Recently we posted a blog about replacing Drico. The conclusion of which was that we should look for a player from the southern hemisphere, but not despair if we did not find one as we had options.
Well guess what? We got a player from the southern hemisphere! Perhaps not from the source we were expecting though.
Step forward Ben Te’o. From the world of the NRL (Aussie Rugby league)
Definitely from left field. Many possible pitfalls, but possibly a big return too if all the stars align.
Where to begin? The NRL.
NRL is the 2nd most popular pro team sport in Australia behind AFL (What we call Aussie Rules) Rugby (Union) is in third place (just about) vying with Soccer.
League is a big working man’s sport down under, just like it is in the north of England. There is a lot of tabloid hype around it and it is famous for some bad boy behaviour. Both on and off the field.
Ben Te’o is no stranger to either. He is currently serving a ban for a dangerous tackle which will keep him out until the 3rd last weekend of the (NRL)season. This is his third ban this year.
Off the field he has had bad press too. Most noticeably last year when he was accused of assaulting a woman. A charge of which he was cleared and has always denied.
So. He is now 27 years old. An age when men typically look at their place in life and how content with it they are. Perhaps he wants out of the fishbowl and a chance for a clean slate. He possibly feels that he has been wrongly given a bad name and wants to start again.
While Ben Te’o is a Kiwi and therefore had a rugby ball in his hand at least a month before he left the womb, he has spent the last 10 years playing the “wrong” kind of rugby. He would have played a decent bit of Union in school before emigrating to the Gold coast in Queensland at 17, but that is a looong time ago.
Massive gamble for both Leinster and Te’o you would think? You would be right.
Lets take a look at the risk and reward factors……
He has become used to rugby league which, while it has the same ball and a lot in common with Union, has a serious amount of differences at the most basic level. No lineouts, no mauls, no rucks, no flankers, uncontested scrums etc. etc.
If you look at the most successful league converts they have mostly been in the back 3 (Israel Folau, Lote Tuqiri, Jason Robinson, Wendell Sailor, hell even Chris Ashton) We seem to be looking at Ben Te’o to play in the Centre. Not only that but in our most famous jersey too. Thinking of another League forward (cause Te’o is a forward in league) who played in the centre in Union. Andy Farrell. (Owen’s aulfellah) Total legend in League, not so much in Union. You could say that he was older than Ben Te’o and had a lot of injuries by the time he hit Union though.
Te’o has a reputation as a big hitting hard man, and many people are saying that Matt O’Connor is looking to use him in the way he used Manu Tuilagi in Leicester. Personally I think we have a lot more going on in the backs than Leicester and that they would like to be made more like us than visa versa. We could make more of that type of player.
With Ian Madigan at either 10 or 12 who can take the eye out of a spider at 50 paces with his pass, we could easily have the option of bypassing him while he takes two defenders out of the game just as a small example. Punching a large hole and getting his arms around for a league style offload is another.
Defence however is another matter entirely. Defending the 13 channel is notoriously difficult to defend as you have such a large amount of grass to cover. We have been lucky in having one of the sharpest minds in reading the game defensively (well every way really) for the last 15 years or so. Can Te’o learn quickly when to shoot up and cripple someone and when to hang back and drift?
Which leads me on to one of the reasons I actually like this signing.
Te’o is as different a player to the great man as day is to night. The default signing would be someone like Conrad Smith who plays a lot like Drico. This forces us to change the way we play entirely. Which in my opinion is a good thing. Although if Drico could be talked into giving him a few pointers, that would be good too.
When Rocky Elsom left in 2009, many of us were calling for Leinster to splash the cash in an attempt to replace him. Instead we went with Kevin McLaughlin and Sean O’Brien and were forced to change our game.
Evolve or die.
The model that Toulon used against us to such great effect with Wilkinson/Giteau or Giteau/Mermoz inside a big lump (Basteraud) has become increasingly popular and effective.
Another positive note that has been reported in the media is that Matt O’Connor was a centre himself who switched between League and Union so A/ he would have experience and B/ he would know what to look for in a centre who could make the transition.
By all accounts he has been chasing Te’o for a while. Te’o having visited Dublin on at least one occasion.
