Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Leinster-40 Cardiff Blues-5

PERFECT START


There have been many weekends over the years where I have had both Leinster & Ireland matches to enjoy, but I'm not sure there have been many stretches where three or four of them have come in a row.

As much as I love going through the whole "Harpin process" of covering them, the priorities of life, the universe and everything will get in the way from time to time. Basically what I'm doing here is apologising for a lack of preview for this match! It actually didn't hit me until just after the full time whistle.

It's not hard to work out what my prediction would have been - we started the season with 6 bonus point wins, and while I have seen Cardiff play and they do look like an outfit heading in the right direction, I still would have backed the boys in blue for a 7th. I would have at least retained enough caution to avoid going for a 35-point win, however.

So in keeping with recent Leinster writeups on busy weekends, hoere's a blow-by-blow summary of how the 80 minutes transpired...

0-1

Not only did I miss the preview, I also was called away briefly missed the kickoff, and thus Dave Kearney's lighting fast opening try!!!

Harry Byrne put the opening kickoff to scrum half Tomos Williams, who immediately responding in kind with a decent boot from just inside his own 22 that made it over 10m into the Leinster half where it was taken by Jimmy O'Brien.

Cardiff were to go on to produce a fine defensive display despite the final scoreline, but this passage wasn't exactly the ideal start. I'm not sure Tomos' team mates were too aware that the kick was going to stay in play because they were slow in following up, allowing Jimmy to run back into their territroy pretty easily.

Just a couple of basic phases later saw it come to Ciaran Frawley in the wide channel and he was able to dart through they numbers 12 and 14 like they were numbers 1 and 3 (I mean that as no disrepect to props, I was one myself) and with both his own wingers in support, it was Dave who was able to receive and get it down with just 36 seconds on the clock.

2-10

It wasn't long before we threatened their line again, with Dan Leavy crashing to 5m out from a lineout but James Tracy was pinged for going off his feet so the Blues could clear.

By minute 8 we started to see the kind of pressure the visitors intended to put on Harry Byrne when he first had a kick blocked down by Tomos Williams and shortly after the same scrum half disrupted a pass and managed to hack it all the way to within 5 of our own line. We were able to exit easily enough from there.

10-20

From that Cardiff lineout we managed to disrupt the set piece enough to win it back, ship it out wide and work some clevel offloads on the touchline before Ciaran Kelleher made a 7s style sprint towards the posts until he was eventually hauled down by Matthew Morgan and the attempted offload to Frawlwy was knocked on.

There was almost a carbon copy a few minutes later only on the opposite wing and Jimmy O'Brien the one in space - he elected to put a kick forward up the touchline and when Jason Tovey retrieved in his own 22 he hesitated for a second allowing the bounce to go to the chasing Leinster full back who took it and touched down. A second straight touchline conversion later had us 14-0 ahead.

An uncharacteristically sloppy Leinster restart saw Cardiff quickly win a penalty and from the lineout they quickly put it through the backs and all it took was one early step forward from Liam Turner to allow the overlap allowing winger Summerhill to go over and claw five points back.

20-30

Probably sounds patronising but this was definitely the best 10-minute spell of the match for Cardiff. Tails up from the try their defence exerted more pressure on Harry's different attempted to get past and when they had the ball were they were perhaps unfortunate one or two offloads didn't go to hand.

30-HT

This pattern continued for a while until Harry Byrne had a very central three-point attempt go wide and when their hooker Ethan Lewis managed to "soccer" a loose ball from halfway to our 5m line, we not only got a lucky bounce allowing Frawlye to clear but when that failed to find touch, again it sat up perfectly for Leavy to complete the tidying up.

With the clock winding down towards the break some kick tennis was won for Leinster by Jimmy O'Brien's magic boot again kicking into their 22 in such a way as to win us an attacking lineout. From there James Tracy got on the end of an excellent shove in the maul to clinch a third try that must have been heartbreaking for the Blues who had worked so hard to stay in it.

40-50

Cardiff kept up the pressure on our attack patterns - while we would get a fair amount of decent carries from the likes of Ryan Baird, Rhys Ruddock and Josh Murphy we were often either knocked back in the next few phases or forced into errors like crossing.

Meanwhile they were able to work there own way into decent positions, like when Summerhill burst down the left wing putting Tomos Williams clear up the middle only for his attempted offload to be a bit too fancy and it went to ground.

50-60

You might argue this was actually the Welsh region's best spell, assuming you're a defensive coach. It was spent entirely in their own 22 with Leinster barraging them with a series of 5m scrums (we had their number in this set piece) and tap penalties yet they managed to keep us out until Ruddock was pinged for a double movement at the line allowing them to deservedly clear their lines.

60-70

Having escaped their was some kick tennis at midfield until Harry Byrne sliced one into touch on the full, giving Cardiff a decent chance in our half. However, for all you'll hear about their defence, ours was able to do the job when required too. Led by tenacious centres Frawley and Turner zeroing in on the point of contact, we manged to hold them out easily until Harry got a chance to make amends by way of a territory kick which found touch in their 22.

We had a couple of our own lineouts pinched before this point, so we got our own back when Ryan Baird rose to swat back their dart and put us on the attack again. With the bulk of our 6/2 split bench on the field, the forwards had plenty of carries and clearouts in them to advance until the 13 phase saw Scott Penny crash over for the bonus point try.

70-FT

Another scrum penalty at midfied put us back down to their end again, with more good carrying from the fresh legs (albeit when we were a bit lucky not to have a dropped ball called a knock on along the way) until Penny got his second at the posts.

Then as icing on the cake after a lineout at their 22 was secured by Devin Toner, we met the Cardiff resistance in a series of phases getting closer to the line until Harry had enough so he dribbled one neatly past the tackling cordon for Michael Silvester, on since halftime for Jimmy O'Brien for his first decent amount of minutes, to touch down.

*******
Luke McGrath deservedly got the Player of the Match gong - I may not have mentioned his name above but he was definitely the glue that held us together and is also in a fine run of form.

As for the continuation of our perfect start, again I have to say that good and all as that may be, as long as the Ulsterman are standing up just two points back from us in Conference A, we'll have to keep the record going and next up is a trip to Scarlets which is rarely easy (though I promise there will definitely be a preview this time!).

When it comes to our chances in Europe, if you haven't already be sure and check out our podcast from last week where I was joined by some fellow Leinster fans to discuss our best options for the campaign. JLP

*****
We normally do a separate post featuring online comments from the full time whistle but due to the quick turnaround for the writeup we'll add a few here instead - many thanks to all who contributed as always!
Paul Smith Scoreboard flatters us somewhat but it's good to see teams trying to put it up against Leinster at the RDS. Good battle for the young guns and once they did manage to score tte BP try the game opened up for them . Byrne, Frawley, Ruddock and McGrath had great games, and Jimmy O'Brien was on fire in the first half and scored a lovely try. More satisfying to win a game like this, and 7 BP wins from our opening 7 games is as much as any Leinster fan could ask for.


Conor Cronin Cardiff were excellent defensively for so much of the game. If it had finished 19-5 I'd have seen that as fair. I worry about them when they get big guns back.
As for leinster, it looked like some players were taking a while to get going, but eventually things fired and leinster started liking life themselves again. Another BP win, more talent coming through, but under pressure so really needing to prove themselves.


Andrew Bailey Great. Another 40 points and a seventh BP in a row. You can only beat what’s in front of you. But in context of Twickenham the lack of quality in the Pro14 is why Hugo, Ross, JGP and Ronan have struggled to make the step up. Good players but they need decent opposition to learn and to be ready for the international arena


Richard Mifsud Thank you Cardiff Blues. I know we won with a BP and that is very pleasing but what made this doubly special was the fact that we had to find a way and I think that the Blues are the first team to force us to find a way... and we did! Credit to our young guns and old guard for fronting up and getting through a tough 80 minutes. Some of our play was scintillating what some players will have learned tonight is that scintillating only happens when you earn the right or when the opposition is really poor and knowing when to be pragmatic is easily Harry B’s greatest take away tonight. IMHO he passed that test those kicks in behind when nothing was on were class and mature 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻. Standouts Rhys, JOB (hope he’s ok), Luke McG (worthy POTM), Ross, Ryan, Ciarán and especially Liam Turner. Perfect match for the coaches to dissect, and they will. Great antidote to yesterday’s disappointment 😊


Martin Loughrey Good to get another BP win. In fairness I think the scoreline is a bit unfair to the Blues. They tested us probably more than another side so far this season. A bit scrappy from our side. Very loose at times and a lot to look at for the lads despite the win. Good experience for the younger lads though. They need tougher games.


David Ryle Score line unfair on Cardiff. Had leinster under pressure at times.

Gavin Delves (replay to David Ryle) stop Leinster contained the pressure leinster deserved the bonus point





Front Five - 24.11.20

Start your day with five eye-catching egg-chasing quotes & links from around the ruggersphere.

ICYMI click here for our
England v Ireland writeup


Cardiff Blues battled hard but ultimately couldn’t get close to undefeated Leinster after a final quarter blitz


Cardiff Rugby Life

Danny Wilson's team have won just one of their opening six Guinness PRO14 fixtures so far...


RTÉ Rugby

The duo, who went to Rockwell College in Tipperary, have come through different paths to end up playing on the same team again.


Cian Tracey - Irish Independent

The changes were greeted with widespread relief after weeks of concerted pressure from sporting bodies and the public


Paul MacInnes - The Guardian

"I think rugby has traditionally been a sport played and watched by middle-class white people."


The42.ie (via the Press Association)

Feel free to share any interesting links you spot yourself about t’internet by email, Twitter, Facebook, blog comment or carrier pigeon – whatever works for you. JLP

Note - views expressed in "Front Five" links do not necessarily reflect those of HarpinOnRugby

Monday, November 23, 2020

ENGLAND-18 IRELAND-7

FINDING YOUR LEVEL


As Irish fans we all remember how we felt winning the Grand Slam in 2018, right?  Of course we do.  Not only was it a slam, but it was also won emphatically at Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day weekend.  It surely doesn’t get any better than that, right?


