URC Irish Shield- Round 1

The Irish sides got their United Rugby Championship campaigns started last Saturday with Ulster performing the best of the four.

Leinster Limp Past Zebre

Leinster only conceded 31 tries in the URC last season, but in the opening round of this seasons competition Zebre secured a try bonus point and could have had more. Zebre actually won the second half 19-5, and left 6 points worth of conversions on the field.

The home side and last seasons semi-finalists started well with tries from Luke McGrath and Rhys Ruddock. The Italians were down a man when Ruddock got his secon, and he got another just before half time. Despite being down a man Zebre got two tries of their own around the half hour mark with Kriel and Bruno getting over.

The second half saw Zebre come out strong and take control of the game with tries from Gesi and Pelser. Dave Kearney crossed over on the hour mark for what proved to be the crucial score. Ross Byrne had converted the first four tries, but for this one the extras were not added. Zebre went over again through Smith. Eden added the extra to make it a nervy last 10 minutes. Leinster defended well, but Zebre could have got a famous win here.

It looked very much like Leinster were still in preseason mode, they’ll need to improve quickly to put down a marker early.

Zebre Parma 29-33 Leinster

Sloppy Munster Lose In Wales

Graham Rowntree’s first competitive game in charge of Munster ended in defeat. It was the first time in four years Munster lost to the artists formerly known as Cardiff Blues.

Munster were poor in the opening minutes and conceded an early try from Llewllyn, it wasn’t converted. The Irish side got on the board though a Ben Healy penalty, and took the lead when he kicked another three at the half hour mark. It probably could have been more with Shane Daly going close to getting their opening try of the season.

Cardiff defended well and scored in the crucial moments just before half time. Dacey crossed over with Evans converting. The home side led 12-6 at the break.

Munster were better around the hour mark and crossed over after a few phases through Jack O’Sullivan. Jack Crowley converted to give Munster a on-point advantage with 15 minutes left. Cardiff edged back in front with a penalty from Evans, and would get their third try through Summerhill in the last minute to secure the win.

It was a fairly forgettable performance from Munster with a lot of unforced errors.

Cardiff 20-13 Munster

Ulster Victorious In First Interpro Of The Season

Jacob Stockdale made his return to competitive rugby in a scintillating Ulster performance. Hooker Tom Stewart was player of the match as Ulster’s maul dominated proceedings at Kingspan.

Ulster had five tries before Connacht managed their first. Marshall, Tom Stewart, Nathan Doak, Stewart Moore, and Callum Reid all got over for the home side. Connacht’s try was worth the wait with David Hawkshaw creating it from his own 22, Caolin Blade finished it off.

Connacht have a lot to work on. Ulster, while not perfect, look like a team that will challenge.

Ulster 36-10 Connacht

Irish Shield Table

Next Fixtures

Friday 23rd September

Leinster vs Benetton – 19:35 (Live on TG4)

Saturday 24th September

Scarlets vs Ulster – 13:00

DHL Stormers vs Connacht – 13:30 (Live on RTÉ)

Sunday 25th September

Dragons vs Munster – 15:00 (Live on RTÉ)


The Issue With The RWC Draw

This piece is adapted from an article we originally wrote for Harpin’ On Rugby ahead of the World Cup Qualifiers that took place over the Summer.

When the World Cup draw was made, only 12 teams had qualified.  Since then, 7 more have secured their place while 1 spot still remains. The final place will be decided in November during the four team qualifier tournament involving Portugal, Chile, Kenya, and USA.

But there have to be questions asked about the draw being made almost 3 years before the actual tournament.  The seeding was based on the World Rankings in January 2020, basically the rankings following the 2019 RWC.  There is some sense in letting the previous World Cup have some say in the seedings for the next one, but that should really be limited to the World Champions being a top seed. 

We can see an issue with the way the draw has worked out.  Namely that France were ranked 7th at the time of the draw and have since become one of the best teams in the World.  The French now find themselves as 2nd seeds in a pool with New Zealand.  If the draw was based on rankings closer to the World Cup we wouldn’t see teams suffer from not being as good 4 years previous to the tournament as they are at the time of the actual tournament.

When to do the draw?

One of the reasons touted for doing the draw so early is to allow for ticket sales.  There are two more pressing issues:

  • The relevance of the World Rankings
  • The identity of the teams that have qualified

I’ll get on to the issue with not knowing the identities of the TBD sides (labelled with the likes of Europe 1, Americas 2, Africa 1, Final Qualification Tournament) at the time of the draw.  But first up are the rankings. 

For one thing, I’m a firm believer in the host or hosts being top seeds.  France should have been top seed number 1, with South Africa being top seed number 2 as champions.  The other two places in pot 1 should go to the next highest ranked sides in the World.  Pot 2 should follow with the next best 4 teams after that.  The most effective way of deciding on the seeds would be to wait until after the November internationals the year prior to the World Cup.  This would give teams a full three years worth of games to improve their rankings, or for their ranking to get worse.  Either way it gives a fairer look of where each team is at with under a year to the World Cup. 

The reality is when the draw is made teams are going to have tournaments (Six Nations, Rugby Championship, Americas Rugby Championship etc), Summer Tours, and November tests.  The 12 teams that automatically qualify are unlikely to all be in the same place as they were 3 years prior to the tournament.  If the draw takes place after the last set of November internationals, teams have a World Cup cycle to fight for their ranking and there is still enough time to sort out tickets and stadiums.

And Another Thing…

Something that has irked me about World Cups is that teams from the same tournament are lumped in together.  And in some cases, the majority of teams from the regions without much representation get lumped in together. 

In RWC2019 there were:

  • Both African teams in Pool B (South Africa & Namibia)
  • 2 Americas Rugby Championship sides in Pool C (Argentina & USA)

In RWC2015 there were:

  • 3 Pacific Nations Cup Teams in Pool B (Japan, Samoa, & USA)
  • 3 Six Nations Sides in Pool D plus another European side (Ireland, France, Italy, & Romania)

In RWC2012 there were:

  • 4 European sides in Pool B (England, Scotland, Georgia, & Romania)
  • Both African sides in Pool D (South Africa & Namibia)
  • 2 Pacific islander sides in Pool D (Samoa & Fiji).

I would argue to give the World Cup more of a, well, WORLD feeling to it, teams should be spread out more.  This is another issue that arises when the draw is made before all the teams are identified, as we do not yet know where the final qualifier will be from.

If there are 8 or 9 teams from Europe, including 6 from the Six Nations, in the World Cup, I would argue there should be no more than 2 sides from the Six Nations and no more than a total of 3 European sides in each pool.  As for the Rugby Championship sides, it’s more complicated with Japan joining, Argentina playing in the Americas Rugby Championship, and the presences of a side from Africa.  With only 2 or at most 3 Africa sides in the tournament, they should all be spread out, as should the 3 (possibly 4) Americas sides that qualify.  I would argue the Pacific Islands (Fiji, Tonga, & Samoa) should be kept separate from each other, put not necessarily the other sides in the Pacific region.  Japan may be an exception to this if they are playing in the Pacific Nations Cup. 

These things could be sorted out through having pots 4 and 5 in the draw arranged geographically.  One thing they do in the football World Cup is skip a group if a team is drawn out to play in a group with too many teams from that region.

What do you think about the World Cup Draw?  To early?  Too much geographical congestion?  Let us know on the social channels. or leave a comment below.