Ozer McMahon discusses the performances of Ireland’s exiles in the Aviva Premiership, as the contingent continues to expand.
With all four Irish provinces in action on Friday and while Joe Schmidt’s eyes were firmly fixed on developments at The Sportsground in Galway it’s easy forget about Ireland’s ever growing foreign contingent.
Indeed there was a time Irish players plying their trade abroad were few and far between, but now the search for first team rugby no longer knows – or fears – such boundaries. Former Ireland regulars and aspiring internationals are now taking up the challenge of testing themselves overseas. And with a quarter of the coaches in the Aviva Premiership hailing from Ireland the green influence is growing in England. Here is a summary of those involved over the weekend;
The ageless Peter Stringer continues to defy the logic that dictates a player of his size can no longer function at the top level of the game. The 98 time capped international came on as 60th minute sub for Bath in their record defeat of fierce rivals Leicester Tigers. Bath dominated from start to finish and the 36-year -old put the icing on his impressive cameo with a try, Bath’s fifth, to complete the 45-0 rout.
At the opposite end of the spectrum was Niall Morris. The former Leinster back lined up on the wing for the Tigers and he had a very uncomfortable outing as side were thoroughly outclassed. After an impressive debut season with the Tigers, Morris expressed his hopes of breaking into the Irish set up, but he will need his club team to bounce back to form if he is to add substance to his claims.
Stringer’s old rival for the Munster and Ireland shirt Tomás O’Leary played his part as London Irish very nearly caused the upset of the weekend, when they fell agonisingly short against Saracens. O’Leary came on with half an hour remaining but cruelly saw his team pipped to the post by a last minute try which resulted in a 32-36 loss.
Tom Court has made a big impression since his move to the capital and the played his part in pushing Mark McCall’s Sarries so close until the death. Meath man Eamonn Sheridan was an unused sub for the Exiles.
David Humphries’ stewardship of Gloucester continues to resemble a roller-coaster ride as he saw his new charges slip to a second defeat in their opening three games. The new Director of Rugby at Kingsholm is still trying to get his talented side to gel after a considerable number of comings and goings over the summer, but they were ultimately undone by the unerring boot of fellow Ulster man Gareth Steenson.
The out half produced a performance Humphries would have been proud of as he contributed 14 points as Exeter’s bright opening to the season continues by virtue of a 22-25 win. A third Ulsterman was involved at Kingsholm as Ian Whitten started on the right wing for the visitors before being replaced by English international Jack Nowell in the second half.
In the shadow of Twickenham, Ireland’s most respected coaching export Conor O’Shea saw his Harlequins side squeeze past London Wasps on a score line of 26-23, to record their second win of the season. O’Shea then spent the majority of his post-match press conference vociferously defending England captain Chris Robshaw who has come in for heavy criticism in recent weeks, and has had his test place questioned.
Ozer McMahon, Pundit Arena.