RugbyThe Offload

Back-handed compliments about Leinster dominance are misguided

After knocking Ulster out of the Champions Cup, some accused the club of hoarding talent

Taming the Tigers and their critics

Heavy is the head that could be about to wear the crown. Leinster are winning comfortably in the Champions Cup, but seemingly, are still facing criticism that is both of the aggressive and passive-aggressive variety.

After beating Ulster in the knock-out stage, Leinster were hit with the accusation from some quarters that they are hoarding the conveyor belt of talent to the Ireland squad and if they were a Fortune 500 company, they could be guilty of anticompetitive practices.

After losing 55-24 in Dublin, Leicester coach Richard Wigglesworth gave Leinster a backhanded compliment, when asked about the gaps between the teams. “They are an outstanding team, quality internationals, quality coaching. That’s not in question, but the gulf is in what you have available to spend.”

It was an odd point to make from the former English scrumhalf, who has been thrust into the coaching job in Leicester. Indeed, 12 out of the 15 Leinster starters against Leicester came through the academy system in Dublin, leaving Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe and Jamison Gibson-Park as the outliers.


Interestingly, in Leinster’s last outing against Ulster, the northern province’s captain Alan O’Connor was originally a member of the Leinster sub-academy before moving to Belfast.

John McKee, the third-choice hooker on a seriously talented depth chart, scored off the bench against Leicester and represents a great example of talent identification. McKee was an outstanding schools prop and captain for Campbell College Belfast before being picked up by Leinster in the number two shirt while studying at UCD and playing for Old Belvedere in the All-Ireland League.

Wigglesworth is in charge of a club with the best league attendance in England, averaging over 20,000 fans in a city with a popular soccer club. However, like many clubs in Premiership Rugby, the Tigers are under severe financial pressure. The club admitted in February they were “suffering some very challenging conditions”, and were trying to raise £13 million of fresh investment from two directors.

There is some sympathy for a club with such history and a devoted fan base, but this is negated when their Springbok outhalf Handrè Pollard is one of the Premiership’s highest-paid players on a deal reputed to be worth £600,000 per season.

A healthy Champions Cup relies on English clubs like Leicester thriving long into the future, but before they can think about lifting continental silverware, they have to ensure that their financial strategy is on a far surer footing and not cast envious glances at clubs that have been largely built on the strong foundation of their thriving academy system.

The entertainers of Toulouse and their chief magician Antoine Dupont will travel to Dublin at the end of April for what promises to be an exceptional semi-final.

Murphy aiming to finish career on a high

Ulster and former Ireland flanker Jordi Murphy announced last week that he will retire at the end of the season. The 31-year-old joined Ulster five years ago after coming through the Leinster academy and winning the European Cup in 2018.

Murphy won 30 caps, winning three Six Nations, with perhaps his most memorable moment in a green shirt coming with a try in Ireland’s first-ever win over New Zealand in 2016. Murphy has become a popular member of the Ulster squad among fans in Belfast and posted his thanks to his former and current clubs on social media.

“I feel that the time is right and together with my family we are looking forward to the next chapter of our lives,” Murphy posted on social media. “To play for my boyhood club Leinster and my current club Ulster are experiences that I will always cherish. To represent my country will always be one of the highlights of my life.

“I look forward to contributing as best as I can to the team for the remainder of the season.”

Dementia diagnosis for former Lion

Sadly, we’ve had another week with a former rugby player highlighting their struggles with early onset dementia. Former British and Irish Lion and Welsh winger Dafydd James revealed last week that “very little makes me happy any more”.

James was an outstanding wing who played in all three Tests on the Lions tour of Australia in 2001. The 47-year-old has previously been courageous in talking about his mental health struggles since retiring from a decorated career in professional rugby where he won 48 caps for his country.

James now believes that his mental health problems could be connected to his diagnosis of early-onset dementia. James joins a growing list of former elite players, including England hooker Steve Thompson who are speaking out publicly about their condition.

The list of professional and amateur players that are joining Thompson and James with this cruel diagnosis is sadly growing, with no end in sight.

By the Numbers: 55

The number of former amateur players beginning legal action against the Rugby Football Union, the Welsh Rugby Union and World Rugby, who they accuse of negligence in their failure to protect them from brain injuries during their playing careers. The group includes retired woman internationals, elite players from the amateur era and former youth players.

Word of Mouth

“In my career I’ve heard performance directors call Pacific Islander players ‘coconuts’, I’ve heard Irish players called ‘bomb-slingers’, and it’s laughed off. Because they’re the one that signs the contracts you have to smile and wave and keep on.” – Christian Scotland-Williamson, the former Worcester and Harlequins player speaking to the Times on the RFU survey that revealed racism was experienced by players ‘in every area of elite rugby’.