe in the knowledge that they will be rejoining the Champions Cup for the 23/24 season, have made it to Cape Town for the first semi-final on Saturday. While the Aviva prepares once again for a familiar showdown between Leinster and Munster. Will we see an All Ireland URC final on the 27th of May?
Speaking of All-Ireland finals, the All Ireland League came to a head on Sunday last with Terenure putting on an impressive show at the Aviva Stadium to beat the reigning champions of division 1A, Clontarf. There were some superb performances and excellent tries to entertain the 8,642 fans who came out to support their clubs. It was a phenomenal occasion for the Energia AIL. It was followed by a rousing speech from Terenure’s gaeilgeoir, Colm de Buitléar, when he implored the provinces to come and watch the AIL as there is so much talent yet to be unlocked and many who deserve their chance at pro rugby.
Ah yes, it’s great to get back to our roots. To come home from international duties and get back into your club colours and dressing rooms. If you’ve been playing in a tournament like the 6 Nations you’ve been cooked up in a high pressure environment for a number of months. I’m not suggesting that the club competitions aren’t high pressure, but getting back to your club is like getting back to what you know best. Maybe players have a chance to put things right, to improve facets of their game at club level, to step up as a leader or even take a step back from that role. To feel connected to the parish and remind yourself why you do it.
It’s a shame that the women, who have returned from the most difficult journey of all, having come last in this year’s 6 Nations, don’t have that outlet. The Women’s AIL finished before Christmas. The interpros are done. The Celtic Cup too. And as for the women’s URC and Champions Cup? They don’t exist. In fact, the only players who get to go back to their clubs and avail of all the advantages the men have by returning to their clubs at this stage of the season, are the ones who have moved to England to play in the Allianz Premier 15s. It’s high time we put this right.