British & Irish Lions

EXCLUSIVE: Former Irish flank Alan Quinlan chats to Sport24

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Alan Quinlan. (Photo by David Davies - PA Images via Getty Images)
Alan Quinlan. (Photo by David Davies - PA Images via Getty Images)
  • The ex-Ireland flank, who featured in 27 Tests from 1999 to 2008, talks about the regret of missing the British & Irish Lions tour in 2009 and battling back from anxiety and depression.
  • The former Munster backrower offers his views on the hour-long video which has seen Rassie Erasmus sanctioned by World Rugby and what punishment he feels may fit the crime.
  • He also addresses the injuries the Springboks have suffered after a highly-physical second Test match and why he thinks one of the smallest men on the field could be the biggest loss.

Sport24 asked: Your assessment of the Test series thus far?

Alan Quinlan: The series has been disappointing in terms of the type of rugby we have seen. From a spectacle and purist’s point of view, the rugby hasn’t lived up to expectation. The fans watching wouldn’t be enamoured by the type of game which both sides are playing. I believe the British & Irish Lions have made a few mistakes in trying to keep things simple, aiming to win the aerial battle and taking the Springboks on at their power game. It’s a dangerous thing to do against the Springboks because their basics - scrums, lineouts, defence and kicking game - are really good. Hindsight is a perfect science, but those tactics backfired for the tourists in the second Test. By now, I really believed the Lions would have come up with something we hadn’t seen in the warm-up games, but as yet they haven’t shown us anything. To prosper, the Lions need to come up with something different at set-piece. They need to introduce strike plays where they get some width in their game and then try get into multi-phase, so they can create space and potential miss-matches.

Sport24 asked: Have you been impressed by the Springboks?

Alan Quinlan: I have been amazed South Africa have been able to come out and play such highly-competitive games given the amount of Covid-19 cases they have had and their lack of preparation. It just goes to show how good the Springboks have become and how many great players and leaders they have in their team. On a coaching front, the job Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus have done with the Springboks has been amazing. The Springboks really impressed me in second half of the second Test. They used their bench really well and, with aggression and energy, they blew the British & Irish Lions away and were utterly dominant in levelling the three-match series. The Boks don’t have huge size dominance over the Lions - contrary to the popular myth - and their success is more down to cohesion and their playing DNA. It’s underpinned by their direct playing style and the way they love to be aggressive and physical which is probably the most important part of their game. The Springboks head into the third Test with the momentum, but I wouldn’t write off the Lions. They will bring huge desire and determination, but must improve their discipline to stay in the reckoning.

Sport24 asked: Your take on the ‘leaked’ Rassie Erasmus video?

Alan Quinlan: I think Warren Gatland definitely got into Rassie’s head and drove him towards it. A number of people have been critical of the video and have argued it puts extra pressure on officials – referees and TMOs. But at the end of the day, coaches get fired when they lose matches and sometimes it’s down to poor decisions. I know you can’t have a situation where every coach/director of rugby is taking to social media and airing their frustrations post-match because then we would have carnage. However, there needs to be greater accountability in rugby particularly at the top level. Owing to the uniqueness of this Lions series, I feel that feedback from Joel Jutge should have been given to Rassie and South Africa before the Tuesday. It’s fine to defend referees because they are human and make mistakes, but sometimes we need that acknowledgment from the governing body. In terms of sanction, time will tell. Rassie knew that he overstepped the mark by not going through the appropriate channels. He was aware it would cause a problem and wanted to highlight this, as someone who is emotive and wears his heart on his sleeve. From watching Chasing the Sun, I saw all the emotion and passion he has. Rassie knows he’s in a bit of trouble here because he has broken protocol, but World Rugby will wait until after the series before advising what the punishment will be. He’s probably going to get a fine and I’m sure someone with deep pockets in South Africa will be happy to pay it for him. Perhaps the Sharks’ majority shareholder will sort it out!

Sport24 asked: Can you tell us more about Gatland’s mind games?

