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The OTB podcast network Rugby on Off the Ball with Vodafone official sponsors of the Irish rugby team team of us, everyone in Ambron Driscoll is with us this evening.


How are you keeping Brian? Good evening, Nathan. How are you? I'm very well.


Our male correspondent are there are not enough of you in the studio yet? Oh, I thought, jeez, your your social media, you've done you've done my county service over the last few days showing it off in all its beauty.


Well, it did itself as a service. It was absolutely beautiful down there. It's a while since I've been down to to Mayo at all and fifteen years since I've been in Ashford Castle. But it is properly beautiful and what they're lacking in silverware. Then there they make up for inhospitality.


That was uncalled for, Brian. That was absolutely I hope you don't see Larry to be thrown out straightaway. I hope you had time to watch some of the rugby then last weekend. Obviously, we're almost at this weekend. We'll chat about what's going to happen with Leinster Oldster on Saturday in Munster against Connacht on Sunday. But before we get to that, let's look back. Well, firstly, it was great to have you back. I know what the Gallaher premiership is back, and I've been watching a bit about that.


It just felt slightly different at the Aviva Stadium. The sun was shining and it was a real bulls and excitement and probably a better. Was there a better standard than we might have expected? First day back? Yeah, I think it was a very strong standard and we've probably come to expect it from Lenzer in particular. But Monster, you know, we've had a reasonably good season and they've obviously made a couple of great signings. And there's there's clearly going to be a huge enthusiasm from all players having had an unexpected five one sabbatical from the game.


But if I don't get disappointed as Derby games go, there's always a nice little bit of spice. And to have it first up in what feels like a new season, even though it's the rollover from last year. Yes, I thought it was a very entertaining game. Of course, you're going to have some uncharacteristic handling errors, particularly as the second half went on. But for for the most part, great game.


And I went right down to the wire, as so many of those into pro games do, very difficult for the coaches with all the various regulations to even get proper practice games in pre-season.


So even talking about it as all right, all season, but new season for a lot of these players will be the first time they're getting those big collisions. How long generally would it take you after a regular pre-season to feel, you know what, I'm out? I feel 100 percent comfortable right now. Four or five games probably.


Right. And, you know, it was a different time. The game has moved on so much and the intensity of games is so much higher. And the collisions that these players are taking are so much more ferocious, even in the 40s and even in the domestic league compared to 10 years ago. But, you know, it's for me to really hit my straps that used to take, yeah. Four or five games until I felt that I was fully much fit and that the body was hardened.


And there's less contact the training these days, all the more so for Munster. They obviously missed that week or those few days with the positive test in the academy. So they couldn't have some of the contact sessions that they would have liked. But it certainly didn't show at the weekend. They they came out with plenty of intent to as to how they were going to play their game and bringing that brute force, bringing their sides into play and particularly in the centre, but then mixing up the brutality up front with some silkie passing as well.


So and yeah, it's it's a really difficult one. I think players these days seem to hit form much sooner because the realisation is that if they don't, you know, if they don't get going from the from the off, that there is someone there to replacement and someone can come in and do a job seamlessly and in the better teams, that's very much the case, that the strength and depth is so good that you have to take your opportunity when you're given the jersey.


Yeah, and the strength and conditioning has come on so much as well over the last few years. And the statistics they have on the players, it's still a difficult few weeks, I'd imagine, for the coaches, because we are at the time of the season when the silverware is going to be handed out, while you're also trying to mix a match and make sure players are getting enough rest and things like that, particularly from a Leinster point of view, when they have the game against Oldster, maybe this is the one week where they can change things around, but they're heading back into a pro 14 semi-final.


They've got Saracen's coming quickly on the horizon. Do you think that will be able to settle on a bona fide a first fifteen for this sort of five, six week period, or is there going to be a constant mixing and matching just to make sure you've got enough fit players on the pitch at the right time?


William Cullen knows who is best, fifteen is safer, maybe one or two possessions. And that can be that, of course, of the last year or two that's been down to a little bit of form, but down to injuries as well.


