Like a spilt pint, most at the Guinness Pro12 launch tried to cover as much of rugby’s surface as possible, with a variety of subjects covered by the coaches and captains of the sides. Things eventually got a little sticky, too.
Mark Hammett and Matthew Rees of the Cardiff Blues were corralled into talking politics, even though Hammett protested that they were “just two rugby men” and Rees feels the wrangling between the WRU and Regional Rugby Wales “doesn’t change our working week!”
Ulster’s pair had to field questions about the make-up of their coaching team and their tumultuous break.
The English journalists asked if the bigger clubs would stop resting players, now the league was more ‘competitive’.
Irish journalists fitted in that this was just an excuse when English sides lost in Europe, as a passive aggressive add-on to their own follow-up questions.
However, the stand-out subject was of a man not due to play Pro12 rugby at all this season. No, not brilliant Brian O’Driscoll, though his name was brought up in passing (according to Jamie Heaslip he had dropped by training just the once to pick up some bits and bobs). Johnny Sexton was the man hanging over the event.
It is hard to call a current competing international a ghost. However, his spectre was everywhere, haunting the Leinster officials amid rumours that he may return to the Province after the summer. Throughout the day his name wrapped up the Dubliners, like a ghoulish hand from under the bed.
Heaslip tried to politely face down the queries about Sexton returning to Leinster: “He drives standards. Anyone who’s played with Johnny would love to have him in their side. Half (of Leinster) are his really, really good mates,” he said. He also batted off the notion that losing O’Driscoll to the armchair and Leo Cullen to coaching would harm his side, saying: “Rugby is one of the few last great team sport,” explaining that the side where greater than a few special players and that the team kept evolving.
Of course, as far as the baying mob are concerned, it’s time to talk about one special player: Sexton. Perhaps talk of ghosts is fitting, because the fly-half was talked to death without actually being there. Yakka yakka yakka.
It is true that it would be a real coup for Leinster, if Sexton opted to return to Ireland. According to Leinster head coach Matt O’Connor, a return would be “a great statement about the league, a great statement about Irish rugby and it (would) speak volumes about Leinster in particular, in that he wants to be a part of that environment.
“If that happens, fingers crossed, it’s a huge statement.”
No doubt Sexton brings a specific style with him. With Jimmy Gopperth’s contract conveniently set to run out in summer 2015, there could be a nice round return to how things were before Sexton left. However, as repetitive as the questions were at the launch, Leinster’s coaches will perhaps be pleased few questions were asked about Ian Madigan’s role this season, with Gopperth starting big contests last season but Madigan exciting in small doses at centre. Will it be more of the same this season?
There is plenty of other playing matters to cover, too, but this close to the big kick-off, maybe it’s best to ignore the same questions over and over again, hide from the politics and keep selection matters close to chests.
We’ll all see the proof soon enough, once the contact comes in and balls are spilt rather than launch-day pints.