Archive for August 2014

Big Ben   2 comments

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.

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Posted August 20, 2014 by johnnyg321 in Leinster, Rugby

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A Welsh Solution to a Welsh Problem   6 comments

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.

  1. 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
  2.  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.
  3. 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*)
  4. The other 3 “home” unions would also have to agree to this.
  5. The premiership and the Pro12 would cease to exist.
  6. Could we trust the PRL? As they would have a large say in any proposed competition.
  7. 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.

QED.

Irish and Northern conference

  • Connacht
  • Edinburgh
  • Glasgow Warriors
  • Leinster
  • Munster
  • Newcastle Falcons
  • Sale Sharks
  • Ulster

Welsh and Western conference

  • Bath Rugby
  • Bristol
  • Cardiff Blues
  • Exeter Chiefs
  • Gloucester Rugby
  • Newport Gwent Dragons
  • Ospreys
  • Scarlets

London and Midlands conference

  • Harlequins
  • Leicester Tigers
  • London Irish
  • London Welsh
  • Northampton Saints
  • Saracens
  • Wasps
  • 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……..

 
John Grainger