Rugby Roundup

Jack Keegan recaps the rugby news over the winter break

It has been a long period of time since the last issue of the University Observer, so it is only fitting we do a little catch-up about what has been occurring in the rugby world.

Beginning with Andy Farrell's 6 Nations squad. On Thursday morning, the IRFU released Ireland's 37-man squad for the annual competition, and specific aspects of the squad raised some eyebrows across the Irish rugby community. 

Arguably the most baffling inclusion was that of Ulster winger Jacob Stockdale. Stockdale's fall from grace has been startling. In 2018, he was on top of the world after scoring an astonishing solo try in Ireland's first win against the All Blacks on home soil and a European Player of the Year nomination. But now, he is almost unrecognisable on the pitch. Granted, he has suffered injuries that have resulted in him only making 2 appearances for Ulster across eighteen months, which has definitely stunted his development and torn his confidence to shreds. This lack of confidence was apparent in Ulster's 7-3 loss to La Rochelle. Stockdale looked like a newborn calf, stumbling and fumbling to gather the ball paired with some poor defence and appalling kicks out of hand. Mike Haley and Shane Daley must be scratching their heads about how the Tyrone native was selected ahead of them.

Joey Carbery's exclusion from the squad must be a tough pill to swallow for the Munster man. When fit, he has become heir-apparent to Johnny Sexton. His form for Munster has not been appalling, but he has not been good enough compared to Ross Byrne and Jack Crowley. His absence from the squad was to be expected. The lines for Ireland's next number ten have become blurred. Byrne has been in phenomenal form for Leinster and has indeed come into his own. Every time he appears in the navy of his provincial side, you cannot help but see a man who has learned from Sexton, but pair this with a Johnny Wilkinson-like physicality and an appetite for pulling off a Carlos Spencer-esque pass, and he is the perfect replacement for Sexton. Expect him to thrive in this Ireland side, which is structurally sound and fluid when necessary. 

At only 23 years of age, Crowley is a much rawer talent compared to Byrne, but his inclusion in the squad demonstrates how much faith the Ireland coaching ticket have in the Munster man. It will be fascinating to see how Carberry will respond to his exclusion from this 6 Nations campaign.

The U20s is a fantastic way to scout the best and brightest upcoming talent this country has to offer. When coach Richie Murphy named his squad that will attempt to defend their crown, there were some names that jumped off the page. Captain Gus ‘Bus’ McCarthy (brother of Leinster lock Joe) is a stunning player. Throughout schools rugby, the hooker demonstrated skills well beyond his years. Devastating in the loose, a strong scrummager and a throw in at the lineout that never fails. 

Diarmuid Mangan, Conor O'Tighearnaigh, and James McNabney all took part in last year's Grand Slam-winning Six Nations campaign, while Sam Prendergast, Charlie Irvine, Harry West and George Hadden were part of the squad for the U20s Summer Series tournament last summer.

One of the most exciting names in Murphy's squad is that of Ike Anagu. Anagu is a winger who currently plies his trade in La Rochelle under former Munster and Ireland great Ronan O'Gara. The Waterford-born winger and his family moved to South Africa when he was 7 years old and played schools rugby for St. John's College in Johannesburg before being recruited into La Rochelle's Espoirs academy in 2021. The IQ pathway has truly found Ireland, a winger who will strike fear into the hearts of defences. 

A very familiar name has been included in Gregor Townsend's 6 Nations squad. Ben Healy, Munster's out-half, qualifies for Scotland through his grandmother. Healy, from Co Tipperary, made eight appearances for the Ireland U20 team in 2019. The 23-year-old has made 48 senior appearances for Munster, scoring 283 points. He is set to join Edinburgh at the end of the season. Healy must have felt his path to international caps in the green of an Ireland jersey was far too congested. By being in the Scotland squad, he only has to compete with maverick Finn Russell for the out half jersey. With Healy moving to the Scottish capital this summer, he has put himself right in the eye line of the Scottish coach. Combine this with Russell and Townsend's turbulent relationship, and we may be seeing Healy lineout as the Scots' primary ten sooner rather than later. 

Finally, Australia's Kurtley Beale has reportedly been charged over an allegation he sexually assaulted a woman in a Sydney bar last month. Police say they are looking into reports that a 28-year-old woman was attacked in the suburb of Bondi on the 17th of December of last year. Beale has always been a controversial figure within rugby union. He was refused bail and is due to appear in court on the 21st of January.

 In 2014 he was investigated by the ARU over an alleged heated argument with a Wallabies team official, Di Patston, on a flight from Johannesburg to São Paulo. After the team returned home, it was reported that Beale had distributed allegedly offensive texts and images referring to Patston some months earlier.

This article was originally published on 24/1/2023