But their ability to fit bodies into positions that, you know, seasoned internationals have been holding onto it for a long period of time is is quite amazing. Some of the young academy players have been incredibly impressed with and coming through. And you see the assembly line of them, the likes of Brian Baird at the weekend coming in and doing a pretty impressive job. And yeah, I think it bodes really well. But, yeah, it's it's a it's a very exciting time not only to see Irish rugby, but see the calibre of some of these younger players coming through.


They're very competitive, a twenty level.


And and the fact that we're sharing our academies amongst the the the provincial teams is obviously a good thing from an Irish perspective, sometimes a bit of a difficult thing to stomach from a Leinster perspective. But the overall picture is about developing the international game because that's where the money is.


And unfortunately, the most long lasting effect from all the quality rugby last week was the injury to RG Simon, disastrous for the player six to nine months, probably minimum at this stage, but also really disastrous, I guess, for Munster and the morale around the club and the real buzz that was there this time last week of the two South Africans coming in, going to elevate them to a whole other level. And then you just got to restart again.


And it just feels that way. From Johan Van Gran coming so quickly after the news of José Carbury. It's one step forward, two steps back constantly from Monster at the moment and morale wise in the group, that must be just so disheartening. Yeah, it really must be.


I will be absolutely honest and say that my my sympathies for Monster over the course of the last 15 or 20 years have been somewhat limited. But when I saw that news on Tuesday was that when it was announced, I really felt for Kobun player. From the clubs perspective, they're having a rotten run of luck with key players. Obviously, the likes of Joey is a vital cog in their wheel. If they're going to, you know, and compete at both domestic and more so European level, I think they'll be in the mix domestically year on year.


They'll be that perennial semifinalist, potentially finalist and they can win the competition. But from a European point of view, I think you've got to have your your X-Factor players, your your top key performers playing at a consistent level and free of injury. And unfortunately, you know, first of all, Carbury, that indefinite period of time, he's going to be out. And secondly, with with Simon and he is a brute of a man. And and what's even more difficult is from his perspective is he's come over, he's, I'm sure, on a substantial salary.


And all you want to do is show and earn the respect of your teammates and show your quality and show that the big price tag on your head is worthwhile and to only get six or seven minutes in the first to happen in a pretty kind of abstract way. If it makes it all the more difficult for a first name it to take. And it's got to be a long period of time for him to rehab that.


Yeah, you mentioned Joey Carbury and obviously that following on from Tiger Blandine as well. It means that JJ Hanahan is very much the man for the foreseeable future now for months to retain his performance.


Last weekend, listening to him told him last night, you know, rave reviews, quick ball, doing the right things at the right time when things were going well for Monster, but maybe still some question marks about managing the game when things aren't going well for them. What did you make of his performance last week? And do you feel he's ready for that extended spell and that out of position?


Yeah, well, the reality is they don't have a choice in that matter. I think he's absolutely a very worthy backup. Number ten. And, you know, on his day, he should be challenging Joey Carbury for the number ten jersey. There's always been question marks about just consistency of performance and big moments and talk about that drop goal against Rossing earlier in the year. I think it's a little bit harsh. And talking about the missed conversion, it was five from the touchline.


It looked as though it shaved the post from the angle that I saw.


So there wasn't a whole lot in it, but I thought he had a big say in getting the team back from twenty four, fifteen down.


And the timing of his pass, I think is something that you only see in a true football or of understanding when to stop the defender and when they have when you have them committed to then throw the past but not give the ball man on ball. And I think he got that right on a couple of occasions. There was one time then the left touchline when he pulled in. Gary Ringrose, who's a terrifically good drift defender, but he committed him.


And if Keith rld give him the ball to Peter Ommaney, there could have been a score before the second Conway tried. In the end, it led up to that Conway try and again the ability to commit Jefferson Gibson Park when he was drifting and trying to defend and two white players. But understanding the timing to give that pass when he had him committed and let the ball do the work is a skill in itself. And I think a lot of people looking at home take that for granted.


