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.


Posted August 20, 2014 by johnnyg321 in Leinster, Rugby

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2 responses to “Big Ben

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  1. I’d go along with your thinking there, John. With a bit of luck it could prove to be and inspired move on the part of MO’C. Along with Kane Douglas and Marc Caputo, there’s going to a stronger Aussie influence in Leinster this season. If our latest Oz imports perform to the level of Rocky Elsom, we could be going places!!! I’d presume you’ve seen this bit of news, which gives me great reassurance for the coming season: R

  2. Aye. The news of the Drico mentoring Te’o broke on the Radio just as I was writing the post. So I included the line “Although if Drico could be talked into giving him a few pointers, that would be good too” just before uploading 😉

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