Monday 24 October 2016

The Long Road to Eden for Mourinho

Looks like the long road to Eden for Jose Mourinho and that return to Stanford Bridge proved that much work needs to be done with The Reds. . Raising the question as to whether the Manchester United board will suffer while The Special One seeks to rediscover whatever made him great in 2005. Or lose patience not unlike Chelsea did when Mourinho returned last season from Real Madrid with little positive to contribute and eventually losing his job. The expensive and much touted moved to Manchester United was wrong from the start and a few months in to the season still looks a poor fit. With Antonio Conte proving the more astute manager on the day, winning by four gals and reviving Eden hazard from the dark place that he was under when manged by Mourinho. Who was keen to sell him at one point in his last stint at Chelsea. 

On Sunday, the Belgian international lived up to his surname and was nothing but a hazard for Mourinho, who on the side line looked almost a beaten man from the start and just hoping for the best. His team devoid of ideas and again a Paul Pogba who is playing like someone worth a quarter of the £89m transfer fee. Yet only months ago he was the main power with Juventus- the club he played at during four seasons. Ironically two of this were for Antonio Conte and were season that saw Pogba win the Biaconero with two Serie A in 2012–13 and 2013–14 and a Supercoppa Italiana. This season the trophy cupboard looks bleak and Pogba only half the player he was during EURO 2016. Indeed, Conte’s Chelsea looked like they had that proverbial extra man as they ran riot at Stamford Bridge scoring twice in the first half without reply. Then in the second succumbing to a Hazard goal and then Kate the latest recruit arriving from Leicester City. 

Antonio Conte
"I am delighted for the performance because we played very well with good intensity, good positions and we moved the ball very quickly and created many chances to score goals," he said.

"This is the third game we haven't conceded a goal and that is very important. This type of game, against a very strong team like Manchester United, increases our confidence about our work.

"We are working very hard, I see my players every day with the right commitment and work rate and they deserve this type of win and performance.

"When you work very hard it's important to win because then you trust the work."

"I asked my players to start the game strongly and to show our desire to win the game, not just to our fans but to our opponent," he added.

"We scored after 30 seconds. The most important thing is that we continued to play and to try to score the second goal, it happened and I'm very happy.

"Now we must continue because this is the right way but for me United is in the past.

"We must concentrate on Wednesday when we have another tough game against West Ham and it's important to recover and prepare for that game." 

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Thursday 20 October 2016

Mourinho Dilutes Power of Pogba

It was another one of those Mourinho epics this summer, which again seemed to be endless as he compulsively chased the signature of French International, Paul Pogba for his new club Manchester United. The MUST have player finally arrived and United paid in the process a record breaking fee with an additional tumultuous commission to the relevant agent. The latter at one point the most contentious part of securing Pogba’s services. So it was a world record by any measure and saw the return of a player that had come through United's academy and then sought a move to the Italian club Juventus. Now after re-joining The Reds for £89m the same player now seems the same misfit at Old Trafford - as he was under Sir Alex Ferguson – when only delivering three goals over a season and a half. 

With Mourinho at the helm this talented player from Lagny-sur-Marne still seems far from the force he was at Juventus for the past four seasons. Or the man who started much of what happened in the Italian team over recent seasons. Ably supported obviously by a cast of international stars playing around him. Not unlike his galloping runs that exemplified most of what was good about France during EURO 2016 only a few months ago that saw the host nation reach the final. But better players around you obviously make you play better and Pogba is finding his work at Old Trafford somewhat less straight forward than perhaps it might have been at a Real Madrid. For a player who with Juventus was a key force in reaching the Champions League final two seasons ago in Berlin where he lost to Barcelona. The summer defeat to Portugal in Paris adding to that misery as France had looked racing certainties to win the trophy on home soil.

