Before anybody gets carried away with doom and gloom about Irish Rugby’s lack of Trophies this year, it might be worth recalling the fine margins by which we lost out. Ireland won the Triple Crown and only lost out on a Grand Slam by 30-24 away. Victories in Paris have always been as rare as hens’ teeth.
In the European Cup Ulster lost 50-49 to Toulouse on aggregate while in the Quarter Finals, Munster drew with them 24 -24 before losing out on penalties. Leinster lost24-21 to a last minute La Rochelle try in the final away in Marseille.
In the URC Leinster lost their Semi-Final 27-26 to the Bulls, and Ulster lost 17-15 by a last minute try to the Stormers in Cape town – a match that would have been in the Kingspan had it not been for a plainly biased South African TMO disallowing a perfectly legitimate try and denying them victory in the 14th. round of the competition.
If you want to be super critical, all these matches represent lost opportunities and a failure to adapt our game to playing against bigger and stronger packs. One off runners bashing it up the middle doesn’t work against the top teams anymore. We need to vary the point of attack and trust our backs more.
But the other way of looking at it is that we have been super competitive and lost only to the very top French and South African teams by fine margins. Wales, Scotland, and even England can only dream of such success at the moment.
Our tour to New Zealand represents another difficult challenge, and anything other than a drubbing would represent an improvement on previous tours. But overall Ireland is in a good place and it wouldn’t take much of an improvement to having us winning competitions all over the place.
From an Ulster perspective, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Robert Baloucoune, Michael Lowry, John Cooney, Nathan Doak, Billy Burns, Tom O’Toole, Rob Herring, Andrew Warwick, Iain Henderson and Nick Timoney all enhanced their prospects of international recognition and Ulster rugby looks to be in a good place for next season.
Frank Schnittger is a former senior executive in a leading multinational in Dublin and London and has a Masters in Peace Studies from Trinity College. He has been a director of a number of charitable and voluntary organisations in the community development, education, holistic addiction treatment and restorative justice sectors. He is editor of the European Tribune and a moderator of the Irish Rugby Fan Forum.