Three positive Covid cases in addition to being the bulk suppliers for Ireland’s autumn series and thus carrying the biggest injury load from that campaign might unhinge some organisations, but such is Leinster’s sureness in what they are doing and strength in depth that it’s unlikely they even batted an eyelid.
Nothing much seems to ruffle the phlegmatic Leo Cullen any way and he readily conceded, without needing to mention them by name, that Leinster’s problems were relatively minor compared to Munster, Cardiff and the Scarlets.
“The disruption has been reasonably minimal. The main thing is from the players’ point of view that they’re okay and we’re getting taken care of. We’re so lucky with the medical set-up we have here. To have the access that we have is pretty phenomenal really so we’re very, very lucky with the three doctors that we have.
“In many of the different aspects of the organisation we feel very, very fortunate and appreciative of the care that we have.”
Of course, the onset of another Champions Cup campaign concentrates their minds like nothing else and, on balance, they are still able to field a side every bit as strong, if not more so, than the one which put Connacht to the sword a week ago.
The Irish starting frontrow in all three November wins – Andrew Porter, Rónan Kelleher and Tadhg Furlong – are restored, as is Ross Molony. Jamison Gibson-Park and Ross Byrne also return at halfback while Ciarán Frawley comes in at inside centre.
The four-game sprint to the pool stage finishing line makes a fast start more imperative, especially if a team’s first game is at home.
“It’s pretty essential, isn’t it?” agreed Cullen. “We’ve lost first-round games in the past and progressed, but it makes life a hell of a lot more challenging deeper in the tournament, if you want to go deeper in the tournament.”
Bath have travelled without much confidence and without either Danny Cipriani, forced off a week ago, or Sam Underhill. Stuart Hooper, Bath’s director of rugby, has made four changes from the side beaten 40-19 by Northampton last week, and gives European debuts to six of his starting side, and potentially another five off the bench.
“It’s definitely an exciting opportunity,” admitted Hooper. “This is a group of young men who are experiencing tough things at the moment, but they are still ambitious and still excited to go and play in one of the best arenas against one of the best teams.”
It’s hard to credit that six seasons ago, Cullen’s first at the helm, Leinster’s only win in the pool stages was at home to Bath when he gave European debuts to Furlong, Molony, Peter Dooley, James Tracy, Luke McGrath and Garry Ringrose.
“They are all still knocking around. Some of them have gone on to do some pretty fantastic things since.”
That also makes him wary of a Bath side who will like the change of tournament and can swing from the hip.
“Again, Bath as an opposition have loads of good young players and they are a potential threat. You look at them in their league position, yeah they have lost all their games, so it’s making sure we understand that we have to get certain bits right ourselves, impose our game and see how Bath deal with that.”
Yet although it wasn’t so long ago when Bruce Craig was the most high-profile of the club owners in England and Mike Ford was in his pomp, Bath, it would appear, have been a club in decline for a few years now. They haven’t reached the knock-out stages of this tournament since losing here a little unluckily in the quarter-finals seven seasons ago and they only qualified through squeezing into eighth place in last season’s Premiership.
Bath have already been cast adrift domestically and in losing all nine of their Premiership games so far this season they have conceded 38 tries.
They lost 40-19 to Northampton last week and the regularity with which they were skinned on the outside was extraordinary. Given Leinster’s proficiency for reaching those edges, the confines of the Aviva Stadium could prove very much to their liking.
LEINSTER: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Ciarán Frawley, James Lowe; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Rónan Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong; Ross Molony, Ryan Baird; Rhys Ruddock (capt), Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.
Replacements: Dan Sheehan, Cian Healy, Michael Ala’alatoa, Devin Toner, Max Deegan, Luke McGrath, Jimmy O’Brien, Tommy O’Brien.
BATH: Tom de Glanville; Semesa Rokoduguni, Will Butt, Max Ojomoh, Will Muir; Orlando Bailey, Ben Spencer; Lewis Boyce, Jacques du Toit, Will Stuart; Josh McNally, Charlie Ewels (capt); Tom Ellis, Richard DeCarpentier, Josh Bayliss.