These days at United that same rampaging Paul Pogba has faded and started to resemble what Eric Cantona once attributed to fellow countryman, Didier Deschamps, being a “water carrier”. His manager adding to the background noise complaining of his lack of attacking flair. Albeit some of that unfair as in the match against Liverpool in particular that saw the United team play with such a strait jacket even Zidane would have struggled to show any flair. Although Deschamps was more brawn and industry than silken skills, Pogba has a higher measure of both. And to see his role reduced to plugging holes in the middle of the park in Mourinho’s stifling tactics, raises the question of why buy him in the first place. But is not unusual for The Special One who has a history of struggling with talented players and found an ageing Inter Milan his ideal type of team. Taking them to the Champions League title in 2010 playing a very physical and oppressive style against Bayern Munich in Madrid. The same systems paying dividend against Guardiola’s Barcelona en route to that 2010 victory. 

Then at Real Madrid the same man who had played so well for him in Italy was surplus to requirements and so Wesley Sneijder moved on to Turkey. At Chelsea it was Juan Mata that made way for other selections. Yet there is some merit to the analysis that the graceful athleticism of Pogba has been much diluted at United. And whether it is by managerial design, team formation or issues on the player’s side is now becoming a topic of media conjecture. No doubt though the rigid systems so beloved by Mourinho also plays a role, as was seen at Anfield in that meeting with Liverpool. A match that oozed promise but became a violent status quo from the start with neither side able to play anything resembling attacking football. With United parking the bus on three halfway line as is the Special One’s want. Again the player who had romped the stadia of France over the summer was left chasing shadows under a manager whose more rent record saw failure at Chelsea last season, and left Real Madrid without fulfilling the touted promise of a Champions League title. But then again Mourinho has form in this regard in more recent times.

However, as attack is the best from of defence Mourinho felt Liverpool deserved more criticism than United for a 'cautious' approach and suggested the inclusion of Emre Can alongside Jordan Henderson stifled Pogba.

"You know, I think like everybody else the defensive side of the game I think that the team was perfect," Mourinho said at his post-match press conference. "Even the goalkeeper was on holiday for 90 minutes but he had two big saves to do and he did.

"When we recovered the ball I was expecting the team to be more dangerous, in spite of having a couple of very important chances, but Liverpool did well too, they are a very good team. You like to say they are the last wonder of the world in attacking football, but they are also a team that defends and thinks defensively.

"And I think the fact they played Can and Henderson together controlled the position where Paul should be more in control because we thought they were going to play with only one player there but they played with two."

In statistical terms Manchester United had a 35% possession and with Pogba playing higher up the pitch, the world’s most expensive player attempted just 38 passes. Pogba also passed the ball fewer times than the Liverpool goalkeeper at Anfield. His woeful pass completion rate of 71.1% was worse than every single player on the pitch barring Daley Blind and Roberto Firmino. Also he had just 63 touches of the ball with James Milner having 74. Pogba’s average for the season is 89. Then he had one shot on target in his last two Premier League games. He then created one chance against Liverpool – though it was the header that should have been scored by Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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Monday 3 October 2016

Zidane Equals Rafa Real Record

There were whistles and some boos at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday afternoon as Real Madrid struggled to overpower La Liga midtable visitors, Sociedad Deportiva Eibar. Only wrestling the Basques to a one all draw. The visitors having earned a return to the top flight following Elche’s suspension after alleged financial irregularities. Although Eibar arrived in Primero the previous season they struggled and were relegated from the promised land in 2014. On Sunday they did not look out of place with a physical game based on speed and width that really tested Madrid many times. 

In fact, they played everything that Real Madrid dislike in their opponents given they prefer to defend by being compact and tight across the midfield. Relying on the neat and tidy footwork of Luka Modric and James Rodriguez to force gaps up front. Neither of whom were available for the Eibar clash this weekend. That early industry of the visitors earning that vital goal in the fifth minute - after a dink from Fran Rico at ten paces - when the Eibar player caught Rafael Varanne out of place. All leaving keeper Kaylor Navas with no chance at close range. 

The home side then struggling to create chances albeit fielding the BBC up front – Bale, Benzema and Cristiano. The problems though highlighted at the back where Daniilo, Varanne, and Pepe looked vulnerable to the speed of every Eibar attack, with only Carvajal really controlling the right flank. So Madrid notch up the third consecutive home draw and leave Zinedine Zidane facing some calls of crisis from the press and other Real watchers. 

