The Leinster U18 Schools team pictured in 2019. Tommy Dickson/INPHO
The42 Rugby Weekly

'The opportunity is going to be lost for some guys who have been late developers'

The latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly included a discussion on the pandemic’s impact on Irish rugby’s talent pipeline.

THE PANDEMIC HAS had a major impact on professional rugby over the past year but the effects are likely to be felt even in the post-Covid world.

Underage amateur rugby has been among the areas hit hard in the last 12 months, with clubs and schools around Ireland unable to play, while representative provincial and age-grade international rugby has also been shut down.

The U20 Six Nations has been postponed until later this year and while touching on that understandable decision, the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly podcast also involved a discussion about how the pandemic is affecting the next wave of prospective professional players, all of whom have missed out on the chance to impress on the pitch. 

Bernard Jackman, who has coached in the schools and club games and is currently head coach of Bective Rangers FC, has concerns about promising players having missed out on an important stage of their development.

Host Gavan Casey highlighted a question on this topic posed by Finn Boyle on The42‘s WhatsApp group for members:

“How much of a setback is the pandemic for elite under-age set-ups and upcoming prospects? Have they been massively impacted training and development-wise with some of those expected to make it not getting game time in the AIL or are they all in the same boat so it’s luck and survival of the fittest?”

While highlighting that those already identified by the provinces as major prospects will still have been getting guidance, Bernard outlined his concerns about how late developers may be missed and how non-elite players may be slow to return to the sport. 

“I think it is a setback and a big worry from a talent pathway point of view,” said Bernard.

“Realistically, if there’s no rugby played this spring in the schools, you’re basically making decisions on who goes into sub-academies, etc. based on form from maybe two years ago.

“It’s such a big part of your career where six months can make a massive difference. Guys can pass each other out or guys can regress so it is going to be very, very difficult for them. The opportunity is going to be lost for some guys who have been late developers, don’t have a chance to play, and because they weren’t in the system, it’s going to be difficult for them to prove themselves.

“It’s worrying but hopefully they will get to play some type of competition as soon as possible.

“The guys who are already in the system, it’s a year without rugby matches but the four provinces would be very good at making sure that physically they are developing and building up robustness in any areas of weakness they have.

“The academies are still training in their bubbles so they might not be getting the level of games they would have got with the All-Ireland League of the Celtic Cup, it’s not cold turkey for them.

“But for the amateur players, it’s much harder. I know everyone likes to play games but at least the players who are already in the pathway system are getting some exposure to training stimulus.

“Everyone is in the same boat but I would also be worried about the numbers of people who come back playing non-elite rugby. If you haven’t played in a year and a half, or only in fits and starts, will that grow your love for the game or will it hamper it?

“That would be disappointing for the domestic game.”

Meanwhile, today’s episode of The42 Rugby Weekly saw the lads discussing Andy Friend’s future with Connacht, the rejigged professional rugby calendar, and a huge Munster v Leinster clash on the horizon.

There was also discussion of Benetton’s alarming regression in the Pro14 and what it means for Italian rugby, Munster’s move to retain Ben Healy, and Kyle Sinckler’s ban for asking a referee if he was “f*****g serious.”

You can listen to The42 Rugby Weekly below or on your favourite podcast app.

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella, and Gavan Casey chat Andy Friend’s future, the long-term pandemic impact, and cursing at referees:

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

Originally published at 1900

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