Replacements: Tom Dunn, Arthur Cordwell, D’Arcy Rae, Will Spencer, Joe Simpson, Gabe Hamer-Webb, Tom Prydie.
Referee: Pierre Brousset (France).
Overall head to head: Played 11, Leinster 9 wins, Bath 2 wins.
Betting: 1-200 Leinster, 70-1 Draw, 35-1 Bath. Handicap odds (Bath + 31 pts) 10-11 Leinster, 22-1 Draw, 10-11 Bath.
Forecast: Leinster to win with a bonus point.
College Park to remain in full use for Trinity sports clubs
The board of Trinity College has agreed to pursue an alternative site for the building of a temporary exhibition pavilion during the renovation period of its Old Library, saving College Park from what several affected sports clubs said would have proven “hugely detrimental” to their training and competition needs.
Concerns had been raised over the timing and level of consultation with regard to College Park being named the preferred site last November, three of Trinity’s largest and oldest sporting clubs – athletics, football and cricket – already raising considerable objections over the proposal.
A Trinity communications press statement on Wednesday afternoon said that, subject to statutory constraints, “the Board of Trinity has today (Wednesday) approved a proposal to renovate the Printing House building, which would house the Book of Kells during the period of renovation, and also create a temporary exhibition in New Square, at the centre of campus”.
The alternative proposal of the Printing House, coupled with New Square, “follows consultation within the Trinity community”; Trinity students have four representatives on the 27-strong board, three from the Students’ Union (SU), and one from the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU), their president Gisèle Scanlon, and all four had already expressed their dissent at the College Park proposal.
“A process of careful consultation across College has led to today’s agreement on how to proceed with this plan,” said Trinity provost Linda Doyle. “I want to thank those involved for their engagement. We believe this choice of location offers the best possible solution for our staff, students and future visitors to College.”
Trinity’s bursar Eleanor Denny added: “We are extremely grateful to everyone in Trinity who helped us arrive at this crucial decision. This innovative plan allows us to preserve public access to the Book of Kells, one of Ireland’s foremost cultural attractions as well as restoring one of the oldest landmark buildings on campus, the Printing House.”
A Trinity email first sent to affected clubs in October said: “Based on early discussions Trinity has had with Dublin City Council, the location with the best opportunity to secure planning permission is College Park.”
A feasibility study outlining the scale of the project allowed for the continuation of some sport at College Park; however, according to the three clubs, this would have effectively rendered College Park useless as a competition and match facility, while also depriving the wider college community the sort of green space it increasingly craves.
The Old Library renovation is expected to take between three to five years, costing around €120 million, which meant it could have been 2028 before the space was restored. The temporary exhibition project is still subject to planning permission.
“We were very worried about this, for a very long time, and spent a lot of time lobbying against this,” said Scanlon, the GSU president also starting a petition to Save College Park. “All other options weren’t properly considered, and I think there should be lessons learnt on this. And whatever happens with the planning from this point, College Park should not be on the agenda, and should never have been on the agenda.”
Ray O’Malley, president of Dublin University Association Football Club (DUAFC), founded in 1883, also welcomed the outcome of Wednesday’s board meeting: “I think they [the board] misjudged the feelings towards College Park, from the general student base, and the clubs that use it,” he said. “Thankfully they appear to have belatedly realised that, and somewhere down the line the correct decision has been made, perhaps not following in the correct procedure.
“It’s our unique selling point, and the reason why we were fighting so hard for this. Even if it was only on a temporary basis, it’s too important for us. We all recognise the importance and value of the Book of Kells, but sport is a very importance part of college life too, and we’re extremely grateful for the role that people like Gisèle played in this, some of the club members, and that the powers that be accepted somewhere down the line that College Park simply wasn’t the right place for this proposal.”
Pandemic need for flexibility not reflected in draft laws
Draft laws on remote working mark an attempt by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar to formalise radical work practice changes that were suddenly introduced when Covid-19 struck two years ago.