After all the coach now equals Rafa Benitez’s bad start of last season with only fifteen points from 7 games and a balance that ended of the former’s career at Madrid. But the fact that Barcelona lost away to Celta de Vigo may spare him some of further pressure – which was heaped too quickly on Rafa – as he never the media’s choice. Clearly though when Ronaldo misfires the team does similarly and too often dragging the team down too. As is his want he demands the ball all the time, even if he is the worst option, and on days like Sunday he just seemed unable to get some of the clear chances away. At one time late in the second half it made sense to take him off. 

But as Ronaldo does not do substitutions it was Benzema who made way for Alvaro Morata at the start of the second half. Although also proving ineffective against an Eibar’s back four that were resolute and became firmer as the game dragged into the last quarter. The other change by Zidane being Nacho for Varanne and then late in the game Marco Asensio in the middle of the park. For once Tony Kroos looked inefficient and drifted to the right trying to seek openings up ahead. But with little success. His best move a long sweeping cross field ball to Bale on the right that ten found its way back to Ronaldo on the back post – only to go over the bar.

Clearly Bale plays within himself at Real Madrid, spending large parts of the game inactive and just tracking opponents. Against Eibar it was much of the same and to see the naturally left sided player battle on the right - is both magical and frustrating. He is much more effective in the game he plays for Wales. Or indeed at Spurs at left back before his move to Spain. But Ronaldo is an immovable commercial object at the Bernabeu and for him left means “left alone”. 

Ironically though it was the Portuguese striker’s cross to the far post that found Bale’s head about ten foot in the air with the Welshman easily nodding in the equaliser. But for that moment of magic however there was lots of water carrying for Bale, as Cantona would have described it. Particularly against a team like Eibar where he was operating under limited service. At times he must go home feeling he has worked only a half day compared to his workload at White Hart Lane in the past. Meanwhile on the other side Ronald tends to squander possession even if his goal records are off the charts. 

In coaching terms Sundays game was ninety minutes of frustration and for Zidane it places him with the unwanted comparison with his immediate predecessor. Albeit his former boss, Carlo Ancelotti, was in town for Champions League this week - against Atletico Madrid - that could only see the Italian squeeze a 0-0 from FC Bayern Muenchen. For Zizou though it’s a far cry from the glory of last season’s 11th Champions League win and so he now starts the usual squeamish period that affects this huge club when faced with dropped points. Yet the trickle of bad news will dissipate with the timely international break the next week with normal services resuming for the away trip to Betis on October 14th. 

Funnily enough the saving grace was that Barcelona lost away to Celta de Vigo on Sunday and as such reduces any further clamour for changes. Although the away win by Atletico at Valencia places their local rivals joint top on goal average. Meanwhile Eibar can celebrate their first ever point at the Bernabeu as well-earned after an efficient performance. Totally deserved against an out of sorts Madrid. 

Indeed, Ronaldo within hours of the whistle was in Lisbon opening his new hotel and Bale - who notched up his 50th goal for the club – was heading to Wales and then Austria with the Welsh national side. No doubt Bale will run off any of his frustrations quality at the Ernst Happel stadium at the weekend in Vienna.

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Wednesday 21 September 2016

It's All About Schmidt

News from the Land of the Long White Cloud confirmed that All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has signed a contract extension that will keep him at the helm of New Zealand rugby until 2017. Although not a complete surprise, given the current winning record, it may have caused some wake turbulence further down the slipstream. Particularly for Joe Schmidt and Vern Cotter. Both of whom might have fancied their chances leading the All Blacks post the World Cup next year. 

As yet Schmidt and the IRFU have not held discussions about extending the current contract which last until 2016. However as that date gets closer the rugby landscape may have changed little in terms of available jobs following Hansen’s decision. Not to mention Stuart Lancaster’s extended contract until 2020 agreed with the Rugby Football Union last month. Ruling out in principle Schmidt’s chance at the England job. On the other hand it does leave Schmidt available to emulate Graham Henry’s CV and take the British and Irish Lions to his homeland in 2017. 