But not every player has that capability of understanding when the work is done. And to give the past. Rainbird almost overplayed his hand in the James Low try where he triguero that that dummy and then on another day, that pass could have been ruled forward, whereas JJ, it just looks very easy to them and said he's a real footballer. I think a similar to Johnny Johnny Sexton. They just see the game unfolding and have time on the ball.


And I'm a fan of JJ. I just hope that he can get a run of games and get his confidence levels up because Monster will need them by the sounds of what you're saying.


It is just that it is just a confidence thing. It sounds like you feel he does have the skill set to go and God knows when Joy Carbury is going to be back, that actually if they need him for the next year, for the rest of this season, that if he can get this running games and things go right and his confidence is up, that is as much a mental thing as a skills issue.


Yeah, I think what you know, what the monster fan base have to appreciate as well. They forgot to forget Ronan O'Gara, JJ, JJ Hanrahan and Joey Carbury are not Ronan O'Gara. They're not the same type of player. I would never categorize Roj as a kicking number ten, but he had the ball on a string. Neither of those players have those kicking capable. Lattis, I think they could practice their 10000 hours and they mightn't get to the standard that Rodge had on that, so they have to be have an ability to play to their skill set.


And that's a running game and an a game of playing heads up rather than nudging the ball in behind teams and using a monster pocket to beat the opposition up. And on that note, Monster don't have the same PAC that played in front of Rodge.


So you've got to have the flexibility and variability to your game depending on who your key playmakers are. And I think you've got to play to the strengths of of the personnel that are there. And JJ Strength is his running game is passing game. You'll constantly need to hone his kicking game off. The tee was very good. Other than that, one missed. So I think there was lots of good things to pick from from his performance. And as I said, was the one or two point game in the end.


But it's not at the the depth. So for for a first outing, considering this mantid pressure on him with and with Joey's continued absence, I think it was it was a pretty solid first performance of the second part of the season.


That's probably real external thing as well. The Raje comparisons, because everything has changed in Monster since Rajjo left and since that great team went, that he has a coach now who's also not looking for Rodge. He has a coach who wants him to play that running style editor himself or Joey Carvery can play. So you'd have to trust with all the time they've had together over the past few months that he's going to be given that confidence within because, as you say, I have no other option.


And he has a coach who is playing to his strengths. So in some ways, he's no excuses. Now, this is this is the chance he's got to grab them both hands.


Well, if I was choosing a box coach, you know, to fit my game by showy or if I would, JJ and I think you wouldn't look too far from Stephen Larkham, you know, he was was he a kicking ten? Wasn't that drop goal in the semifinal in the World Cup? I can't ever remember kicking the ball Matt Burke used to kick to touch. So he was he was a footballing No.10. And you can see the Larkham mark on that monster back line.


I think it's a work in progress. And I think it was impressed to see and the subtlety and the bludgeon of Pharrell, you know, his ability to use his soft hands, but also footwork laid at the line to get over the advantage line, nearly score to try himself deal. And I nearly scored before Conway's first one. So I think there looks like there's nice balance of the ten, twelve, thirteen, and provided they can get quick, quick ball into that pretty lethal set of winger's.


And I haven't seen enough of Shane Dailey to fully understand what sort of player he's going to be. I think he got cut out once or twice and positionally I think Jonny Sexton could have manipulated it or did manipulate the defense in a way where the wingers were playing high and and Daly at fullback wasn't able to cover the space. And with the another bounce of the ball, Dave Carney could have had a try, could have been a different circumstance when Conway was going back to cover that chip over the top in the second half.


So you've got to position you've got to be brilliant when you're playing against one of the masters of of manipulating defenses.


Any initial thoughts on that deal and federal partnership in the centre? Yeah, I like Delinda's. You know, from what I understand, he came over injured. And so he's probably been playing a little bit of catch up any time you're into a new environment. And it takes time to get your timing of your own timing of pass. And just I kind of watched them for for a few minutes, just him and understanding his movement. And obviously, there's an uncertainty at the moment as to where he's meant to be.


