This week we concern ourselves with the Six Nations finale, Exeter Chiefs, what happens next and a strange act of punditry from Ireland…
This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the Six Nations finale, Exeter, what happens next and a strange act of punditry…
It was a conclusion that most would probably have been able to script in advance. England unable to close up the huge points difference in Rome despite their best efforts, Wales cutting loose against Scotland and Ireland snatching victory in Paris to give Brian O'Driscoll a winning send-off.
In the event, BOD gave himself a fitting send-off from Test rugby with a display as typical as it was omni-faceted. He tackled, passed, kicked and blazed into and through contact, all with accomplishment. At the end, his grin was as wide as the gap in class between him and any other 13 in this tournament.
But Ireland do now have a problem. Having ridden to the Six Nations on the back of wanting to give their man a good send-off – and let nobody tell you that the team didn't use BOD's farewell as a unifying force during this campaign – what do they do without him?
This is a team that could make a big impact at the next World Cup. They've run New Zealand to the death, beaten Australia in the last World Cup, won a Six Nations playing a mixture of effective and thrilling rugby (yes, I panned them earlier in the tournament, yes, I think I need to admit I were wrong). The draw is kind. Neither France nor Italy will pose insurmountable problems for Ireland in the pool stages, nor Argentina/Tonga in Ireland's likely quarter-final, nor will Australia/England be teams Ireland will see as a step too far – a day when against Australia every Twickenham local will be Irish or when against England every neutral will be.
But to lose the talisman is to remove an ingredient from the mix. One of the senses of emotional purpose – a big carrier in the tightest of games – is gone. The leader is gone. Someone who has become a focal point of the identity of Irish rugby is gone. A delicate adjustment will have to be made, one that is almost as imperceptible as it is all-pervading. Getting that right is by far Joe Schmidt's biggest challenge – and unless or until Ireland does make the World Cup Final, it might be the biggest one he will ever face in the role.
While BOD signed off on 133 (for Ireland – 141 if you include the Lions) on Saturday, a day later saw Exeter draw a line under 143. That's the number of years it has taken Exeter – who have only been the Chiefs for 15 of those 143 years – to claim a major trophy.
Congratulations to them, but most especially, the 700-odd membership might all have spent Sunday night sitting back with a cold one and reflecting on a job well done.
Exeter has remained more steadfastly member-driven than most during professional times. Tony Rowe continues to steer the ship as he has done since 1995, presiding over a board of trustees who do nothing without approval from the members. The community has rallied round – there are few local companies who don't have a stake in the club of some sort – while promotion and development of players and coaches from within has become a byword. The squad is hardly beset with stars, more with players of reputed honesty and good work ethic from their previous teams who sought a new challenge. Several players who took the club up to the Premiership are still there.
So it's great to see Exeter's hard work pay off. Long may it continue.
Now the dust has settled on the Six Nations, it may interest all to know that behind that Six Nations smokescreen there is still no resolution to the European competition conundrum.
The clubs and unions seem at least to be at peace, but the future now rests on the abilities of the television suits to get one another to agree on which channel will be covering which teams at what time.
Sky boss Barney Francis (a name which has left us fervently hoping his BT Sport counterpart is an equally foppishly-named Rupert Muir or something) has said of the negotiations: “The game has had a difficult time, but it will take compromise from all parties.”
Let us hope that he really means that, rather than the veiled meaning being 'BT Sport needs to offer us more' or something. That sort of hidden meaning would not be the first one during the Euro rugby saga…
Best soundbite of the week from Denis Leamy, who had this to say on Joe Schmidt's selections for the Six Nations finale.
“I think what rankles with Munster people – and I suspect some folk in Ulster- is that guys who aren't first choice in Leinster are still good enough for the national squad,” Leamy wrote in the Irish Independent.
“I would have to disagree with some of the calls. Tommy O'Donnell lost his place on the bench, I think he is a better player than Jordi Murphy.
“I would argue that Donnacha Ryan brings more to the table than Rhys Ruddock and you just have to wonder what Simon Zebo – a Lion last summer – has to do to get back into the squad. Paddy Jackson has a more rounded game at the moment than Ian Madigan.
“The World Cup is just a year and a half away. The circle will need to be widened and not having done that in the Six Nations narrows the opportunities.”
Of course, there exists the counter-argument that winning the Six Nations is quite a good thing to do.
Do they serve egg on face in Munster these days? Or would Leamy have to go to Leinster to get it…
Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson