On Saturday evening members and supporters of an organisation known for their blue shirts and a fondness for Europe assembled at the Royal Dublin Society in Ballsbridge.
And not only were Leinster Rugby playing, there was also the Fine Gael Ard Fheis. Boom-boom.
Sorry for the political reference; I know it should never mix with sport but hey - if I’m going to have to put up with a crazy 8:30pm kickoff time just because the Taoiseach is making a speech, I should at least be able to get a joke out of it even if it isn’t very good one!
Not much to complain about here for the neutral - two teams in playoff contention trading the lead back and forth with the result in doubt right to the very end. And as a Leinster fan I’m certainly not complaining about Glasgow’s decision to take the three with a pen right in front with 5m left on the clock, but it’s still something I can’t wrap my head around and proved to be crucial in the result.
Maybe if I write down what the situation was at the time it will make more sense?
Glasgow were 6 points down having had the lead taken off them twice by the home side. They had already scored three tries on the night against the reigning champs, though Leinster’s first-up tackling had improved immensely in the final quarter and it was getting more and more difficult to get into our 22 as the match wore on.
I have to assume they wouldn’t be playing for a draw, so by kicking the 3 and little time left they must have felt they had the ability to score another try. So why not take advantage of that ability now and make our defence hold them out from 5 metres?
Then there’s the simple mathematics. When you’re down by 6 you stand to win one bonus point. When you’re down by 3 you still stand to win one bonus point. Even if they scored a try and it wasn’t converted leading to a 1pt defeat, it would have meant a second bonus point to bring home to Glasgow.
Nope, spelling it out doesn’t make it appear to give it any more sense. I’m not saying Glasgow would have definitely scored a try from inside our 22, but going for it would have at least tired out the home defence…instead we had a chance to have a breather and regroup and we STILL had a 3-point cushion. They got that badly wrong IMO.
Time to go back over the first 75 minutes and see how that lead was built. I predicted a low-scoring encounter but I fell victim to the old adage about lies & statistics. A super line from deep by Noel Reid got him all the way to the try-line after just 5 minutes capping off an excellent day for Clontarf RFC.
But we all knew it would take a lot more than that to put these Warriors down. Give them an inch and with their super-quick ball-handling they know how to finish; when Ruaridh Jackson spotted Jack McGrath was shaping to tackle he turned on the jets and blew by him putting in his centre Richie Vernon over to level the scores. Just 11m on the clock, two converted tries over already making a mockery out of my preview.
Leinster have a good habit at the RDS of waking up and getting a score soon after conceding and shortly afterwards it was 10-7, but then a missed Darragh Fanning tackle in midfield got the Warriors into our scramble defence again and though this time we stopped them at our 5m line they were relentless in their phases and once again it was Vernon crashing over to make it 10-12 as the conversion was missed.
Once more we nicked back the lead with a pen down the other end and then added another shortly afterwards but it was a needless punch in the ruck by flanker James Eddie that cost Glasgow the most in the first half - Zane Kirchner had just kicked out on the full and rather than have an attacking lineout they had to endure more pressure deep in their own half.
That pressure eventually led to Darragh Fanning going over in the corner thanks to some quick passing from his backline and although a late penalty reduced the lead back to 6, the margin was about right based on what had transpired.
The two sides traded handling errors early in the second half but I reckon we had our own case of bad decision making on 45m when Ian Madigan decided to take a high-risk grubber 22 drop out which only works if your side retrieves the ball…instead it was deflected back to his own side by winger Niko Matawalu who ironically got the put-down for the 3rd Glasgow try a few minutes later after some more intense pressure on the Leinster D.
Luckily for the home fans, we were able dig deep a third time though on this occasion we had to take the low road. Another good burst from Reid got us into the 22 and we won a pen where we backed ourselves with the lineout/maul option. Glasgow attacked it ferociously and managed somehow to hold us up over the line.
Then we were into a series of scrums and it was at this set-piece where I feel we managed to gain the edge. If anything it was a bit cheeky of us to be able to call on someone with the experience of Mike Ross from the bench at this time of the year and in this series of scrums he was too good for the Warriors’ sub loosehead Yanuyanutawa (I didn’t even have to research that spelling as I remember it from when his try beat us back in September).
Jordi Murphy showed another strong side to his game as he displayed more than once his ability to keep the ball at his feet at the back of a scrum driving forward, a rarely-appreciated number 8 skill these days I find. Though our third try from Ruddock didn’t come directly off one of those scrums, it was shortly after and with another Madigan conversion our six-point cushion was restored.
Full credit to the Warriors in that their heads never looked like dropping - though no doubt Gregor Townsend will point to some missed tackles much as Matt O’Connor will, the only real fault I can find with their performance was that late decision to take the three as I mentioned earlier. Without it the result could have been very different.
As it turned out Leinster were able to sort out their tackling issues and Ruddock forced a midfield turnover after the restart when it was 28-25 and the offence were able to bring home the victory old-school-Munster-style with a series of about 20 phases.
Man of the match was awarded to Darragh Fanning. I think he has done immensely well for us this season and definitely has a future at the RDS but I have to be a stickler and say I disagree with that decision. When your team’s biggest flaw on the night is missed tackles, someone who did one of the more noticeable ones shouldn’t get the accolade.
I thought our backrow was superb throughout - Murphy at the scrum, Ruddock with his carries, Jennings had a good 60m shift on the tackling side of things, and Dominic Ryan caused some mischief in his cameo.
Madigan lost points with me for that 22 but I though overall it was a good display from him…McFadden was relatively quiet but it was a rare outing at 13 and he made some good hits.
Zane Kirchner had a good role in the Fanning try but overall it wasn’t his best outing. We have all said how he was never going to replace Isa and that is true but I don’t think it’s too much to expect at least one man-of-the-match display from him before the season is out.
My top man from the night was Noel Reid. Scored a try, had a hand in another, forced a turnover or two. My tickets for the Leinster A v Munster A B&I Cup quarterfinal arrived during the week and I remember giving Reid an awful time of it when he played outhalf at the semifinal stage of that comp a couple of years ago. Since then he has progressed well and is definitely a solid option for us at 12.
Overall this definitely was a good advert for a league which has been much-maligned in recent times. The Pro12 table is building up to an interesting finish with five sides still chasing the four playoff spots, a race emerging for what could be a 6th spot with a Heineken Cup place attached, and down at the bottom, the Italian Euro spot may even be up for grabs in the final rounds as Zebre completed the season double over Cardiff to get closer to Treviso.
It was definitely a night of rugby that helped take our minds off the impending sad farewells at the Palindrome next Saturday, not to mention the political shenanigans going on at the other end of the RDS complex. Oh yeah, and Leinster are back on top of the table. Good results all round for me! JLP
Also this weekend