Ben Te’o could be a spectacular failure who ends up crawling back to League after a season. Like Benji Maaashal. He could be an inspired success and a vindication of thinking outside the box, or he could just be a solid enough player who kicks the can down the road for a year or 2 while we incubate the massive amount of talented backs we have in our Academy.
I would be happy enough with option 3 to be honest, but wouldn’t it be great if he could be closer to 2.
When a player pulls on a blue jersey and hitches his wagon to us, he automatically gets a pass from me untill he has played a number of games for us. Perhaps Ben will need the guts of a full season to get to grips with a new game in a new hemisphere.
He will get every opportunity, and living 16000 km from home will give him the fresh start he seems to be looking for. Hopefully he does not get bogged down like Lote in…. other persuits.
So from a glass half full perspective, it should be a very interesting season to come.
The Welsh predicament and a “British and Irish League”
We all know that there is uproar in Welsh Rugby that is looking like it might tear the pro game in Wales apart completely. As outsiders with a vested interest, via the shared pro 12 league, this could well affect what is effectively our “domestic” league. This has made those of us in BluesTalk mansions think of various external scenarios that might be explored in search of a solution.
As the “silly season” is drawing to a close this weekend with the first friendly matches taking place. We are running out of time for a completely hare brained scheme that would never work so here goes.
If you ask most disgruntled fans of the Welsh “Regions” what would be their preferred outcome, they would answer with an Anglo Welsh or British and Irish league. They like to hark back to the days of Amateur clubs playing English opposition and filling their grounds etc.etc.
Rather than blame regionalisation or unprofesionalism/bad marketing on behalf of the regions for lack of fans travelling to games they blame the quality of opposition in the pro 12. They feel that playing v English teams week in week out would solve their issues with crowd size.
This piece seeks to indulge these opinions or at least follow them to a few possible logical conclusions.
Before we begin I would ask you to suspend your disbelief on the following issues.
- A significant proportion of Welsh rugby fans do not support the “Regions” to begin with, for numerous reasons which we will not go into here
- The Regions are at war with their union, and for any of this to be a runner, the Union would have to be on board.
- The “championship” (2nd tier) clubs in England would be up in arms about any possible “ring fencing” of the top tier of Rugby in England. (More on this later*)
- The other 3 “home” unions would also have to agree to this.
- The premiership and the Pro12 would cease to exist.
- Could we trust the PRL? As they would have a large say in any proposed competition.
- We would have to square the circle between the independent clubs in England and the Union controlled ones in Ireland and Scotland…… And of course what ever we end up with in Wales.
I’m sure there are many more but that is enough disbelief to suspend for now.
One of the main gripes of the Welsh regional fans is that the Pro12 does not work, as fixtures, referees, citing commissions etc. are too hard to organise among the member unions. Would this be easier? (because the PRL would impose their will on the rest) or harder? (Because we are swapping the Italians for the way more vociferous English)
So. To the possible completion…….
Geography is what sells it to the Welsh as they are close to the like of Bath, Bristol, Gloucester etc. So geography is what we will base it on.
Us Irish have to travel overseas to play anyone else anyway so no change for us.
The Scottish could have some shorter journeys eg Newcastle.
The English would also lose their longer journeys (Newcastle to Exeter anyone?)
Basing it on the current Premiership and the Pro 12, with a couple of teams from the Championship to replace the Italians, I have come up with a 24 team competition based on 3 geographical “conferences”
After 14 rounds of home and away the competition “splits in 2″. Top 4 in each conference in one and bottom 4 in the other.
The top layer qualify for the European cup automatically with the remaining place(s) for the finalists (or perhaps just the champions) in the bottom tier.
You then have 10 free weeks of the current season remaining.
6 weeks of round robin where each team plays 4 teams from another conference and 2 from the remaining one.
1st place teams have 5 home and 1 away game.
2nd place teams have 4 and 2
3rd place teams have 2 and 4
4th place have 1 and 5
NRL style playoffs which take 2 weeks before the semi and final weekends.
