The Lineout Calls of the Week

This week we primarily focus on events taking place in the United Rugby Championship. There was some thrilling action this past weekend but a couple of things stood out for us and caused some rather heated debate. Some poor tackling by Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton gave rise to yet another debate as to how the game is being officiated, as well as ongoing concerns around Sexton’s health ahead of the Six Nations given his critical importance to Ireland’s ultimate World Cup aspirations later this year.

We were shocked to see URC favorites Ulster suffer yet another defeat this time to Benetton as well as their two losses in the Champions Cup. Ulster have played thirteen games so far this season across the two competitions but so far have only managed a 50% win rate and the problems seem to be getting worse. Meanwhile Glasgow seem to have suddenly found their mojo, after a disappointing start to the season. Of their thirteen games they’ve won 9 including both their Challenge Cup games. They currently sit right behind Ulster in 5th on the URC table and it would appear to be onwards and upwards for the Men in Blue.

Lastly we can’t help noticing the impact of Argentinian players in Europe this year, but particularly in the English Premiership. While Argentina as a team may not be getting much time together as a unit ahead of the World Cup, a core contingent of their players are getting to know their fellow Pool D partners England very well indeed as well as others lighting up pitches in France and Scotland.

So without any further ado, here’s what kept our pints frothy this week.

No-one wants to see Ireland’s most important player injured, but does it present a short term opportunity that Ireland simply has to seize with both hands as they seek to find some depth in the ten jersey?

Irish fly half Johnny Sexton’s clumsy tackle on Connacht’s Jarrad Butler over the holidays resulted in the Leinster and Ireland fly half requiring facial surgery which at one point appeared to jeopardize his participation in Ireland’s upcoming Six Nations campaign

Sexton, a bit like Owen Farrell has occasionally had issues with his tackle technique – often tending to be a touch too upright for our liking. In the holiday derby with Connacht, he had to retire from the field after yet another ugly tackle which saw him, rather than his opponent Jarrad Butler, come off worse for wear. Sexton later required facial surgery to his cheekbone, and question marks hung over his participation in Ireland’s rapidly approaching Six Nations campaign.

Fortunately for himself and Ireland, it would appear that the Leinster maestro will be fit for duty when Ireland meet Wales on February 4th in Cardiff. However, given his ongoing issues with injury and the absolute necessity that he is fit for the World Cup if Ireland are ever to hold a hope of getting beyond the quarter finals stage for the first time ever – then surely perhaps now is the time to rest the old warhorse and let his understudies really show their stripes this Six Nations? Although Sexton is Ireland’s Plan A, there is a worrying lack of an effective Plan B should he falter.

So we got out our pencils this weekend and had a look at what we think Ireland Coach Andy Farrell has to do this Six Nations in order of his starting fly half and the bench replacement for all five games. A lack of proven depth at fly half is Ireland’s only genuine depth deficiency and the Six Nations is not only a golden opportunity to address it ahead of a World Cup – it’s also a necessity.

Wales vs Ireland – Joey Carberry to start with Ross Byrne on the bench. Ireland vs France – Ross Byrne to start with Johnny Sexton on the bench. Italy vs Ireland – Harry Byrne to start with Joey Carberry on the bench. Scotland vs Ireland – Ross Byrne to start with Jack Crowley on the bench. Ireland vs England – Johnny Sexton to start with Ross Byrne on the bench.

Bold we think or perhaps even foolhardy we hear you say, but fortune favors the brave and in the buildup to the World Cup Ireland needs answers and needs them fast. Winning the Six Nations in our view should be second to learning some valuable lessons that can be used to fill in the missing gaps ahead of the big show in France later in the year!

Once again England’s Owen Farrell is in the spotlight for yet another dangerous tackle, while still being allowed to help his team to victory – begging the question where is the consistency in what constitutes a dangerous tackle and the issuing of a card?

Owen Farrell’s winning penalty kick at the death over Gloucester and the resultant celebration seemed in rather poor taste, given what had happened only a few minutes earlier with the scores tied and his notoriously poor tackling technique once more brushed under the carpet

While it’s hard to deny Owen Farrell’s value to England’s cause, it’s fairly easy to once more shake your head over the liability he poses to the Red Roses’ efforts as a result of his ongoing issues with tackling technique. It’s sadly becoming a bit of a broken record, but Farrell’s deficiencies in the tackling department once more highlight the much larger issues with an ongoing lack of consistency in how the tackle laws are applied on the pitch – especially if the ultimate goal of World Rugby is to safeguard player welfare.

Referee Karl Dickson appeared to be basing his decisions on the fact that play had moved on since the offence and could not be taken back for it. Quite frankly this is ridiculous, as literally every pundit we have read this week felt that it was a red card all day long. The fact that Farrell has since been cited for it post match in our view is irrelevant, despite its negative consequences for England’s Six Nations campaign. The player should have been booked on the field plain and simple. The fact that Farrell was then able to continue play and kick the winning penalty goal just adds insult to injury, and we can only imagine the ranting that must have gone on in Gloucester pubs after the game.

As we approach a critical Six Nations campaign for all six competitors in the build up to the World Cup later this year, we can only hope that somehow the nonsense we witnessed in Gloucester on Friday night is stamped out once and for all. Foul play is foul play and must receive the necessary punishment on the field and not after the fact!

Can Ulster stop their dizzying fall from grace in time to rescue their season?