In addition it would offer the current Irish boss the chance to take on his home nation and indeed "interview himself" against Steve Hansen. The man who will remain in situ until the end of the 2017 season and be in charge when the Lions arrive on tour. Albeit Schmidt’s already highly regarded stock has risen further following Ireland’s victories over South Africa and Australia in Dublin last month. It pales in comparison to Hansen's tenure where he has overseen New Zealand win 38 of 42 Tests, with only just two defeats. Also lifting the Rugby Championship for the last three years as well. Making it no surprise New Zealand rugby want the winning continuity.

But like buses the managerial hot seats never come when you want them or feel ready. Nor indeed do they last their tenure if the match defeats start to add up. As the former Leinster coach Michael Cheika could vouch. Not imagining in October he would become the new Wallabies coach so quickly. Almost within days of Ewen McKenzie’s unavoidable resignation after only about a year after his appointment in the wake of the Wallabies defeat to the Lions in July 2013. A series that led to Robbie Deans reign being discontinued and the favourite in waiting McKenzie leaving the ACT Brumbies for the top post.

However events overtook his time with the Wallabies and so Cheika was the next obvious choice following his triumphs at Leinster, Stade Francais and NSW Waratahs.

A haste that is unlikely across the Tasman Sea where transitions have tended to be smoother in recent years for the All Blacks with Sir Graham Henry proving the longest serving coach for a while. Racking up almost seven years in the job. A chance earned after restoring Wales dismal run between 1998 and 2004.

On his arrival to All Blacks Henry finally secured the World Cup in 2011 and recovered a trophy that had eluded the rugby mad since they hosted the inaugural event in 1987. And in the intervening decades had seen John Hart lose his job after the semi-final defeat in Cardiff to France in 2011. A fate that eventually befell his predecessor Laurie Mains some months after the 1995 World Cup final loss in Johannesburg to South Africa. Henry finally righted those wrongs in 2011, after which he stepped down and saw his assistant Hansen step up. Proving a very natural progression.

Something which could not be said about the move by Vern Cotter to Scotland. Perhaps the only route left open to the former Bay of Plenty coach to get international experience in the Northern Hemisphere. 

Unfortunately Scotland is a road well-travelled and one that cost Matt Williams his reputation to some degree by the time he finished in 2002. His two years rendering a poor string of results and a reversal of fortune after developing some renowned in Ireland with Leinster, and the Ireland A side. Leaving Williams looking destined for bigger things in either hemisphere. Albeit his two year stint at Ulster was cut short due to family reasons in 2009. But seeing him retreat into the land of Punditry and removed now from frontline coaching with his achievements lost in the ether. 

Back in the autumn of 1999 Williams coached the Leinster backs in the European Cup campaign, a prelude to becoming the head coach a year later. He also undertook the role of defensive coach for Ireland in 2001. As the first Australian Super 12 Coach to move to Europe he took Leinster to the inaugural Celtic League Final as well reaching the semi-final of the European Heineken Cup. It remains to be seen whether Cotter can do more from his current Scottish base and build on his hard earned reputation at Clermont. 

So far it looks promising so far given that for seventy minutes his team came close to ending the All Blacks streak of wins at Murrayfield. But the balance of statistics show the job has taken its toll on Andy Robinson and Scott Johnson as well. Bad precedent for Cotter who might now settle for an assistant role with Schmidt should he take over from Hansen in a few years time. Reflecting a role reversal as it was Joe who came to work for Cotter at Clermont Auvergne as backs coach in 2007.

On the surface it seems that Schmidt may have fast tracked himself following the move from Cotter when he took up Leinster's offer in 2010. Showing a clear ambition and fearlessness that has manifested itself in the achievements of Leinster during his time. A role that had just been vacated by Michael Cheika a coach who had brought Leinster the Holy Grail in 2009 with their Heineken Cup win. Breaking the stranglehold of Munster along the way, with the help of Rocky Elsom and a young Mr Sexton.

Into such a cauldron stepped Schmidt, who then went on to add two more Heineken Cups and a string of other titles. Proving his metal beyond doubt.

Amidst all these musical chairs there is one Kiwi who appears forgotten who only twelve months ago was a shoe in after the tour to Australia finally reversed the Lions continuous losing record down under. Warren Gatland becoming the coach to finally end that sixteen year drought and revive the Lions brand to former glories. And more importantly, its commercial strength with the 2-1 test win. The final test a devastating display of the Northern Hemisphere’s raw power, burgeoning talent and sheer skill. Done also against a negative backdrop after Gatland omitted the 2009 Lions captain, Brian O’Driscoll, from the final test.