There's new plays, there's new styles. So what you tend to do, particularly in the early part of the season, is you don't want to be too late for plays. And a lot of the time you're there too early. And he still almost managed to turn bad ball or poor runs into positive outcomes. So it's it's it's it's certainly a good marker that he's he's laid down physically. He looks in good condition. He looks as though he's got a nice edge that will suit, you know, the the monster team and certainly get the supporters onside, you know, when when we do get crowds back then to tell them apart.


But, you know, it's hard to know on the balance of one game what the partnership of federal and the land, they will be like Bush on their individual performance. I was impressed with both of them. And I think we can expect some fireworks from them when when they get a few more games under their belts.


No real questions about Jonny Sexton's performance. We we should have expected this. When we saw the photographs coming from pre-season, he is beefed up and he was ready for this. And you can see he was ready for the scrap as well throughout the game.


We saw DNA was last week talking about Johnny playing into his 40s, are we married to think like that? To think that he can go and play another six, seven years? But you know what?


I know that he's not thinking year by year at this stage. I think he absolutely feels as though he can get to the next World Cup. And and that's only three years away. And I think that is absolutely achievable. And, you know, I met him during Lockton and he looked in the best physical condition I've ever seen him. And mentally, he's as hungry as ever. And he's he's one player who doesn't have other focuses. He doesn't you know, he doesn't take his eye off the ball.


It's literally he's 100 percent invested in what he does now. He's not thinking about what what retirement might look like. He is just thinking about how many medals he can accumulate over the next number of years and whether he can get to that holy grail of at least a World Cup semi-final with Ireland. And particularly looking at the situation right now. And, Jack, you played well at the weekend and we need to see more of that from him. But there does seem like a substantial gulf between Johnny Sexton that's playing well and all the other trends that are available at the moment playing well to Billy Burns.


You won't know how he's going to feature internationally until he gets his opportunity. He's a nice player, but I don't think he plays on the line like like JJ does or like Johnny Sexton does or even like Jack Cafferty does. But and I think he's a vital player to Ireland still for for a number of years, considering Joe, corroborees predicament.


Can you protect them for the next few years and would he be accepting of being protected? So do you make a plan for the next three years and maybe these conversations are happening where you sit down and go, you're going to play 15 games a year for club and country, Johnny, and that's the end of it. You just get the sense he wants to be out there week in, week out. He loves he just loves playing the game.


And that that may not actually work with this aim of getting them to three years time in another World Cup.


Yeah, I think he will have to be minded. And yes, he is a player that wants to play often and regularly. But you you have to weigh up the you know, the considerations of little niggles that he be carrying over the course of the next number of months. He probably is in good shape right now and has had an opportunity to work at all those deficiencies and little shoulder injuries, little flexibility, flexibility issues, and, you know, to be able to get himself back as close to 100 percent as he possibly can.


But I think, you know, looking looking at I heard Keith Wood talking earlier on in the week about how he wished Johnny Sexton would change his tackle technique. And that is the most wishful thinking I've ever heard from Woody, because there is no way at this stage that Johnny sex is going to change anything.


Change buddy position change, height of tackle changes. Head movement is thirty five years of age. He's done it professionally for over a dozen years. He is not changing it at this point. And I think he prides himself on probably the most on the physical part of his game and taking on the likes of CJ Stander as much as he can and holding up foul. And you could hear the woops from is his vital held up tackle where that led to the James Low tries.


So those moments are what inspires him and inspires other teammates. You don't tend to see it that often in a number ten where there are real aggressor in your back line defense, whereas that's definitely Giannis Sextons game. Will he have the occasional head collision as a result of it. He will push and he's not changing at this stage. Is not going to become a top tackler all of a sudden for self-preservation. He doesn't really do self-preservation and that's why he's been such a winner for so many years.


But when you think back ten, twelve years ago and you're playing with him and that Leinster side and he's tackling like that at that stage where people are trying to change his tackle technique, you have these big moments.


