Athletes the world over know what it is now to train without an end goal. Covid and lockdowns took away the certainties of games, meets and races and replaced them with endless days in sheds, living rooms and back gardens.
Some are still grappling with fluid or yet-to-be-formed finishing lines.
Ireland’s four provinces continue their Rainbow Cup duties tomorrow evening with rounds four to six finally confirmed further down the line by the tournament organisers but with still no word as to whether a final, down for June 19, will involve a meeting with a South African franchise.
It’s an odd and unsatisfactory state of affairs for players and supporters and, while some on show have Ireland and Lions ambitions to further prior to the summer’s international window, there is little else over which to get excited.
What else can teams do but plough on as best they can?
“Our mindset is simple,” said assistant Leinster coach Felipe Contepomi. “We want to improve every game and win every game, that’s our mindset. We don’t even know how it’s going to be defined, the tournament, we don’t know how it will end up.
“The only thing we can concentrate on now is Ulster on Friday and just improving what we have to improve on last weekend and know that we are going against a very tough team, that we know each other very well because we are playing for the fourth time since August.
“That’s what we achieve: improvement, improvement, improvement, every single day.”
For Leinster and Ulster, the Rainbow Cup must appear to be a particularly tough sell given their respective disappointments in recent European semi-finals but the former did at least respond last week with a shellacking of Connacht in Galway.
“Yeah, I think so,” said back row Josh Murphy. “It’s great the week after a loss like that to have something to focus your energies on. So it was nice to get a win down in Galway, absolutely, after the defeat the weekend before.”
Murphy didn’t travel to La Rochelle for that Heineken Champions Cup reversal so he was spared the need to quarantine in a Stillorgan hotel for over a week afterwards. Then again, solitude would hardly have been a problem for him given his studies at the time.
Eight years doing medicine in UCD finally came to an end last week with the last of his exams. He’ll concentrate on the rugby with Leinster for the foreseeable, happy and relieved to put the books to one side and fill his spare hours in other ways.
“Definitely. I suppose, just because for the last few months I was studying for my final exams and I didn’t really know what to do with myself on my first day off, I might have to start learning Spanish or something.”
There’s no expectation that his rugby will suddenly find a new gear. After all, Murphy played pretty well in a European game against Northampton last December, just days after sitting other exams, and it’s not like he’ll park on the couch all day now by way of relaxation.
He’s a handy type to have around. Standing at 6’ 6”, he has featured at blindside and at No.8 for Leinster, and with a couple of starts in the second row — both against Ulster, funnily enough —thrown in there just for good measure.
There is a physicality to him that looks all the more significant given the nature of the loss to La Rochelle and, as he referenced himself, the defeat to Munster in the opening round of the Rainbow Cup at the RDS.
He’s 26 now and among a number of players capable of slotting into that trio at the rear of the pack and dominating against all but the very best of opponents. So, which is harder then: earning a spot in that back row or a degree in medicine?
“The Leinster back row at the moment, I think. Is that a loaded question? It’s hugely competitive in the Leinster back row. I suppose, if you come last in the class in medicine, they still call you a doctor.”