Having retained his post with Wales throughout that two year Lions campaign Gatland was very much viewed as the odds on favourite to take the Lions to his home nation in 2017. In fact confirming his interest and availability very publicly after the triumph in Sydney. But as former Ireland coaches Eddie O’Sullivan and Declan Kidney now know rugby is a results business and allows for no slippage or sentimentality whatsoever. 

O’Sullivan very tarnished following Ireland’s disastrous 2007 World Cup in France. Not unlike Gatland in the previous tournament in 20013, With Declan Kidney seeing his star fade within twelve months of winning a Grand Slam and eventually losing the confidence of the IRFU in 2013.

It was Kidney who replaced Gatland as Irish coach in 2009 and immediately secured a Grand Slam at the Millennium Stadium in 2009. Deservedly earning himself the IRB Coach of the Year honour in doing so. Then two years later Ireland reached the quarter finals of the rugby world cup only to be defeated 22–10 by Wales – a side coached by Warren Gatland. But Kidney’s fortunes declined further when Ireland fell to their worst IRB World Ranking of 9th by which time they had finished 5th in the 2013 Six Nations Championship. After which Kidney's contract was ended and all those heroics leading Munster to Heineken Cup trophies truly forgotten.

But Kidney was the last domestic coach at Munster until Anthony Foley was given the job this season. The vacancy unexpectedly arising when Kiwi Rob Penney opted not stay for the remaining third year of his contract and headed off to Japan. Not unlike his predecessor Tony McGahan, who in leaving Munster left without any real continuity plan on the coaching front. Losing as well that imaginative and creative spirit from the southern hemisphere that helped make them almost invincible at Thomond Park. 

Something Foley has been unable to replicate as yet and now fighting for their sporting lives in the new Championship this season. Fortunate to see an Ian Keatley penalty earn a losing bonus point in the 26-19 defeat at the Stade Marcel Michelin last weekend. Leaving Foley's side with an uphill task to progress to the last eight with matches to come away to Saracens and then home to Sale. Lying now in third position in pool one, four points adrift of Clermont and three behind Saracens. But as captain Peter O'Mahony said after wards the losing bonus point will give the side renewed hope.

"We've got to fight for our lives," he said. "We have two huge games in the New Year and all we can do is fight for our lives."

In fairness Foley put his hand up and took the Munster job before he perhaps would have wanted in ideal circumstances. But like buses the job might never come when you want it. So you have to jump when it arrives – even unexpectedly - and enjoy the trip. 

It seems to have worked very for Joe Schmidt - so far.

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Monday 5 September 2016

Wood Backs Stuart Lancaster

Getty Images
Tom Wood says Stuart Lancaster and his coaches should "come out fighting" as the Rugby Football Union begins its review into England's display at the World Cup on Monday.

The hosts failed to qualify for the knockout stage for the first time.

But Wood, 28, backed Lancaster, saying: "I think I can speak for most of the lads - I want Stuart and the coaches to come out fighting.

"They've done themselves proud in terms of their preparation and work-rate."

The performance of Lancaster and lieutenants Andy Farrell, Graham Rowntree and Mike Catt will all be under review as the RFU decides whether they have a future.

RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie has said there would be no "hasty reaction" to England's exit, while Lancaster, who was appointed in 2011, has said he would find it "hard to walk away" from the job.

The 46-year-old former teacher has received the backing of former New Zealand and Wales head coach Graham Henry but there have been calls from former England internationals for Lancaster to leave his role.

Wood added: "The coaches will have learned an awful lot during this campaign and over the past three-and-a-half years.

"At the top, they are going to come under an awful lot of pressure to ring the changes, but I can't speak highly enough of Stuart as a bloke and as a coach. I back him."

The position of captain Chris Robshaw is also under close scrutiny after England seemed to lack leadership in key moments of the pivotal matches against Wales and Australia.

