Rugby

Gordon D'Arcy Rubbishes 'GAA Creates Good Rugby Players' Theory

Gordon D'Arcy Rubbishes 'GAA Creates Good Rugby Players' Theory

The Gordon D'Arcy column in the 'Irish Times' was particularly fascinating reading this week.

D'Arcy's piece was on the subject of the 'manipulation of space', with particular focus on the brilliance of Ulster and New Zealand wing Charles Piutau.

Piutau (as well as Ruan Pienaar) was absolutely sensational in Ulster's away win over Glasgow at the weekend and, as D'Arcy points out, he made Stuart Hogg look quite foolish at times.

Often what is highlighted when discussing the ability of certain Irish sportspeople - particularly rugby players - is the multi-sport culture most of them were raised in. Paul O'Connell, for example, was an international standard underage swimmer and a talented golfer as a youth before devoting himself more fully to rugby. And, when Shane Horgan scored that famous try in Croke Park in 2007, much reference was made to the fielding ability of Horgan demonstrated in the home of Gaelic games.

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But if high fielding is something rugby players might have inherited from other sports that is of use in the oval ball game, it's one of few such things, according to D'Arcy, who writes that Piutau is probably an example of the benefits of a one-sport culture:

Pienaar probably played some cricket in South Africa but himself and Piutau were so obviously reared with a rugby ball stuffed under their arm.

I’ve seen Kilkenny teenagers with that same head-swivelling, awareness of space to compliment their skill-set. Hurlers with thousands of hours pucking sliotars back and forth or against a wall on their own.

We don’t have the same volume of rugby players to produce Richie Hogans and TJ Reids. A Luke Fitzgerald comes along every now and again. The Byrne twins. Joey Carbery.

I’ve moved away from the theory that mixing up lots of sport growing up in Ireland is a benefit when it comes to being a professional rugby player. Gaelic games are not really transferable. What are the specific benefits? Catching ball overhead is about it.

Name me the Gaelic footballers who became rugby players? Rob Kearney and Tommy Bowe, not really. Nor was Robbie Henshaw. All good footballers, sure, but those lads were more rugby players who played GAA.

D'Arcy opines that it "takes years" to transfer expertise from one sport to another, mentioning Tomas O'Leary of Munster who once captained Cork to a minor All-Ireland hurling title. And D'Arcy says that instead of helping his own rugby, hurling hindered it, and "took many, many hours away from it" whereas "six years of boarding school helped my rugby":

Maybe the multi-sports approach or denying natural talent a creative role, with the primary focus being to win above all else, is stunting the growth of Irish rugby.

Then again some things can’t be coached. Hogg will have nightmares about Piutau.

SEE ALSO: New Zealanders Really Are Not Happy About Losing Charles Piutau To Ulster

Conall Cahill

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