Irish and Northern conference
- Glasgow Warriors
- Newcastle Falcons
- Sale Sharks
Welsh and Western conference
- Bath Rugby
- Cardiff Blues
- Exeter Chiefs
- Gloucester Rugby
- Newport Gwent Dragons
London and Midlands conference
- Leicester Tigers
- London Irish
- London Welsh
- Northampton Saints
- Worcester Warriors
*OK I tried to think of a mechanism where the team with the lowest points was relegated to the English championship, but it was too complex as it could be a non English team.
You could have London Welsh’s spot (as the newly promoted team) up for grabs, meaning the promoted team would always play in the London and Midlands conference. This would ensure that it was always an English team.
Told you it was hare brained.
Personally I would not be in favour of any of it, but at least I spent 90 minutes of my time considering it……..
By now some Leinster fans have started to panic. No signing in the backs for next season. 2 NIQ spaces left now that Roux has gone west but not a rumble since there were vague rumours about a young lad called Michael Collins a few months ago.
The problem: Replacing an icon in Irish and World rugby.
The other problem: No players of high quality available due to the world cup next year.
The other other problem: French and Japanese money will hoover up any spare talent in this limited market.
Sign a decent player from the southern hemisphere who is below the radar of international teams?
Problem here is again the small market, and the need to sign someone better than what we have, means that is a very small stock of players weare looking at.
Traditionally New Zealand would be the place to look as Australia has no competition between super rugby and the AIL club rugby equivalent (although they are starting one next month http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Rugby_Championship) and South Africa has been more of a hunting ground for forwards.
Looking at what has already been mined from this small pool, Bundee Aki would appear to be the pick of what is available…… and he has signed for Connacht, perhaps to play 12 beside Robbie Henshaw. The man who is at the head of the Bod replacement queue for Ireland. At least until Payne qualifies in October.
Mils Muliaina of course is the big signing out west. Perhaps not exactly what we are looking for in Leinster at this point, but would be well capable of playing to a high standard at 15 or even 13.
Elsewhere we have Louis Ludik for Ulster, a Shark who has come via 2nd division Agen in France and Tyler Bleyendaal for Munster, a 10/12 from Canterbury. Again neither one is really what we are after.
Andrew Smith is being touted as a bit of a bosher of a 13 for Munster on a one year contract. However I would consider him as a decent enough stopgap for them (or indeed us). Compare him to that other Andrew (Goodman) who played a season for us lastyear. He got some stick for not being of a high enough standard to get thrown into a HC game v Clermont in December 2012. Harsh as he was signed as a 3rd choice 10 or back up 12. Good solid player who could place kick and do all the basics to a high Pro12 standard. Smith has played about as much super rugby for the Brumbies as Goodman played NPC for the Macos. That would point to him being of a higher standard.
Such a player could fill in for us and kick the can down the road for a year while our young players improve and until the expected exodus from the south after the World Cup happens.
So. Young players. Who is there? Well…..
In addition to our internationally capped senior outside backs
We have these outside backs who are already in the senior squad and are (essentially) uncapped for Ireland
- Reid (1 cap in Argentina)
When you include the Academy and the rumoured entrants for next season you have TEN EXTRA outside backs, at least 7 of whom can play in the centre.
So. Kicking the can down the road is not such a bad thing. We are definitely light in the backs in the short term and there is a gaping Bod shaped hole there. But if we did not sign a stopgap player would it actually be the end of the world?
We have the possibility of playing D’arcy, Macken, Fitzgerald, McFadden, O’Shea or maybe even Kirchner at 13. And D’arcy, Reid, Madigan, Fitzgerald, Mcfadden, O’Shea at 12. None of these options are without their drawbacks, but mix in a few academy options for Pro12 games, stir until ready and who knows what will come out in a year’s time. 12 months ago who would have seen Noel Reid getting an international cap within a season?
When choosing an option from the southern hemisphere we have to bear development of our academy in mind.
In my opinion Leinster rugby’s stated position of looking out for the right player to fill a hole, but refusing to sign a player just for the sake of it, is probably about right.
David Nucifora and interprovincial loan deals.
Something which has bothered Irish Rugby fans over the last few years is players leaving to go to French and English clubs, sometimes in positions where other provinces are lacking.
- You cannot, and should not, force a player to go to a team when they do not wish to.