But also, as you say, the risk of injury is sizable. Had people tried over the years to change that, so is the most stubborn man I know.


You know, he famously said to me, seventy five percent of the time, I'm right. And the other twenty five percent, I tell people that I'm right. So, you know, there's no getting away from the fact that he's and he very much believes in himself and his ability. And of course, he's changed and modified parts of his game. And previously what but with regard to tackling, I think he feels most most confident in that upright position.


He's got phenomenal for a guy with a tiny pigeon chest. He's got phenomenal upper body strength. And we saw that against the likes of Chris Farrell. How many times has he held up? Big number twelves are big. No, thirteen at international level. He yeah, he's he's a really terrific defender. And and you don't want to take that away from his game as well, because you tell someone to defend differently or stay out of tackles. It might have a negative impact on the rest of his game.


That is what he as I said, he thrives on. And and that's what he stands by and particularly as captain and as a leader. He wants to lead from the front physically as much as anybody.


That chest is twice the size of now than it was to the army, twice as large as everyone else's state as it was. Yeah. Yeah.


It's still like a tiny little David Beckham chest. And yeah, it's it's a freakish proportions that he's he's living with now at the moment. His arms are he's obviously on the same weights program was born diarchy, but on the same chest program as I do now.


James and given Gibson Park Service, they're probably he's an animal in the gym, but I think most of them are at this stage.


You touched on the Alanda in very early stages. One thing I was wondering, and maybe it is too early to have noticed this, all these coaches have had a lot of time off and a lot of time at home in front of the computer doing analysis, I'm sure, educating themselves more and more, watching various different styles of rugby. The Leinster monster you saw last weekend, could you see there were trying different things to pre lockdown that actually all that time and all that extra brainpower that the coaches have been able to accumulate has been reflected out in the pitch.


The only thing about about planning in advance of playing an opposition that you've you've played five months ago is that you don't know if they're going to be defending the same way as they were previously and actually, you know, lensed. Or we're really flying off the line, they were they feel as though their scramble is is good enough to get out to the extremities if a team is good enough to get the ball past their line speed. And it's funny because I almost think that monster showed the, you know, the the type of game necessitated towards beating Leinster, I think particularly of global.


You know, you need, you know, the first five, six defenders shoot off the line. And I think if you're capable of regenerating quick ball off that really slow ball, the reset time for them to backpedal and get their defensive, spacing's might actually catch the match. So and another time, JJ Hanrahan and there was a Koenen was was third defender who ideally is on first receiver. He koenen shut up on the outside of JJ and he step back inside and Vanda Fleer managed to pick him up.


But if you're dealing with a key and Hili or a Kelaher who's just come out of a scrum, who's fatigued, you know, they have always been a tiny bit susceptible to there. So there they they weren't it wasn't perfection. But I did see a number of impressive new launch plays from all four provinces, actually. And that's where you're able to put an awful lot of time and effort in identifying the way the opposition have defended previously in the hope that they're trying to defend, continue to defend that way.


But it's not that that excites players as well when you're coming back in from a box point of view for sure, I'm sure there's the equivalent in Linowitz as well that we're not privy to. Even Monster had one or two, the one that the foul was held up on by by Sexton with a really nice peel and Murray right out into the midfield where Karl came charging. I presume they've got an option of going out the back as well if those defenders sit down.


So I was impressed with the New Zealand play by and by Leinster and Midfield Scrum right there in the twenty two where they all stacked very close to the scrum and Luke McGrath got turned over or got tackled by Conrad Murray. So we didn't see it come to fruition. But I thought some of their launch play was really good, their angles of running excellent as well, very clear idea as to how they want to play the game. So, yeah, I think there was some really good things and certainly from a from a back perspective, pretty exciting viewing.


We have, as usual, neglected both Connacht and Ulster in this conversation. So Ulster Activa playing Leinster on Saturday evening, connect up against Munster Munster need to win that game just to guarantee that they go up against Leinster in the semi-final. The Ulster, obviously, the main stand point from an Irish point of view was Jacob Stockdale. A fullback, I think is just a six time starting at fullback for Ulster. Is he a legitimate option at fullback for Ireland?