It was Robshaw who opted for an attacking line-out from a late penalty against Wales instead of directing Owen Farrell to go for goal. Had Farrell landed a difficult three points, England would have secured a draw - and would have been more likely to reach the quarter-finals.

Robshaw edged ahead of Wood for the captaincy at the start of Lancaster's reign, but the Northampton flanker said: "He's a strong character is Chris and he's been here before. He knows he's got the backing of the group."

Asked if he would like to be captain England if Robshaw was demoted, Wood replied: "I'd try to do what's right for the team.

"If I was asked to do it for the benefit of the team, then I'd consider it very carefully and probably front up."

England Review Ends Lancaster Tenure

Stuart Lancaster has left his post as England coach following the team's early exit from the World Cup.

England became the first host nation to be eliminated in the group stages when they lost matches to Wales and Australia in Pool A.

"I ultimately accept and take responsibility for the team's performance," said Lancaster.

Lancaster, 46, was made permanent coach in 2012 and won 28 of his 46 games, but failed to win the Six Nations.

"I took on the role in difficult circumstances and it has been a huge challenge to transition the team with many hurdles along the way," he added.

"However, I am immensely proud of the development of this team and I know that there is an incredibly strong foundation for them to progress to great things in the future.

"We have played some excellent rugby and it was always going to be tough to get the right level of experience into them in time for 2015. It is a young group of players with the huge majority available for the World Cup in Japan in 2019, where I believe their recent experience will make them genuine contenders."

Lancaster has won 28 (61%) and drawn one of his 46 Tests, losing 17

A review into England performance at the World Cup took place after the tournament, with Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie stating that Lancaster agreed he should step down from his role.

''The Rugby World Cup was hugely disappointing for everyone associated with the England team and the subsequent review into the team's performance was always intended to be extremely comprehensive, which it has been," said Ritchie.

"Following the review, Stuart and I met, where we agreed that he should step down as head coach. This was subsequently ratified by the RFU board."

He added: "Despite the results during this World Cup he has much to be proud of, and has embedded a new group of players that will be representing England for a long time to come. Looking forward, we will leave no stone unturned to ensure England achieves sustained success in the future."

There is no word yet from the RFU on the future of Lancaster's coaching team of Andy Farrell, Graham Rowntree and Mike Catt. The full World Cup review will be presented to an RFU board meeting on 17 November.

The search will then begin for a replacement for Lancaster in time for next year's Six Nations.


Look Out Leinster... The Money Talks

May you live in interesting times..... 

Or so says a Chinese proverb - supposedly - which has long since been assumed into the English lexicon. It is a phrase that could be used to describe rugby in the Irish provinces at the moment and the potential player salary questions that could lead to some turbulent times ahead. As will the questioning of the long standing success of centrally contracted players by the Irish Rugby Football Union [IRFU] as the four-year gap until the next rugby world cup will expose some weaknesses at Leinster, Munster and Ulster. With Connacht inching closer to reaching the elite Champions Cup this season and complicating things. Having proved to be a calibre above their competition for a number season under coach Pat Lam. 

If Robbie Henshaw should make an Ian Madigan type move, then it will dent their armour a little for a period in the Galway Sportsgrounds.

For Madigan though the decision to move to Bordeaux Begles is one that reflects a clear thought process and one not weakened by any fear of not retaining a place on the Irish squad. Rather a conviction that he has done his country proud when asked, and indeed his province when needed, and received comparatively little recognition for it all. Indeed, being asked to front the Argentinian onslaught in Cardiff last October at very short notice when Johnny Sexton had been named in the starting line-up – when still slightly injured. With a number of seasons at Leinster being used as utility player and then facing being in the shadow of Sexton once again, a move was probably always on the cards. With Bristol testing the waters initially and then the French side securing his services in the end. 

The financial package making it all the more palatable as Madigan moves from six thousand a month a year ago to ten times that amount next year - with other perks thrown in.