- Provincial loyalties, which are generally good and positive thing, can manifest as “negative loyalties” to other provinces.
On the first point. Personally I would be against giving a player an ultimatum that they “have to move or they will never be considered for Ireland duty”. However there is a fine line between this and “you would improve your chances of playing for Ireland with game-time at another province”. Let’s face it, if they go to England or France they will be far less likely to feature for Ireland.
This leads into the second point. Some players would rather stay in their home province and wait in line for game time, rather than move to a province with a need in their position. We can not criticise a player for this as it is what stops our top players like Heaslip and O’Brien from taking top dollar from the likes of Toulon and leaving Irish rugby altogether.
That is one thing but an unwillingness to move to another province because of a perception that you have of that province is another thing altogether. Jerry Flannery for example has said in interviews that he would “never have gone to Leinster” while he was obviously happy to go to Connacht. Sean Cronin has done very well out of coming to Leinster and he would have at one stage felt similar to Jerry.
This serves to illustrate that perhaps other provinces are not the same as a players perception of them might be whether positive or negative, and that “loan deals” might be the way to shatter those perceptions.
The recent “loan deal” from Leinster to Connacht of two very promising players, Scrum half John Cooney, for the whole of next season, and Lock Quinn Roux, until the end of the year with a possibility of an extension, may just point the way to a new dawn in this regard.
Mentally, for the players, they have not “signed” for Connacht so they have an opportunity to sample the delights of Galway without committing themselves. Obviously they will have to commit themselves on a week in week out basis from a playing perspective but not permanently.
For Leinster, their players will get crucial gametime while they still retain control of them. Roux for example could well return in January 2015 depending on our situation with injury and international call ups. For Connacht they get 2 very promising players with very few strings.
Win. Win. Win you would think…..
Some provincial fans would resent this system though and say. “Why should we develop players who will end up in another province”
Such people should really decide whether they are Irish Rugby fans or Provincial Rugby fans. Even if they decide that they support Province over Country, they would do well to remember that Irish Rugby is structured from the top down and not like England and France where the Clubs are completelyseparate entities.
Some of them would be the very people to cite the advantages of having unions in control of the game rather that private clubs. Sure there are downsides, like having to rest international players on demand, having less control over signings etc.etc. But the upsides outweigh the downsides I would have thought.
Currently Leinster seem to be churning out a lot of Tight head props. We have Martin Moore and Tadhg Furlong who look like they could play for both Leinster and Ireland for many years and behind them now are Terenure’s Craig Trenier, Blackrock’s Jeremy Loughman and Roscrea’s Oisin Heffernan.
None of these are in the Leinster academy yet, but there are rumours of the first 2 heading north to Ulster.
Is this a bad thing? Surely it is better to keep them in the overall IRFU system than ship them off to a French D2 side, Rotherham or even London Irish? They can always return to Leinster should the opportunity arise, and they would not be “lost to Irish Rugby” in the way that a talent like Niall Morris might be.
When all 4 provinces have players falling out of trees in every position there will be time enough to export some……
So, in summary, perhaps the inclusion of a “foreigner” as the performance director of Irish Rugby (rather than David Humphreys for example) may facilitate these moves with a lack of “perceived” provincial bias, perhaps some new ideas and the “neutrality” to broker possible deals.
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In the final episode of the season, the Blues Talk team take a look back at Leinster’s victory over Glasgow Warriors in the Rabodirect Pro12 Final. We discuss the performances over the season both from the team and ask who has impressed the most.
This week on Blues Talk TV we take a look back at Leinster ‘A’s victory over Leeds Carnegie in the British and Irish Cup and review the last Heineken Cup final. We take a look forward to the Rabodirect Pro12 final between Leinster and Glasgow in the RDS and say goodbye to two greats of Leinster Rugby.
In this weeks episode of Blues Talk, we take a look back at Leinster’s hard fought victory over Ulster in the Rabodirect Pro12 Semi-Final and review the other semi-final between Munster and victors Glasgow who will face Leinster in their first Pro12 Final. We take a look at Leinster ‘A’ vs Leeds Carnegie in the British and Irish Cup Final and the squad for Ireland’s summer tour to Argentina.