The Offload: New All Blacks head coach inspired by his time with Black Knights in Co Down

Players return to serious matter of URC rugby; Rugby Australia’s spending decisions raising eyebrows

Freed from Desire

It was the party that nobody in Irish rugby wanted to end. A fourth grand slam won at home in Dublin against England necessitated celebrations to stretch for days. Just ask the Ringrose family who welcomed an almost full-strength squad into their home in south county Dublin to continue the festivities a little while longer over the kitchen table.

Most members of the Grand Slam squad eventually gingerly returned to their clubs for training while their team-mates got back to the serious matter of URC rugby. All four provinces had home fixtures and enjoyed extremely healthy attendances, with fans no doubt still buoyed by the win against England.

Ulster and Connacht recorded strong wins against the Bulls and Edinburgh respectively. It says a lot about the riches available to the Irish selectors that Ulster’s 22-year-old hooker Tom Stewart, and Connacht’s scrumhalf Caolin Blade both scored impressive hat tricks while being on the periphery of any extended national squad.

Stewart’s speed in the loose has been a revelation for Ulster this season and was rewarded with a call-up to the Ireland squad as cover for Ronan Kelleher during the Six Nations. Despite impressive performances at club level, Blade hasn’t added to his single cap for Ireland since debuting against the United States in 2021. Both men are relatively far down the depth chart in Irish rugby where competition for a squad place has never been fiercer.


The Stormers swapped 20-degree days in Cape Town for the chill of springtime Dublin. Fans were treated to a thrilling 22-22 draw, with both teams deserving their hands raised at the end of the contest. The introduction of South African teams has challenged the logistical nous of the tournament, but it has increased the standard for Irish provinces who are now facing Springbok opposition consistently.

South African rugby fans are seemingly very happy with the scene change after South Africa Rugby Magazine commissioned a poll on whether its readers still watch Super Rugby. Asked do they still watch Super Rugby, 54 per cent of readers suggested that the URC was the better league against 19 per cent of readers who said they watch most live matches in Super Rugby. Only 18 per cent said they watched YouTube highlights for Super Rugby and nine per cent said they only watched the New Zealand derbies. Interestingly, some Springboks voted, with scrumhalf Faf de Klerk voting that the URC was the better league.

Number of the week


The National Rugby League’s teenage superstar Joseph Suaalii has just signed a $1.6 million Australian Dollar per season contract with Rugby Australia, the equivalent of €986,000. Suaalii will leave the Sydney Roosters at the end of the season. Rugby Australia is raiding its coffers ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour in 2025. While they found the money to sign the highly rated Suaalii who was a schoolboy sensation in union, they are not able to fund their own Australian schools rugby team.

The team is now completely self-funded, and totally reliant on donations that come through raffles and corporate lunches. Selected players were asked to cough up $2,000 Australian dollars to represent their country on tour last October against Japan.

Cardiff Blues

Ireland’s women got off to a difficult start in Cardiff with a 31-5 loss to a powerful Welsh outfit. Given all of the well-publicised issues with the Welsh Rugby Union, it was pleasing to see that 4,962 fans turned up at the stadium in full voice to break the attendance record for a Wales women’s stand-alone home fixture.

Spurred on by a raucous crowd, the Irish team was overpowered throughout the game, falling off tackles and being bullied by a well-drilled pack. The Welsh are benefiting from 25 full-time contracts being handed out for 2023, which is more than double the historic first 12 full-time contracts given out in January 2022.

Given that the IRFU secured 29 women’s contracts that allowed the players to train full-time in October last year, there is time to create a strong foundation that will blood talented players for the future. Ulster loosehead prop and Donegal native Sadhbh McGrath made her debut at only 18-years-old in the front row in Cardiff.

Quote of the Week

As a fellow fullback, I feel for him in those positions. I think it was just one of those sort of rugby incidents, it’s not like it was a reckless high challenge or anything like that

—  Ireland’s Hugo Keenan had sympathy for England’s Freddie Steward who had his red card overturned to a yellow card by a disciplinary committee

Ards’ All Black

A Co Down rugby club was celebrating the appointment of Scott Robertson who will take over as head coach of the All Blacks in 2024. The Crusaders coach played for his country 23 times, but before wearing the famous black jersey, he wore a more humble one with the “Black Knights” second XV as a 19-year-old.

Due to his late registration, Ards was forced to play him in junior rugby where the Bay of Plenty doubled up as a hod carrier on rainy local building sites.

In a 2017 interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Robertson remembers his time with the club that produced players like Nigel Carr and Blair Mayne fondly.

“I was a pretty naive young Kiwi lad and I grew up pretty quickly when I got there. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t the highest quality of rugby but it made me tougher. The travel, being away from home, meeting some really good people. The time I was there, and the people I met, it inspired me.”