Alan Quinlan: Warren, who coached me at the start of my Ireland career, is brilliant at launching those grenades very subtly. When Wales played Ireland quite some time back he famously said that the Welsh don’t like the Irish. It was crazy because we have always had a great relationship, but it sowed the seed. Warren has always been renowned for subtle little comments in press conferences which just take off. Effectively he started this situation (with World Rugby) and Rassie shot right back with both barrels loaded. Gatland is saying, “Look, we didn’t criticise anybody.” But I have absolutely no doubt he knew what he was doing. He put pressure on TMO Marius Jonker ahead of the first Test and the latter was probably nervous to intervene. We wouldn’t have seen Rassie’s video if some of those calls were made in South Africa’s favour. It’s a pity it has become a big sideshow but, on the flipside, it’s been incredibly entertaining and has added to the excitement and tension of the series.

Sport24 asked: Should Kyle Sinckler have been cleared of biting?

Alan Quinlan: I watched the Sinckler incident back as many times as I could and it’s not clear that he bit an opponent. I wonder why the citing commissioner cited him - what evidence did he have that we haven’t seen publicly? I thought the Maro Itoje one where he had his knee down on Damian de Allende definitely deserved to be a citing… I don’t think those off-the-ball incidents have soured the series because there is always going to be niggle. Neither side wants to take a backward step, but hopefully we aren’t talking about a sending-off on Saturday. There is potential for it because this could fire right up as there’s a lot at stake. A red card would ruin the game and I hope 30 players stay on the field, go toe to toe and have a brilliant Test match. Mathieu Raynal is the referee for the third Test at Cape Town Stadium and he doesn’t have much patience. It’s a physical game and both teams will have to careful because there’s always risk in the game for a high shoulder shot. To be fair, it’s a hard job for the referees and I don’t think Nic Berry went out in the first Test to disrespect South Africa. However, Berry and his officials got big decisions wrong. Hopefully that isn’t so on Saturday.

Sport24 asked: Your view on the backrow battle in the decider?

Alan Quinlan: The Boks have had to reshuffle the composition of their backrow with the injury to Pieter-Steph du Toit, who is a wonderful player. I really thought the Boks struggled in the lineout without him as they were down to two jumpers. When they brought on Lood de Jager it made a huge difference. Franco Mostert replaces Du Toit on the flank. I’m a massive fan of Mostert – his work-rate is just through the roof. He’s not the biggest, most physical player in the world, but he punches above his weight. Rassie and Jacques have identified the lineout as an issue and they know that they have to have the option (of an extra jumper) right from the start of the game. It’s crucial that South Africa win their own set-piece because they come up against a settled Lions loose trio. Courtney Lawes has been good and Jack Conan has been a surprise package this year in terms of his consistency… Usually the most influential players in a rugby game are your backrowers because they have the ability to win or lose the game for you with their carries, tackles and turn-overs. The Lions really need that backrow to have a stronger impact for the full 80 minutes. They are the ones who can turn the tide with some big turn-overs which is something Tom Curry hasn’t been able to get yet.

Sport24 asked: Is the loss of Faf de Klerk a blow for the Boks?

Alan Quinlan: There was already no Duane Vermeulen there and now with the injuries to Du Toit and De Klerk, the Boks are going down the pecking order in terms of their selections. For me, the biggest loss is De Klerk. I think Faf is a wonderful player and his all-round game is just incredible. He is full of verve and offers the Springboks so much energy and control whenever he takes to the field. Cobus Reinach is a good player, but he’s just not as influential. You take world-class players in De Klerk and Du Toit out of any team and it’s a loss, and even so for South Africa with strength in depth.

Sport24 asked: Was missing the 2009 Lions tour a big regret?

Alan Quinlan: It was easily my biggest regret because it would have been a career highlight. Coming towards the end of my career and getting picked for the Lions tour to South Africa was incredible and then for it to all unravel through my own actions was devastating. (Quinlan copped a 12-week ban for making contact with the eye area of Leinster’s Leo Cullen). The suspension was incredibly difficult to take because it would have been the pinnacle to be a British & Irish Lion. That incident put me in a really negative place on the back of other mental health issues ingrained in me around anxiety and depression.  However, it allowed me to rebuild myself and I have since turned a negative into a positive by becoming a mental health care ambassador and a partner of Cycle against Suicide.

Previous chats:

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Paul Wallace

BJ Botha

Bruce Fordyce

Eddie Andrews

Raymond Rhule

Robert Hunt

Dean Hall

Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg

Jasper Wiese

William Small-Smith

Matthew Booth

Boebie Solomons

Chris van Zyl

Wim Visser

Morgan Newman

Dewald Potgieter
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