Uggs in the press box

By Kate Rowan

Obviously, I watch too much Sky Sports News. I had not realised this until I entered the Leinster Rugby media room in the RDS last April before a Magners League clash against the Ospreys. I had been lucky enough to gain media accreditation representing Trinity News. I had pictured there would be lots of uber-glam Georgie Thompson-style ladies and also men in tight-fitting, shiny suits. I learned that this was the world of broadcast journalism, whereas print sports journalists are a completely different breed.

I had, in my naivety, turned up with a rather cumbersome diamanté-adorned Juicy Couture handbag, sporting Ugg boots and a lot of pink. All the other journalists were male and were rather understated in their dress, so I was inclined to feel like a fish out of water. I really was there to look at the line-outs, rucks, scrums, tries and conversions but I had a distinct feeling from the odd glances I garnered from my counterparts that they may have thought I was more interested in having a bit of a girly giggle at some of the hunky players.

I was a bit intimidated by the journos and all their talk of complicated travel arrangements to the Heineken Cup semi-finals. The highlight of that game for me was an amazing run by Isa Nacewa to ultimately score a try. Leinster won that game 20 points to 16. Unfortunately the result was reversed in the Magners League Grand Final in the same venue just over a month later.

It was back in May that the head coach, Michael Cheika, bid farewell to the D4tress upon his move to Stade Français. He deserves some credit for adding a bit of fashion flair at my first press conference: he was sporting a most flamboyant ruffled scarf. He exuded charisma and I was very impressed with the ease with which he answered questions as he sat perched on the edge of a table.

My next journey to the press box was for Leinster’s first home game of this season against the Cardiff Blues who turned up on the evening in a very fetching shade of pink. I had been wondering how Cheika’s successor, Joe Schmidt, a former school head-master, would compare, after the Australian transformed Leinster’s underachieving but talented team with a “ladyboys” image into Heineken Cup champions.

The Kiwi certainly orchestrated a most entertaining game despite a few hairy moments. Most who were present in the RDS would have been a bit worried after giving away a lead and losing to Glasgow at Firhill the previous week. The Cardiff Blues game was tough-fought with Leinster winning by 34 points to 23.

As well as being a thrilling spectacle with action moving quickly between each end of the pitch, it was a great opportunity to witness the cohesion between Leinster’s more established names and their young blood. During the warm up, first-choice out-half Jonathan Sexton tore a groin muscle (sadly the banner “Sexton’s On Fire!” seemed a little incongruous) and it fell to 21-year-old Ian Madigan to fill his boots. It could have been seen as a blessing in disguise as Madigan seemed to relish the challenge and scored the game’s final try, securing a precious bonus point for Leinster.

In the post-match press conference Schmidt’s presence was full of twinkly-eyed charisma. He explained he felt “very nervy” at hearing the news of Sexton’s injury but “Madigan was not a bit nervous, he was just dying to get out there!” He praised some of the more senior players such as Nacewa who “had really supported the young guys”.

It seems that Schmidt, who built his reputation managing the New Zealand schools team for four years, is taking his experience of nurturing youthful talent and is bringing it with zeal to Leinster. Since those days he has been an assistant coach under fellow countryman Vern Cotter, first at Bay of Plenty and then in Clermont.

A few questions were fielded at him about the transition from being a number two but he batted this off with a laugh. “I do feel like the guillotine is going to fall on me but it was always the same at Clermont, it doesn’t matter for me whether you are the number one or two, you live and die for the rugby.”

As Schmidt was energetically exiting I made the mistake of ambling along too slowly and as result blocked his way and out of sheer clumsiness almost elbowed him. I nearly jumped out of my skin with mortification gushing “Oh, God, I’m so sorry!” The Kiwi remained calm smiling “It was all my fault!” A gentleman to top it all off – I am impressed!

The seasoned journos started to crowd around again and in walked the night’s captain and the first try’s scorer, 29-year-old flanker Shane Jennings. The Rathfarnham native had a softspoken intensity about him and was also happy to praise the young talent. He seemed relieved with the result: “I don’t care if we only win by one point, we got off to a disappointing start to the season and we needed a win”. He was self-effacing when asked about his try, laughing, “God, I hadn’t scored in donkeys’, it was like I couldn’t catch a cold and then I just missed a second one tonight!”

I must confess I once again lost my rugby correspondent hat when I suddenly smelt a most fragrant yet spicy aroma in the media room and I thought, “Ooh, that’s lovely aftershave, I wonder what it is? Is it Shane Jennings’ or one of the journalists’?” Sometimes no matter how hard I try to keep thinking in technical terms about sport I can’t get away from being a girl!