19 May, 11:13
There are six uncapped players in the Ireland squad for the summer tour to North America that was named this morning. An Emerging Ireland squad has also been selected for the Tblisi Cup in Georgia.
A farewell, too, to the 'Well's season of unmitigated frustration. They hoped for a happier ending to their own rugby script, one peppered with bad calls, bad luck and bad injuries. At least they did contribute to a fantastic all-flowing game of fantasy rugby contributing four tries. Credit too, to Murray Kidd for letting them express themselves. A 'Well favourite spoke afterwards. Enter Declan Coppinger. "After we put the Dolphin game behind us, we didn't want to go out today and roll over and die. We wanted to give them some kind of game. I think we did that. We brought five new players who wouldn't be regulars along today. And all gave a good account of themselves but their fitness was unbelievable." And your synopsis of the season, Declan? " We know how close we are to being a good team. We lost five games by three points or less. We are actually fifteen minutes away for the top four because we lost those games in the last five minutes. We can build on this for next year but we'll have to strengthen our squad as we are one of the smallest clubs in the AIB league. New blood is vital because injuries affected us at the wrong times this season too."
And how Sunday's Well would like to be in Belafast's boots as the Northerners zoom into the upper echelons of Irish club rugby. A strange day for outhalf AJ Derwin's. His capacity to kick was made redundant on a day when we witnessed a side at the height of their attacking powers, ball constantly in hand. And all without Ulster's Neil Doak, Glen Boyd and Simon Best. Whether Harlequins will continue in this rich vein of form going into the second division play-offs is a moot point, but next year they'll most definitely be back amidst northern brethren Ballymena and Dungannon, and according to coach Andre Bester, aiming for a top four finish. And besides some flaws in their forward play, the champagne rugby, thankfully, won't stop either. "Our approach will be exactly the same when we go into the first division next season. It has always been our approach to keep the ball in hand. We came down here and said we won't kick the ball once. But it's also difficult for us this time of the season because really the edge is off the season, promotion was garnered weeks ago. We came down and gave four or five young players the opportunity today and they all reacted very well. I don't think you enjoy rugby when you kick the ball away all the time. We don't think the spectators enjoy it. It pleases me that people enjoy our rugby." Always striving for perfection, the scores conceded annoyed the genial Bester. "I tell you what, I'm a perfectionist. It worries me more the four tries we gave away than the attacking play. We are better than that today. The way you saw us for the first eleven minutes that's the way we play. Some of the scuffles out there upset our rhythm, we got involved and that upset our rhythm. It cost us eighty/ninety points today."
Bester's influences in life have been many. But the person who persuaded him to come to Ireland, and Ballymena for three seasons, was none other than Willie John MacBride. Ireland's green giant of rugby folklore is still held in high regard in South Africa, and as a kid growing up in Bloomfontein, MacBride's name was synonymous with the Lions' tours, particularly the one of South Africa in 1974. And McBride on hearing that Bester, a former Springbok 'A' player, was coaching Italian first division side Rovigo, got on the blower and brought him to these shores. Bester is ever thankful to MacBride for his interest in him as a coach. "I was very small when the Lions were out there. I played a lot of ghost rugby against MacBride on the front lawn. The Lions always beat us by thirty points in test matches and I'd be crying, but to counter my disappointment I would put ninety past them in the front garden. "Willie John has given me some good advice in my life like having to build a career as a coach and I love my job at present. He gave me advice on management and the path I should take, and one is not to go too big too quickly." And certainly Bester is making all the right moves. But, as a holder of a Management Consultancy degree coupled with a growing coaching CV, Bester, having left Ballymena, came to Harlequins and helped redesign the future for the club. His business acumen has begun to turn around their fortunes. The myth has to be shattered about this club too. Granted he went out and got five new players, ten left from last years squad. They were relegated last season having lost nearly all their games. "It was very hard work after last years relegation," admits Bester. We had to restructure the club. We have to get in to a position where we can challenge. It's a big club and we've spent #4.5 million on our facilities 300,000 on our pitches, #108,000 on our flood lighting, and we've got major sponsors in involved. "But the success doesn't stop with our first team. Our seconds and U20s have also qualified for major playoff competitions, but for next year we'll have to step up twenty percent in our performance. We play good rugby, average six tries a game and that is what people want to see and we need supporters to make this a viable business."