While injuries, awkward travel arrangements and bizarre venue choices haven’t exactly helped Ulster’s cause of late – alarm bells are starting to ring in Belfast

What on earth is going on at Ulster? They were semi finalists in the URC and gave a strong showing in the pool stages of last year’s Heineken Cup. This year however, Ulster are starting to look a million miles from the form that got them to such lofty heights in 2022. Despite a strong start to this year’s URC campaign they have fallen off the boil dramatically in recent weeks and as for their Heineken Cup challenge, it is essentially over before it’s even started. 13 games into the season and they can only manage a paltry 50% win rate even if they still somehow manage to be clinging on to 4th spot on the URC table. However, with a tough Champions Cup game on the road against La Rochelle this weekend, followed by England’s Sale Sharks at home in Belfast things aren’t going to get any easier for a side clearly struggling to find its groove. And if that’s not enough their last game of the URC before the Six Nations sees them hosting last year’s defending Champions the Stormers.

Looking at Ulster’s stats and general trends emerging from games, what’s wrong is fairly obvious. Their scrum is genuinely starting to creak and their goal kicking is leaving far too many valuable points out on the pitch. The lack of a genuine top flight European fly half is also hampering their playmaking and restricting the talents of some seriously talented backs. Their discipline is starting to slide badly and they are falling off tackles at key moments, making them start to look defensively frail. They often look disjointed in attack and much of that can be put down to the lack of a top notch playmaker calling the shots in the ten jersey. Injuries are also wreaking havoc amongst their ranks which further hampers the cause.

It should be fixable as there is still talent aplenty in this Ulster side, but it is clearly not gelling the way it needs to or in the manner it did with such success last year. Ulster’s backs are unable to express themselves and players like James Hume and Michael Lowry who made such an impression last year are often nowhere to be seen. Time is running out, and perhaps with their European campaign in tatters it is now time to focus all their energies on getting their URC campaign back on track and giving the Kingspan faithful something to cheer about once more.

All Hail the Warriors once more!

Glasgow’s slide into URC misery last year and a faulty start to this season has clearly lit some fires of late as they suddenly seem unstoppable

Glasgow fizzled out of both the Heineken Cup and the URC last year. Their start to this year’s URC competition appeared to indicate they were headed for more of the same as they received a genuine schooling from Italian side Benetton in their opening game. They then entered a stop start phase of being brilliant one game and then an utter shambles the next. In December though all the lights appear to have come on at maximum intensity. Glasgow now find themselves on a six game winning streak heading into this weekend’s Challenge Cup fixtures.

Last month they thumped Zebre Parma, then travelled to Bath for their first Challenge Cup fixture against Bath and emerged the victors. They followed that up with an impressive at home win against French side Perpignan. However, perhaps most important of all, was their two back to back wins over Edinburgh in the URC over the holidays and with it the 1872 Cup which means they will once again be Scotland’s representative in the Champions Cup next year.

Although they face a tough trip to Perpignan this weekend, they have the luxury of Bath at home before their final URC fixture and the start of the Six Nations. That sees them with an easy home fixture against URC bottom feeders the Dragons. With the likes of Huw Jones, Sebastian Cancelliere, Rory Darge, Sam Johnson, Rufus McLean, Kyle Steyn and Sione Tuipolotu in their ranks it’s no wonder they lead the league in defenders beaten, as well as looking rather flash in the metres made and clean breaks numbers as well. They also sit second in the number of turnovers won.

In short, Glasgow could be one of the big surprises of the second half of the URC season and its resulting business end. Either way they have become one of our favorite teams to watch in the last six weeks and it’s a fitting return to form for a side that has been such a force in the tournament in the last few years.

Pumas adjusting well to the greener pastures of England and Scotland

Santiago Carreras of Gloucester, Sebastian Cancelliere of Glasgow and Juan Martin Gonzalez of London Irish are just a few of the group of outstanding Argentinian players lending some serious weight to their UK based clubs

By the time the English Premiership wraps up this season, World Cup Pool D opponents England and Argentina will have a very good idea of their individual strengths. The Pumas may not actually get together much before the summer if at all, but there is no question that the majority of their squad are at the forefront of top flight European club rugby in England, Scotland and France and the European Champions Cup.

Gloucester’s all star Argentinian trio of Matias Alemmano, Santiago Carreras and Santiago Socino are making their presence felt in Gloucester’s Premiership campaign. So valuable are they to the team that it was elected to rest them for their European Champions Cup clash with Leinster, which Gloucester limped away from in a 57-0 thrashing. You have to wonder how they might have fared if these three had, along with some other key players who were absent, been able to lend their hand in that match.

An electric trio of Argentinian backs are lighting up Newcastle’s efforts in the Premiership, and the names Moroni, Orlando and Carreras are becoming part of Tyneside rugby folklore. Meanwhile London Irish are also packing some serious Pumas heat, especially in the form of the exceptional back rower Juan Martin Gonzalez. Julian Montoya continues to be a powerhouse for Leicester Tigers and north of Hadrian’s Wall Emiliano Boffelli continues to slot the ball between the posts for Edinburgh with effortless ease while Glasgow’s Sebastian Cancelliere is carving up pitches across the URC.

Don’t get us wrong we are not saying that these Argentinian players are single handedly shaping the fortunes of their club sides, far from it and all these teams boast some outstanding English and overseas talent in their ranks as well. However, it is noticeable the impact the Pumas are making in their respective squads. Given the highpoints of Argentina’s International season last year, Pumas Coach Michael Cheika must surely have a lot of reasons to feel cheerful this New Year as he no doubt looks on with a rather large grin on his face, even if he and his charges will not see much of each other until the summer.

Well that’s it for this week folks – some great Champions Cup action to look forward to this weekend and even more exciting a World Cup defining Six Nations is only three weekends away. Happy New Year from all of us!


Published by Neil Olsen

Passionate about rugby and trying to promote the global game in Canada and North America.

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