'I would love to see young and experienced players go back into a boosted AIL'

The latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly included discussion of domestic rugby’s place in the pyramid.

Paul O'Connell playing for Young Munster in 2008.
Paul O'Connell playing for Young Munster in 2008.
Image: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

A NEW ERA will get underway in September with the launch of the United Rugby Championship, pitting the Irish provinces and their Welsh, Scottish, and Italian counterparts against the four new South African sides.

The competition was top of the agenda on today’s episode of The42 Rugby Weekly podcast as Bernard Jackman and Garry Doyle joined Murray Kinsella to discuss its merits and weaknesses.

Bernard and Garry are both hopeful that fewer games in the URC, just 18 in the regular season for each province, and the lack of clashes with November Tests and the Six Nations will allow domestic club rugby to flourish in Ireland too.

The All-Ireland League is set to bounce back into life next season after a torrid time for club rugby throughout the pandemic and the hope is that there will be more involvement for academy and senior professionally contracted players.

Garry: “What I would like to see is players being released more to clubs to play in the AIL if they’re going to be redundant. You don’t want to see players stuck in a gym during November and the Six Nations. You don’t want young players to be idle.

“I do think the pyramid is fine at the top but there is a bit of a gap, to say the least, between the provinces and the clubs.

“I’d like to see more love given to the clubs and more players given to them, making sure they’re not redundant during the periods the internationals are away.”

Murray: “We got an email on this actually. It says, ‘Given the new format of the URC avoiding scheduling games during windows, do you think this could give non-international players the opportunity to get regular, uninterrupted game time at club/AIL level?’

“Berch, we’ve been on the soapbox about this for a while on this podcast, but it does feel like a real opportunity in that sense.”

ronan-kelleher-on-the-attack Rónan Kelleher in action for Lansdowne in 2019. Source: Ben Whitley/INPHO

Bernard: “Yeah, I think this will affect the ability to give certain squad players or young players regular game time in the domestic league.

“If you look at the reason Munster and Leinster are able to go so deep into their squads, it’s because they were quite comfortable in the regular season, so you could rest players without a massive risk of losing.

“If the quality of the opposition goes up, coaches will be very focused on getting wins and that opportunity to blood players… for example, the Irish provinces will go full strength against the other Irish provinces because that’s key – being the best team in your regional pool is a guaranteed way of getting into the Champions Cup.

“Then they’ll suss it out in terms of how the opposition are stacking up. If the other teams are suddenly that bit better and stronger, that will drive selection policy. If teams can beat each other more regularly, then I think some of those younger players will get squeezed.

“They may play against a Zebre or a team who are underperforming at that time but they won’t get that run of games they’ve been able to get. I do think it’s crucial that they find opportunities to play if they’re not playing for their province.

“I also think with reduced budgets and the effects of Covid on international travel, the viability of a proper A team calendar is very much affected, so I don’t see them going over to play a Scarlets A team, for example.

“I would love to see young players and experienced players who are struggling with form or coming back from injury go back into a boosted AIL season. Give that a chance to be even more of a part of the pathway for our future internationals.

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joey-carbery-lifts-the-ulster-bank-league-trophy Joey Carbery won the 2016 AIL with Clontarf. Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

“It’s not going to be drastic with fully professional players in the AIL but come November/December, I do see more of them going back and it’s a case of the clubs providing a really good environment, good feedback to the provincial coaches, really good awareness of load so it’s not increasing their chance of injury.

“Once both parties communicate well and play by the rules, I think the AIL can quickly come back into being part of it again.

“Whether it’s because of the URC or Covid, I don’t care – I just want to see a better balance to how we manage the domestic and professional game.”

This week’s edition of The42 Rugby Weekly also saw Garry, Bernard, and Murray discussing the URC’s format, European qualification, and TV coverage.

The lads dug into Andy Farrell’s 37-man Ireland squad and spoke about what we need to see in the July Tests, as well as teeing up huge weekends for the Ireland U20s and Ireland men’s 7s teams.

You can listen to The42 Rugby Weekly below or wherever you get your pods, while Rugby Weekly Extra comes out every Monday for members of The42.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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