Bernard Jackmans weekly Irish rugby column

There was a reality check for everyone involved in the Club game last week when the Irish Examiner ran a piece quoting Co Carlow Rugby Club Chairman John Carley’s letter to members in which he pleaded for support as the club is in a precarious financial position currently. There is also a lack of volunteers coming through and they are the lifeblood and driver of any sports club.

Seven years ago I played against Co Carlow in and Ail Division one game for Clontarf and now they lie near the bottom of Division 1 A in the Leinster Junior League. Recent years have obviously been tough on the field and off it and when a team starts to slide its very hard to stop that but I think its important to remember that Co Carlow is the oldest provincial club in Ireland having started in 1873 and the 6th oldest overall. That history needs to stand for something and I hope that this crisis can be turned into a positive and the long term future of the club is secured. Despite that fact that I never > played with Co Carlow it played its part in my rugby development as the only adult rugby that I would have watched as a teenager would have been Tullow and Carlow’s exploits in the Towns Cup.

I applaud the way Co Carlow are addressing the issue in an open and frank manner. I worry that there are many other Senior and Junior clubs in the same situation throughout the country but they may be burying their heads in the sand. The small wheel turns the big wheel in Rugby in Ireland and this must be a huge concern for the IRFU. Clubs have been marginalised since Rugby went professional and when you look at the IRFU’s Mission statement Participation at all levels is a high priority and if clubs are allowed to fold the game may return to being a sport for the so called ‘elite’ which would be a disaster.

After the weekend off the Irish National team will have reported back into camp on Monday to prepare for the crunch match against Scotland in Murrayfield on Sunday. The France match will have been analyised to death and the players will have been told exactly where they performed poorly. Its ironic that we are back to play the Scots this week as it was our loss in Croke Park by a score of 20-23 that seemed to send us into a downward spiral of form and confidence that we have struggled to recover from. I rate Scotland as a team despite the shocking performance that they put in against Wales last week and if we dont improve massively we will be beaten

Declan Kidney has been stressing for the past week that Ireland don’t have a discilpine problem and we don’t, what we do have however is a Penalty problem. In last years 6 Nations only Italy conceded more penalties than Ireland and they always are bottom of the table in terms of possession statistics. The Opta statistics also show us that in the last 12 test matches Ireland havent once finished a match with a penalty count of under 10. Every Professional team would use KPI’s which stands for Key Performance Indicators. These KPI’s are figures agreed by the Coaches and players that if achieved generally result in winning the match. I know that the Irish team set a figure of less than ten as their KPI for penalties conceded. Not to achieve your target in 12 consectutive matches is incredibly sloppy and needs to be addressed this week or else Declan Kidney need to make an example of the offenders regardless of their standing in the team.
Another week together should improve the cohesiveness amongst the players and I would like to see a better mix of kicking and passing. Johnny Sexton only kicked the ball once from hand in his 65 minutes last week and away from home we will need to turn the Scotish defence around now and again to keep them honest. To win the match Ireland need to cut out the dropped passes and individual errors that have plagued us in the first two games but also the Irish Management need to start using the bench as a way to improve the team and not just give some of the subs a token cap near the end. Leo Cullen the form lock going into the 6 Nations was given 6 seconds against France and while Kidney had tried to make a few minutes earlier but there was no stoppage in play , 5 minutes isnt long enough make an impact in my opinion. Other countries empty the bench with 20 minutes to go and use these players freshness to keep the workrate up in the closing stages.

There is still a Triple Crown to fight for but whats more important for the overall confidence of this team is an away win so that the players can really believe in our new gameplan and continue our development towards the Rugby World Cup in October.

I was delighted to read the press release from the IRB this week which states that they are in the final stages of drafting a “robust” set of guidelines to tackle the on-field treatment of suspected concussion. The new initiative is due to go before the IRB council in March and is designed to ensure that players are not permitted to continue in matches if there is a concern about their safety.
Concussion has become a much larger issue in the game because of the way the game has changed. You only have to watch a game from the old 5 Nations on Reeling in the Years or Rugby Beo to see the difference. The current Ireland and Provincial teams make the Ireland teams look like school boys. Rugby is now a high-impact, high-velocity game and participants are in danger of being concussed more readily. Training programs are designed to maximise strength and speed so that each player can produce high levels of power on the field of play. Improvements in tackle techniques has also increased the level of impact felt in every collision. Even though as players you can build muscle which offers some protection against injury its impossible to protect your brain from suffering. I dont see any easy way of alleviating concussion injuries but what I do feel is that we can improve the care of a player post injury.

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