Yeah, I think he is. I think what you want to do with first of all, he's become a very important player within a couple of seasons in Ulster. And what you want to do with that, you want to put them in the most prominent positions you can. And you think about the spine of the team being, you know, two, five, eight, nine, 10 and 15. And so you want to get key contributors into those positions.


You want to get the ball in their hands as often as you possibly can. And when you look at Jacob Stockdale and and you see him one and more one, you expect them to beat the defender. And we've come to expect that in a short period of time. So, you know, rather than wait for the ball to get to him on the wing, he's going to get an awful lot more touches playing in the number fifteen jersey. I think we saw them use it using him to great effect with the exact play as well with that rocket of a left foot as well.


Very educated. And, you know, he sometimes I wish he carried a little bit more aggressively when he knows he's being tackled. I think he doesn't sometimes realise that the punch that that that he can pocket and his ability to be able to break through collisions and get the ball away in contact, maybe that'll come in time. It's I think his conference probably took a little bit of a dent in the World Cup, and it'll take a while for him to grow back into the player he knows he is and can become again.


But I thought a pretty solid performance for him at fifteen. It's I do love having a left foot right foot option for exits, but also having someone willing to come in at first receiver when you're ten is organizing some other player, whether there's a midfield rook, and to just have a go and try and bring players in playing off the cuff and look for that fifty fifty pass so that all flow that you know will break the fences. Yeah.


It does seem like a smart guy as well. I know he was on with Joe during the lockdown talking about going down to his local rugby club every single day, practicing his kicking because he'd watched every single match you played over the last couple of years and had picked out just a couple of little bits of info that he wanted to work on. So he's clearly not afraid of the hard work. And I. They say it does make sense in any sport, I guess, getting the most talented players in possession of the ball more often than not like that.


Again, you talk about the gap after Sexton, that fullback role is still wide open heading into the winter, I think.


And one other point on that, I think it's totally open. And whether it was Andy Farrell that requested with my father to be able to play him in the 15 jersey a little bit more, we'll have to wait and hear. But I think it's very open. And certainly what we did see in the stadium on Saturday is that Jordan Lahmar as exciting a player he is. He's he's not someone that dominates the skies. And, you know, for a guy who's on a similar stature, similar size is significantly better.


In the air is Andrew Conway. And that's simply been down to years and years of practice and getting his timing and catching the ball at the top of the apex where you feel as though Lahmar is still a little bit tentative getting into that space. Think back to Rob Carney's great days of blocking balls from the sky. He always owned the space. You never doubted for a second there was no tentativeness going in to try and claim those balls. There was no fear factor involved.


And I'm not saying there is, but Lahmar. Yeah, but he just doesn't look as though he's as forthright going into that aerial space to owners to give confidence and give set out a tone to for the rest of the game that if you're going to put bombs up on me, I'm going to claim that I'm going to pick them with perfect timing and complete commitment.


And I do think that, you know, internationally that you run the risk of of getting more aerial threats and playing a smaller fullback.


If I saw Jacob Stockdale in the backfield, I'd be less inclined if I ran out of ideas to put a bomb up in the air, because I would feel that there's a strong likelihood that he's going to get in there and own that space. So maybe I wouldn't quite think that of Jordan Lahmar because he hasn't given me reason not to think it yet. All right, Brian, great stuff as always.


Here's Nathan, good to chat. Thanks a lot, Brian. Just go up mail. Exactly. If you missed that, you can listen back on OTB Sports dot com or just download the app. It'll be up there very shortly. Just on the football.


Bohemians beaten on penalties for two and hungry while it's one all in Shamrock Rovers Game and stadium. Great. Burke with the gold.


Lots more to come on that on the football show from nine rugby on off the ball with Vodafone official sponsors of the Irish rugby team. Team of us. Everyone in.