In the final analysis it will be the money, or lack of it, that will curb Leinster’s enthusiasm and return them to tightrope they walked when holding onto Brian O’Driscoll as the IRFU were forced to break their salary benchmarks- to retain his services. Albeit the reality of a move abroad was less likely for record breaking Irish centre. Which was not the case for Sexton when Racing Metro came knocking. Or indeed for Paul O’Connell, who in his elder statesmen role can repeat what Bakkies Botha, Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell have all done with Toulon. A kind of pension planning it has to be said and a trend started by Jonny Wilkinson that allowed him extend his career in the warmer weather of southern France. Similarly, as O’Connell calls time on his international days the requirements for training camps in Carton House simply disappear. 

A balance that Sexton fought hard to maintain ahead of the rugby world cup during his Paris years. And did so at a cost to his body and soul as there was often too little proper rest between matches for club and country. But then again during the past four years’ Irish rugby was gearing up for the rugby world cup and the chance to improve on the disappointments in New Zealand four years previously. With coach Jose Schmidt set to benefit from those centrally agreed IRFU player contracts which at times left the province suffering at times during the Pro 12 with the absence of key players. 

However, the 2015 rugby world cup extolled much damage on a number of Irish players making them unavailable for their provinces. Names like Peter O’Mahony, Iain Henderson, Mike Ross, Sean O’Brien, Robbie Henshaw, Johnny Sexton, Jared Payne, Rob Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald, Conor Murray, Richardt Strauss, Keith Earls, Chris Henry and Tommy Bowe – a point valiantly made by former Irish centre Gordon D’Arcy in his Irish Times column this week. With a number of key retirements over the years also debilitating both Munster and Leinster impacting perhaps the early departure of both in the Champions Cup. A factor that will undoubtedly will affect their seeding for next year’s tournament. As will the lack of pay out for reaching the latter stages affect their gross revenue number for the season.

The nitty-gritty will boil down to progressing the gifted young players from the academy – and offer them a chance pick up the slack in the Pro12 - whom many facing a season or two on old contracts. Which will be buttons compared to their regular first team colleagues. 

In the case of Leinster, where they have some potential stars coming up the ranks it will create fodder for hungry sports agents seeking to maximise their client’s potential. No doubt there is a vast difference between an Academy pay-packet and a basic of 6k a month on the first team. Albeit it pales into insignificance with those on €40-50 thousand a month in France. That Super 14 league where All Blacks out half Dan Carter is set to earn one million pounds sterling a year at Racing Metro. The Kiwi’s salary a full half a million euro better than the next best paid, Matt Giteau at Toulon or Leigh Halfpenny. But for rugby world cup winner Carter, the demands of the All Blacks now pass on to the next generation and so international duty is no longer an issue. 

As it will probably be for Gateau, who along with Drew Mitchell, were given special dispensation by the Australian Rugby Union to play for their country in the world cup after they rescinded the ruling that prohibited overseas based players being included in the Wallabies. A change that clearly paid dividends for Australia and rewarded the efforts of their coach Michael Cheika, who proved it a pointless rule given the nation reached the world cup final – and won the Rugby Championship. Even if it was implemented for all the right reasons initially. The likelihood that Madigan will get any special dispensation of a similar nature from the IRFU – albeit there is no written rule - seems unlikely. A factor that he would have taken into account in his decision making. 

As with England - where the skills and ability of Steffon Armitage - were deemed surplus to requirements despite his impressive performances for Toulon over recent years in the Heineken Cup. In the post tournament analysis Stuart Lancaster lost his job and could have done with Armitage as it might have allowed England progress further in their home rugby world cup. But rules are rules it seems.

More importantly, in soccer a player like Ian Madigan – arguably nurtured at school’s level by Blackrock College then developed at the Leinster Academy and further supported by the IRFU - will leave the Irish set up without any payback – anywhere to anyone. In the soccer world the talent is an asset and can only be transferred for agreed fees between clubs, as in any normal commercial transaction. With some added rules and clauses that can even permit the originating schoolboy retain an ongoing percentage of future transfer fees. 

So as professionalism penetrates rugby further over the coming years the clubs and Provinces will no doubt seek similar policies and regulations. Especially when the TV money, sponsorship reach their maximum and the need for money increases. After all, if an agent finds French clubs for a number of the younger Irish talent for example, the provinces could be decimated if the IRFU is unable match the big money offers as they arise. For Madigan it was a simple decision both on and off the field offering him some interesting times.

Look out Leinster.... money talks!