The 2010/2011 rugby season is over (except in France). The champions of the various leagues and cups have been confirmed and an exciting season has been enjoyed by all. In the Aviva Premiership, Saracens became the new Champions of England. In the Magners League, Munster were crowned Champions and in the Heineken Cup, Leinster joined an elite group of clubs who have won the prestigious trophy more than once.
Another big winner from the season just gone is the Irish provincial side, Connacht. A huge congratulations to the Galway team for qualifying for their first Heineken Cup next season. Connacht have endured some tough times and it is fantastic to see them qualify for European rugby’s biggest competition. Coach Eric Elwood is a former Connacht and Irish player with 168 caps for his province and 35 for his country. Elwood seems to have made the transition from player to coach with relative ease and I wish him and his team all the very best of luck for next season.
It seems somewhat silly to think that the season is over. Tomorrow see Wales take on the Barbarians in Cardiff. Much has been made of the recall of Wales centre Gavin Henson. Henson’s off field antics have been well documented and much criticism has been aimed at Wales coach, Warren Gatland for selecting the former Toulon, Saracens and Ospreys player. One hopes Henson will move on from here and focus on his rugby. He is such a talented player and very exciting to watch. All eyes will be on him tomorrow. Tomorrow also sees the kick off of this year’s Churchill Cup, taking place in England. This years competition provides all the players with another chance to make it into their respective country’s world cup squads. This factor alone should ensure the games are very competitive.
Back to the supposed “off season”. Most players are on their holidays now. These holidays are usually for four weeks, ending at the start of July. Although the players are meant to take a holiday and get some much needed rest, the month of June can often be the busiest period in a players annual calendar. Unlike most professions, sports people have a compulsory holiday period. They cannot request their holidays in the middle of the season and bank holidays are non existent. So, the off season sees the players cram in things like holidays, surgery, relocating to a new club as well as weddings!
Players moving to new clubs would usually spend considerable time finding a suitable new area to live in. They must ensure that they are happy with their new unfamiliar surroundings, as well as making sure that they are happy with all the amenities, including schools for their children and hospitals in case of emergency and so forth. A rugby players partner may need to search for work in their new home town. All of which can be very stressful. Not much of a break!
2011 is a World Cup year. This can put extra strains on players to ensure that they are fully fit and ready should they be included in their country’s world cup squad. Injuries are a player’s worst nightmare and if there are any surgical procedures that a player has been holding off from during the season, now is the time they go under the knife. Two Irish players who will both be hoping for a spot in Irish coach, Declan Kidney’s world cup squad underwent surgery over the past few days. Leinster’s Shane Jennings broke his arm against Munster in the Magners League Grand Final last Saturday. Jennings had a plate inserted into his arm to aid the healing of the broken bone. One wishes him a very speedy recovery as he is sure to be included in Kidney’s plans for New Zealand, later this year. Jennings has had another fantastic season. His introduction at half time in the Heineken Cup final marked a very significant change in Leinster’s fortunes. Jennings played a huge role in overturning a 16 point deficit as his team went on to lift their second European title. Although competition for Ireland’s backrow is ultra competitive, one would think that Jennings’ performances certainly warrant a seat on the plane to New Zealand.
Another Irish player who underwent surgery very recently is Ulster’s Ian Humphreys. The Belfast man performed magnificently for his home province this season. The 2010/2011 season saw Ulster reach the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup this year for the first time since they won the competition back in 1999. They also made it to the semi finals of the Magners League but lost to Leinster. Humphreys had a very influential role in Ulster’s fortunes this season. The highly talented out half kept his exciting, young back line on the front foot for most of the season. Allied to this, he possess great skill and an exquisite left boot which has proved to be highly effective in tactical and place kicking. Surely Humphreys is next in line to challenge Sexton and O’Gara for Ireland’s number 10 jersey. If he is, he will have to wait until he recovers from his SLAP tear surgery. SLAP tear is a shoulder injury and it stands for Superior Labrum from Anterior to Posterior. The procedure involves securing the torn labrum (shoulder cartilage) back down to the shoulder socket. Usual recovery time for this injury is about 3-4 months. Humphreys will be solely focused on his recovery and one thinks we will see him back well before then.
The short off season also sees many players tie the knot with their partners. Girlfriends and wives of professional rugby players endure a huge amount throughout the season. They experience the ups and downs of their rugby playing partners’ fortunes. They usually have to display patience and understanding as well as making sacrifices. Leinster’s captain, Leo Cullen weds his fiancèe, Darina Kennedy in Wexford tomorrow and Connacht’s Frank Murphy ties the knot with fiancèe, Nicola Slyne in Crosshaven, Co. Cork. This off season doubles up as a honeymoon and a recovery period for both Leo and Frank. I would like to take this opportunity to wish both couples a very happy day as well as a lifetime of happiness together.
Many players have other types of commitments in their off season. Jamie Heaslip is presently in Kolata, India. Heaslip is helping communities in this impoverished region through his work with Irish charity Goal. A very commendable and selfless act during a player’s much coveted off season.
While some players are enjoying their holidays somewhere nice, others are putting their finishing touches to their DJ sets at this year’s Oxegen music festival!
Not much of an off season, is it?…..