Back then, the force of the pandemic was such that procedural and legal niceties were swept aside in the rush to protect public health and keep the economy turning. Many tricky questions were avoided at that time but they can be avoided no longer now that most restrictions have been lifted.
“We’ve worked through for two years basically turning a blind eye to the whole thing but that will stop,” said Richard Grogan, an employment law solicitor in Dublin.
“We’ve been working through an emergency which is slightly different. The emergency is now finishing.”
The new regime is supposed to open more choice for workers if they wish to work from home, giving them a right to seek such arrangements after six months. But in-built flexibilities for employers open scope for them to refuse permission to work remotely on 13 grounds.
Conflict appears inevitable. With key details still to be worked out, legal experts, employers and unions foresee many potential pitfalls and practical challenges when it comes to implementing the new arrangements in real time.
Many say the pandemic changed the world of work forever. A recent Central Statistics Office survey suggests that 80 per cent of workers worked remotely at some point since coronavirus struck, compared with 23 per cent before it. Two years later, with all signs suggesting the most acute phase of the health crisis has passed, these practices have bedded down to an extent that few might have expected at the outset.
Traffic and transport
Of those in employment who can work remotely, CSO data suggests 88 per cent want to continue after restrictions were removed: 28 per cent of them all the time; and 60 per cent some of the time. The proportion expressing that preference was highest at 93 per cent among respondents in counties Kildare, Louth, Meath and Wicklow in the Dublin commuter belt, where workers often encounter long traffic delays and overcrowded public transport.
If all of that points to high demand to avail of new laws, considerable hurdles remain to be overcome. To name but a few, these centre on domestic health and safety legislation, insurance issues, European data-protection law and on the Workplace Relations Commission’s new role in determining appeals to decisions against remote working.
“A lot of the issues that are going to go to the WRC where there isn’t agreement will relate to things like health and safety of a premises or [General Data Protection Regulation] compliance or whether somebody can actually do their work remotely. The [WRC] adjudication officers aren’t trained in any of those areas,” said Grogan.
“They are not there to look at a work station and say: ‘Does it comply with health and safety? Is it possible to put a work station into this bedroom safely?’ So that’s a huge issue.”
Asked whether the WRC had enough resources, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment said it would “work closely” with the institution to ensure it did. “Adjudication officers will receive appropriate information on the content of the legislation and the WRC was consulted on the heads of the Bill,” the department said.
Grogan suggested the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act might have to be “dumbed down” for remote work. “The only change you could bring in is if you’re working from home and you have an accident it’s your problem.”
He added that changes might also be required to the Civil Liability Act, which governs personal injuries. “There’s going to be a bit of nervousness overall about this,” he said, referring to employers.
But while the Government always has the option of amending Irish law, it can’t do anything on its own with European GDPR rules that impose stringent restrictions on how business uses sensitive personal data.
Neil McDonnell, chief executive of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises business representative group, pointed to potential difficulties with remote-working where staff deal with such data. These include companies in the area of external payroll support – dealing with gross and net pay and issues like payments under maintenance agreements – and human resources support.
“There’s a few business that have been able to function remotely but reluctantly and with a lot of concern around what they’re doing,” McDonnell said.
“They basically have the innards of the company sitting on laptops. You could have someone doing HR support on their laptop in the kitchen – a bullying complaint, a harassment complaint or something of a sexual nature – and you have people who are third parties with no involvement in the companies walking past looking at that stuff.”
Employers were also concerned about the potential for claims for personal injury while working at home, McDonnell added. “We’re waiting to see something coming to court, or the Personal Injuries Assessment Board or the Health and Safety Authority.”
The plan has also come in for criticism from Fórsa, the largest public sector union, which said the “business grounds” for refusing remote working were too broad.
The union said the inclusion of grounds such as “potential negative impact on quality”, “potential negative impact on performance” and “planned structural change” would create loopholes that could allow employers turn down requests for no objective or proven reason.
“Employers must not have the option of simply turning down requests on spurious or vague grounds. Instead, they must be required to demonstrate, in a concrete way, that remote or blended arrangements are unworkable before they can turn down a request,” said Kevin Callinan, Fórsa general secretary.
