What next for Irish rugby fans?

Well the season is over for the four Irish provinces and what an amazing one it has been. It’s been a bit like the Late Late show on the island with notable achievements for everyone in the audience!

First we had Connacht – so long the junior partner in Irish professional rugby, finally rewarded for their key role in developing dozens of players who went on to bigger things over the years by gaining their first ever berth in the Heineken Cup.

Then there’s Ulster, who emerged from the shadows to produce a fine season reaching the playoffs in both major competitions. With youngsters like Nevin Spence and Craig Gilroy on their books, things can surely only get even better for them down the line.

Munster of course shattered the double dreams of Leinster fans last Saturday but it would be hard to deny that given their impressive Magners League record they thoroughly deserved to lift the trophy after seeing off their great rivals in the final.

You would think all those achievements would be enough for one small European island, but no – Leinster went and topped it all in Cardiff on May 21st with that second half display that will no doubt live long in the memory even if we never do find out what Sexton said in that dressing room!

So maybe the Six Nations campaign wasn’t quite what we expected despite denying England the Grand Slam at the end, but overall it has to be said that there was plenty for Irish fans to savour since the season began way back on July31st with that Aviva Stadium-opening fixture between the combined provinces.

But with the World Cup warmups not due to start until the beginning of August, how can we get our fix of rugby in the meantime?

First up, the European season isn’t quite done with yet as this Saturday the French Top14 reaches its conclusion when Toulouse and Montpellier compete for the famous Bouclier de Brennus; plus the Barbarians re-assemble to face a Welsh side which includes none other than the prodigal son himself, Gavin Henson.

A couple of days later, even though last year’s Heineken Cup is only won a couple of week’s, the 2011/12 version kicks into gear next Tuesday with the all-important draw for the opening stages. Naturally it’s the Connacht fans who will be most interested in this, though it’s crucial for everyone to see if they can get into a more favourable pool.

Then from a playing perspective, there’s tag rugby organised all over the country, not to mention the annual sevens festivals which have some new additions this year like the Connemara 7s which take place in Clifden at the beginning of July.

But when it comes to watching top-flight rugby live on TV, it seems you’ll need to have access to Sky Sports.

In June, there is the IRB Under-20 World Championship and although Mike Ruddock’s Irish squad have had their successes in recent years, they find themselves in a very tough pool along with England, South Africa and Scotland so it will be interesting to see how they get on – many of the squad will no doubt be hoping to feature at the next senior World Cup in 2015!

Also over the coming weeks there is the Churchill Cup – the last time Ireland played in that we won it, but although we don’t feature this time around, we do have an interest in that two of our pool-mates from the RugbyWorld Cup in New Zealand, namely Russia and Eddie O’Sullivan’s USA, feature at the event so it will be a good opportunity for some scouting work.

And last but certainly not least we have first grade rugby down under. This is the inaugural season of SupeRugby with 15 teams split into three conferences, and the regular season has just three weeks remaining with many teams still in contention for the playoffs. I plan to feature this tournament in more detail next week with my article here on SportsNews Ireland.

Then a couple of weeks after the SupeRugby final, there is the 2011 Tri-Nations. It may be shorter this year with only four games per team instead of the usual six, but since it will be so close to a World Cup all three countries will have designs on winning, every contest will have its own significance for sure.

So if that’s not enough rugby to keep your appetite whetted until the next season rolls around, then I’m afraid there’s not much more I can do for you! Until next week, be sure and enjoy your rugby wherever you are. JLP

Check out my blog at http://www.harpinonrugby.net/


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