RugbyThe Offload

Jack Conan takes starting opportunity with both hands in comfortable Leinster victory

The Offload: Premiership TMOs once again in hot water; How the provinces’ European opponents fared over the weekend

Jack Conan’s superb performance in Leinster’s 47-14 victory over the Bulls would have provided an element of personal satisfaction to accompany the pride he might have taken in contributing handsomely to the team win.

What will have pleased Leo Cullen and his fellow coaches is that Conan took his opportunity in the starting number eight role to reinforce the qualities that he brings in terms of his carrying, which he showcased to good effect in his try, but also his work-rate and successful collisions.

The 31-year-old also handled picking up a jersey in which Max Deegan had excelled the previous week in the win away to Zebre. That’s the ideal scenario for the coaching group when players step in and step up. Josh van der Flier did it after Scott Penny had been a standout in Italy.

Rob Russell has done that over the past fortnight – it’s not all been perfect and there are still elements for him to work on in his tackling – added his qualities in terms of tries, ability to beat defenders and offloads.


Michael Milne has come back strongly from injury, Liam Turner has impressed in his cameos while Jordan Larmour and Jamie Osborne have been brilliant; all of which should please the coaching group while giving them a selection headache.

State of play for European opposition

The four provinces are in European action this weekend with Leinster and Munster in the Champions Cup and Connacht and Ulster in the Challenge Cup.

Leo Cullen’s side host Leicester Tigers at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday night (8pm) and the Tigers warmed up with an unconvincing 19-13-victory over winless Newcastle Falcons – former Ireland Under-20s outhalf Brett Connon kicked two penalties and a conversion for the home side – in the Gallaher Premiership, a game that lasted 97-minutes.

Munster travel to the Franklin’s Gardens on the Sunday to face a Northampton Saints that beat them at the pool stage. The Saints produced a high-quality performance to beat the in-form Saracens 40-31 with outhalf Fin Smith, a star turn in the win over the Irish province in Limerick earlier in the season producing a man of the match display.

Ulster and Connacht are also in action on the Sunday, Richie Murphy’s side make the long trek home from South Africa where they played two games in the URC that ended up as narrow defeats to the Sharks and the Stormers and they make the trip to take on Montpellier in the GGL Stadium (12.30pm, Irish time).

The French club were beaten 12-10 at home to Stade Francais in the French Top 14 at the weekend. Connacht take on Pau at the Stade de Hameau (5.30pm), the French side coming off an excellent display, going down narrowly 31-29 in Toulouse. Antoine Dupont started at outhalf for the home side but finished in his more traditional role of scrumhalf with Romain Ntamack happily recovered from his cruciate knee issue.


40: The number of seconds that were left in Leinster’s URC win over the Bulls when Welsh referee Craig Evans limped off with an ankle injury to be replaced by Chris Busby.


“We couldn’t get our game going, it’s not like us, we were making mistakes and errors that weren’t like us and in the end, we found a way to win the game. It got a bit squeaky towards the end, but we found a way to win.” Munster head coach Graham Rowntree after his team’s 20-15 victory over Cardiff.

More English TMO woe

Bath look set to launch an official complaint to the English RFU and Premiership Rugby after an officiating error in their 40-36 defeat to Harlequins at the Stoop. Trailing 40-3 to ‘Quins the visitors launched an amazing comeback that would ultimately yield two losing bonus points, but they were victims of what appears to be a sin bin fiasco when the offending player returned after seven minutes and not the mandated 10.

According to one account of what transpired Harlequins’ Irné Herbst was yellow carded on 63.62 minutes but when he returned on 71.52 minutes the match clock indicated that there was still roughly three minutes of the sin bin still to go. Six seconds after his return the Harlequins secondrow makes a tackle and clears out a ruck.

Bath coach Johann van Graan was quoted in an English newspaper after the game. He said: “I flagged it with the referee after the game. There’s not a lot he can do. On the pitch he wasn’t even aware of it. We went through our team manager, and we made the fourth official aware. On a yellow card you’re supposed to be off for 10 minutes, not seven.”

It’s the second week in succession that match officials have got themselves into a pickle. TNT commentator Austin Healy referred to the fact that he thought Harlequins captain Stephen Lewies appeared to slide with his knees into Saracens captain Owen Farrell.

The TMO Stuart Terheege was overhear on the live broadcast telling referee Christophe Ridley: “The problem I have got now is that it looks like Austin has instigated it because we are so late, so I don’t want to talk about, it, okay?”

The English RFU described it as an “unfortunate occurrence” and admitted that Terheege was “disappointed that he allowed himself to be distracted with interactions with the broadcast team and did not communicate his decision to the on-field match officials.”