The structure of the college rugby season can seem strange to the uninitiated. It has the kind of schedule where one cancelled game can leave you twiddling your thumbs for weeks and painfully short of match practice. This was the case for the DCU first team when they played their ‘opening’ game against AIT. Their actual opening game was a walkover victory against UUJ.
Their lack of games no doubt played a part in the 53-5 loss against the already battle hardened AIT. The tie was Phil de Barra’s initiation into college rugby, and DCU’s coach felt that, despite the lopsided result and lack of games, there are still positives to be taken from the opening outing.
“Athlone were even better than I thought they would be. They had played a few more games so they were a little further down the line than we were, but there’s no panic. We lost one game to a very strong team, but if we win the rest of our group games, we go through. The team’s attitude after the game was good, nobody’s head plummeted,” said de Barra.
DCU have so far had one walkover, one game and one bye, which means that the first team will have played the sum total of one game during the first semester. The coach hopes that the extra break can be used by players to recuperate from injury and that by picking the squad well in advance of the next game, he can maximise player availability.
“We were missing about one third of our regular players for the opening game so I would be hopeful that the team could improve a lot when they return. It’s important to pick our squad for the games early so people can plan around college, work and club commitments to be available.”
When a team is behind to the extent that DCU were against AIT, a coach’s plan can to a certain extent, go out the window. But de Barra was happy with his side’s attitude in the second half and sees positives that they can build on going forward.
“When you’re behind, as a coach you might feel a bit powerless in terms of getting a win, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t take other things from the game. You can change people’s positions to see how they perform. Our attitude was much better in the second half and we had a good bit of the ball. It was a good exposure for me in terms of knowing the areas where we need to improve.”
One positive to take from the opening defeat, is that AIT is the strongest outfit in DCU’s group. So, while possession and chances were at a premium in the opening game, DCU will likely get more opportunities to showcase the patterns and moves worked on in training in future fixtures. A key focus for de Barra is getting the team to play an expansive style of rugby that is fun and exciting for both players and coaches, and he maintains that silverware is still a realistic goal.
“We want to play a bit more ball in hand so it’s important to give the guys confidence to spread it around. We’ve been a bit too flat at times so we are working on keeping our depth. I’m still very positive. My exposure with the players is that we have enough talent to go all the way in the competition.”