‘England owe intensity to the Premiership’ – James Downey

Former Ireland international James Downey believes the physical nature of the Gallagher Premiership makes it easier for English players to step up to international level.

Downey played in both the Celtic League and the English Premiership in a career that spanned 13 years and is well placed to judge the differences between them.

Speaking to Pundit Arena, Downey revealed that defence is of greater importance in the English club game than it is in the Pro14.

Downey: The Pro14 is a bit of a walkover.

“It’s just such a different league. The mindset of the players over in the Premiership is so different. You’ve got a game that means something week in and week out. 

“The [English] RFU don’t control everything over there so they can’t pull players and pull internationals. The clubs are controlling the players.

“You have to try to get yourself up every week – and it’s a slog over there. It’s tough. It might not be as attractive and there might not be as many tries. 

“Defence wins championships over there and everyone’s a lot more physical. You can see it as well when they step up to international [level].

“There’s always importance in the games, whether it’s fighting for relegation – there’s always something to play for. Bar maybe a few teams in the middle of the table. 

“Some teams are trying to fight for survival and some teams are trying to get into Europe. While the Pro14 is a bit of a walkover. 

“Especially now when there are so many internationals and so many players are missing for such a long period,” Downey said.

However, the rumoured introduction of more South African sides may help to alleviate this problem with the Saffers employing a particularly brutal style of rugby.

Downey reckoned that it may increase viewer interest in the league, as the Irish provinces would have to play their international stars more often.

“I think with the introduction of the South African teams it should make things a lot more competitive. 

“That’s what fans want to see. A better, stronger competition and the best players playing the whole time,” Downey commented.

Give Farrell time.

While Downey felt that Ireland showed some ‘worrying’ signs during their loss to England last week, the one-cap international felt it was important to give Ireland head coach Andy Farrell more time.

“Do I think we’ll be in a better place in a year’s time? Yeah, I do. I do think that there needs to be time given to implement the game plan that he wants to implement.

“I thought against Wales it was a little bit better. We moved the ball a bit better. Then against England – look, they’re just the better side at the moment. 

“It was worrying seeing that game. We do revert to type when we’re being bullied and we don’t win the gain line and we’re not physical. 

“Expecting one-out runners to carry over and win it isn’t always going to work. We’re going to have to have something else work,” Downey said.

A career spent on the move.

The former Ireland international played for seven different professional clubs during his career – Leinster, Connacht, Munster, Calvisano, Northampton Saints, Glasgow Warriors and Wasps.

While the Dubliner certainly understood the desire to remain at one team for the duration of a career, Downey has come to realise he greatly appreciated the opportunity to experience new places.

“At the time when I was playing, I didn’t really enjoy moving around. I would’ve enjoyed a lot more stability. 

“I started with Leinster and if you play your whole career in one province or for one team that’s something else.

“There were a lot of good players there at that stage and I had to move. The nature of it came early [to me] that it was a business. Rather than just staying in one place. 

“I needed to play. If I wasn’t playing or if there was someone better there, or if I was struggling or if I didn’t like the place.

“I was open to opportunities and look, I played in three different leagues and got to experience plenty of different things. I look back on my career now and I had such a great time across the board in England, Scotland, Ireland and even in Italy. 

“Now, in my career as an agent, it benefits me having been around at all the different clubs because I understand what it’s like to have left the province. 

“I understand what it’s like to leave the country and I understand what it’s like to have been released from a contract,” Downey explained.

Looking back on it all, Downey had no doubts over any of the career choices he made.

“Would I change anything about my career? No, probably not. I absolutely loved it. Now, in my second career it’s benefiting me to no end,” Downey said.

St Francis Hospice Christmas Appeal.

James Downey and broadcaster and Síle Seoige launched this year’s Christmas appeal, calling on the public to support this worthy cause on behalf of both St. Francis Hospice and Aviva by logging onto their website and sponsoring a light on the tree for just €6.

Downey, whose mother spent time at the hospice in Raheny before sadly passing away from cancer last year, was enormously grateful for the time and dedication of all those who cared for her.

“I think for me, that place is quite unique and special. My mum was in there last year. She was there for a month and I saw the care she had gotten first hand. 

“The staff are just unbelievable. They’re unique people, the people who work in those places.

“I met them every time I went in there, I was seeing my mum a good bit. You see people who give so much back to places but these people are just unbelievable. 

“There are so many volunteers and they see a lot of hardship around and yet they do so much. For me and the family it was great to have them there. Anything I could do to help would certainly jump up on my radar. 

“Anything I could do – try to help them raise a small bit of money, it’ll be a huge difference to the hospice. I suppose words can’t express everything I want to say about them. 

“They’re just so, so good in the care that they give the people. I was delighted to jump on board with them,” Downey explained.

The Covid-19 pandemic has placed extra strain on the hospice this year and needs more help than ever to continue to give the fantastic care and compassion it is known for.

“I think it’s been quite tough. The numbers are quite down in there. Obviously, people can’t go in to see their loved ones, which is huge – especially in a hospice.

“They’ve struggled, as have all the charities at the moment. Hopefully, they can turn this corner and something good can come out of it,” Downey said.

This year, the Tree of Life ceremony will be a virtual event to remember those who St Francis Hospice has cared for, both past and present. 

People can view the ceremony on the St. Francis Hospice website and Facebook page from 7.30 pm on December 10th and watch as each donation lights up on the tree in memory of a loved one or for somebody experiencing difficulty in their lives.

To build awareness of the St. Francis Hospice ‘Tree of Life’ virtual fundraising event, Aviva has put up its 20ft tree in the north end of the stadium, which will remain in place throughout the entire Christmas period. 

Aviva is also donating €10 from every new home insurance policy purchased in December directly to the charity to further contribute to its Christmas appeal.

For more information follow Aviva Ireland on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook or visit www.aviva.ie

Follow St. Francis on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

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