Further questions are certain to arise as the law works its way through the Dáil and Seanad. The pandemic was all about ad hoc moves. Permanent arrangements are another matter entirely.
What are the tweets that Doug Beattie has apologised for?
The Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie has apologised after he was criticised for using racist and misogynistic language in a number of tweets from approximately ten years ago.
In a lengthy interview on BBC Radio Ulster’s Stephen Nolan Show on Tuesday morning Mr Beattie was asked to respond to some of the tweets, which included tweets about women and members of the Travelling community.
Asked about the tweets about women, which included sexualised comments, he said “I will absolutely accept that my tweets were misogynistic … I am not a misogynist, they were misogynistic joke.”
He said he was “deeply sorry, and apologise to everybody, the whole of society, but certainly to women who may feel let down by myself.”
Asked about a tweet from 2011 which defined men as having two traits, “hungry and horny”, he said it was “not funny, it’s not right” and he would have to stand in front of the women in his party and explain it to them.”
He was also asked about a number of tweets which used a derogatory term for the Travelling community, including a tweet from 2011 in which he wrote “today is my last day in my old house and my first day in my new house. That’s 16 moves in 25 years and I’m not even a p****!”
Mr Beattie said: “It was wrong. It was attempted humour and I was attempting to use humour, in some cases I was disparaging about myself in using that humour, again if we are going back to that time then clearly I was using something that was wrong. I’ve moved on from that.”
In an answer to another tweet in 2013 about the use of the ‘n-word’ in the film Django Unchained, Mr Beattie responded that “In The Dambusters Richard Todd’s dog was called N*****. Certainly not designed as an insult.”
Mr Beattie said “what I was trying to do was enter a conversation, that conversation was that we used words in the past which would not be acceptable today and this is one of those words.”
Asked if he denied he was a racist, Mr Beattie said: “I’m not a racist, I’m simply not a racist in any shape or form.”
He was also asked about a tweet from 2012 in which he said “what’s needed is a few crazies sorting out mental health strategy. They’ll understand the problem without knowing they have one.”
“It’s bad, it’s awful,” he said. “I don’t know what was going through my head to write that in the manner that I was writing that … I think what I was trying to say is that those people who suffer from mental health issues are the people who are best placed to design the support they require and I wrote it in the worst way possible and there’s no excuse for that.”
Another tweet read out to Mr Beattie said: “I had a Gurkha company under my charge for three years. They drink lots, gamble all the time and like white hookers.”
Mr Beattie responded: It’s terrible, it’s terrible, and I can’t believe that I would put something like that out there, but I did. I don’t believe it is true.
“It’s horrendous … I did it and it was wrong to do it. It’s not a reflection of me then and it’s certainly not a reflection of me now.”
He said he had not witnessed Gurkhas using prostitutes and “it comes from a crass attempt at humour and it’s that dark humour which I seem to have used in that period ten years ago … it is extremely demeaning.”
Asked about a retweet of a Guardian article from 2012, to which he added the comment “English fans at #euro2012 upset British muslims by dressing as knights. Always the victim – its not always about you”, he said it was “in a different context.
“That particular tweet was about English fans dressing as Crusaders, and they’ve done that as a long, long time in the same way as others dress in other similar veins, whether they are as Vikings … and the point I was trying to make was they are not doing this to try and offend anybody this is just the way they dress in order to support their team.
“People shouldn’t look for outrage in regard to that. I have defended Islam, I have defended the Muslim faith … I will completely refute anybody who thinks I have an issue with Islam or about Muslims and that I am racist in that regard, it’s just simply not true.”
In response to a tweet from 2013 in regard to the situation in Syria in which he said “French resolve will crumble… I’m not anti-French but those garlic munching frogs can’t be trusted”, Mr Beattie said “my choice of language is just totally unacceptable in any shape or form.
“I’ll not be the first person to do or say something wrong … what’s important is you stand up and face your past and I’m standing up and facing what I did wrong in my past,” he said.
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