Loose Pass: Leinster becoming a ‘runaway monster’, rotation problems and Newcastle Falcons concern

Lawrence Nolan
Leinster are flying high in terms of personnel while Newcastle Falcons struggle.

Leinster are flying high in terms of personnel while Newcastle Falcons struggle.

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the Leinster model debate, rotation problems and Newcastle’s low…

Reward and punishment

So all is not harmony and love in Ireland after all. Who would have thought it? Leinster are using national stadia of all sorts of sports as a second home, raking in the cash, have virtually the entire Ireland team as a starting XV and are signing several highly marketable names to their squad as rotation fillers while Ulster and Connacht struggle and Munster don’t do quite as well as they used to.

Irrespective of everything below national team level, the Irish model over the past 15, even 20 years, has been nothing but a success. Although there still seems to be a bit of a blind spot with World Cups, the national team is rarely out of contention for the Six Nations. Below national team level, if Leinster are not rampaging through Europe then Munster are. Connacht, once an almost total afterthought, are more than competitive. Ulster are far stronger than they are showing right now. It’s one of those years.

But the central contract funding from the IRFU which has subsidised much of this good time is, as is argued now by many observers, starting to get a little too centralised, in that much of the money seems not to be making it beyond Dublin. With the addition of hooker Dan Sheehan and almost certainly Jamison Gibson-Park, Leinster get the funding for ten central contracts, while the other three regions get it for one.

It’s not ideal. Being in Dublin gives Leinster something of an advantage anyway simply by dint of infrastructure and demographics, while young players also seeking good colleges and other life prospects are going to be drawn to Dublin irrespective of rugby. Leinster are credited with nurturing the talent, which is partly true, but there’s a fair bit of it also simply drops at their doorstep. The oodles of cash now swimming their way downstream to Leinster make sweetening that aspect a little easier, while signings such as that of Jordie Barrett are out of the realms of reality for the other provinces.

Leinster boss issues response to fierce criticism of province following ‘gold dust’ Jordie Barrett signing

It is probably the Barrett signing that tips the argument against Leinster slightly now. Let’s assume no injuries for the moment, Barrett’s rivals for his preferred positions of centre and full-back are Irish international shoo-ins Garry Ringrose or Robbie Henshaw and Hugo Keenan. That puts Barrett as potentially either injury cover or rotational cover.

Nice, but surely if any of the three home-grown players are crocked or on international duty there ought to be someone from the next generation looking to make the step up? Such as the promising Jamie Osborne? Shoe-horning a seasoned All Black into that gap is not going to up Osborne’s game-time much.

The same applies to the signing of RG Snyman (if he gets onto the pitch). If Leinster are going to hoard all the best local resources, you’d perhaps expect the IRFU to spread the jam a little more and help the other three stay in touch, lest the system creates a runaway monster.

Systems all have a flaw somewhere. It seems Ireland has found its way to a flaw in this system; how they deal with it will be important to the unity within the Emerald Isle.

The devaluation process

You’d probably have expected a Saracens win anyway, but you’d forgive Bristol, Harlequins and Sale for feeling perhaps a little bitter at the green tinge to Gloucester’s squad at StoneX Stadium on Saturday.

The same applies to anybody who might be rivalling the Lions for a United Rugby Championship play-off place. How nice for Leinster to be able to give so many people a rest and we do need to stop flogging them horses, but eleventh in the table hammering the leaders 44-13 without it being an era-defining performance doesn’t rest right. At what point does rotation devalue a league?

It was welcome that the Bulls escaped punishment for fielding not quite a full team in its Champions Cup quarter-final, but it is starting to not sit right that in all tournaments across the world, squads go through the season letting a certain number of games be less relevant to strategy in order to keep the powder dry for finals season. Full value for the leagues? Absolutely not.

“I understand people want to see the best players play all the time,” said Jake White after learning he and the Bulls would not be sanctioned.

“In principle I agree with that, however, if you want to see the best players all the time, something in the game’s calendar has to give.”

Anybody? Bueller? Bueller?

Newcastle’s position looks precarious

Steve Diamond was as honest as ever in the aftermath of Newcastle‘s 85-14 defeat at Bristol at the weekend, but it is hard to really see what anybody can do.

The shock of relegation is not a thing, but the jury is still out as to whether that is fortunate or not. English rugby has enough of a cash crisis in its strong teams, never mind propping up a team that is almost certain to go through the entire season without a win.

Diamond hinted at a certain complacency and drift towards the end of the season when he said he had made his mind up about one or two of them, but yet the Falcons are already short of a trio of their best players ahead of next season while Adam Radwan is looking towards sevens.

There’s not much footprint at Kingston Park despite it being a well-run club, nor is there any willingness to splurge money that isn’t there, but at what point does everything dry up? At what point is even Diamond unable to wring enough value out of a young and inexperienced squad to make the future of the club at elite level viable?

It needs a good deal of pragmatic thought. Nobody wants to lose another team from the top flight, but absolutely nobody wants a team to crash in the middle of a season again either.

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