You might think that because the theme of this piece is Saturday’s match at the same venue which didn’t quite go the same way, those opening lines mean my overall approach amounts to “my how far we have fallen” but you’d be wrong.  


What I’m actually getting at is the way we lost a lot of that Grand Slam goodwill after what happened at RWC2019.  Of course, the outcome in Japan was disappointing, but many were actually reaching back to that 2018 Six Nations success and saying “we peaked too early”.


Now to be fair, there is an element of truth in that, although I certainly draw the line at taking any credit away from the Irish setup for that achievement. So to bring the “peaked” argument to its logical conclusion we should go on to say that in preparation for 2023, it’s more important that we look ahead and develop a squad that is more likely to peak at the right time, and if we do this, then we’ll need to be a bit more understanding when it comes to results in the meantime.


There we have the context I’m looking for.  England were at a low point in Eddie Jones’ tenure in 2018 and have steadily risen since, and although even they haven’t quite achieved perfection yet (falling short with Grand Slams & RWC) they are still a top tier professional test set up that knows what they’re about and it clearly showed on Saturday.


For our part, we were missing several key players.  We were also complying with the narrative from RWC2019 by trying out a new captain and bringing in a load of new talent, some having come through the academy ranks, others by residency and heritage means which were no less legitimate.


All of which means that while disappointment in losing to England is understandable, if we fail to see the very obvious positives and mitigating factors from the day’s rugby then we might as well concede that in our eyes the boys in green literally can’t win.


“I actually think he deserves to stay on, I would have brought Earls off and put him on to the wing, I think he’s been brilliant in the air, he has an energy about him and you need to get minutes under his belt; Keith Earls is on his 86th cap he doesn’t need experience.”


Maybe I’m following the wrong people on Twitter but I saw absolutely nothing like the above opinion expressed on my timeline as Hugo Keenan was withdrawn from the fray in the 58th minute.  It took former England player Danielle “Nolli” Waterman to say it in the Channel 4 commentary box and she was spot on.


It’s possible the plan all along was to give Earls 80 minutes as part of his road back from injury but that’s not my point.  We badly need this kind of constructive outlook and I’m going to do my best to bring it as I write up the match.  


Of course when our opponents score two quick tries it looks to all intents and purposes like there’s a drubbing on the cards, yet the fact remains it didn’t happen, so I’m going to start by skipping to the so-called “Championship minutes” either side of halftime because I feel that is where the result-defining action took place.


We begin with an English lineout in our 22 on 35 minutes.  This was a scenario where we thought we’d be crushed on the day.   5 metre lineout, maul, Jamie George try.  It was always going to happen wasn’t it?  Well, it didn’t.  We actually ushered this particular situation very well - yes, I know they found other ways to get past us, but let’s stay here for now.


So after having been beaten to a lineout by Maro Itoje not long before, James Ryan tried to return the favour at this one, in exactly the same fashion no less.  But whereas Maro’s grab got only ball, James’ also got some arm.  Fine margins.  Not the first time we failed where our opponents had succeeded and certainly not the last.


It also wasn’t our first penalty conceded so referee Pascal Gauzere asked Ryan to have a word with his players, a “warning” of sorts.  And from the next lineout, our maul defence clicked yet again to kill the ball and earn a scrum, and from that set piece (another where we feared annihilation) we won a penalty.


Not long afterwards with the clock nudging towards halftime, England actually make a mistake themselves as Joseph sliced a kick into touch on the full.  This lineout we won well, and set off on a series of phases.  At one point, James Ryan managed one of his trademark gainline busting carries, yet so wary was Jamison Gibson-Park of the English defence, he failed to capitalise and we retreated back into a more routine attacking pattern.


This was a mistake in my view.  Many criticise the way we kept kicking the ball but I reckon once Ryan put us on the front foot that was when we should have turned their defence by putting one over the top whether it was by 9 or 10.  Eventually Cian Healy failed to clear out Underhill at a breakdown and yet another Irish attack was called to a halt.


But let’s tick back to one of the first phases in the sequence shall we, even before Ryan’s carry.  We have the ball in the wide channel and Hugo Keenan is
clearly neck rolled by Jamie George. Let’s face it we all have our coloured goggles on but there’s no disputing this. Yet everyone sees it but the four match officials, and with the play continuing and resulting in another turnover, that becomes the topic of choice over the break.


So there’s 40 minutes left and the scoreline is “only” 12-0.  It felt like it should’ve been more, but it wasn’t.  However depressed we were at home, Ireland were still in this match and I dare anyone to suggest they didn’t come out after the break playing like they knew this.  On our first possession, we start to show some innovation as Peter O’Mahony dribbles one up the touchline and retrieves it himself.


The series builds to over a dozen phases - yes, England are twin-tackling the bejaysus out of us, much like they had been all along, but eventually Ross Byrne has time to go to his boot and puts one into their 22.  On another day it would have rolled into touch, but it was never doing that on this day, especially as it was Johnny May doing the tidying (had I been writing this as an England blogger my title would probably be “May’s Day”).


His clearance only goes as far as Keenan, who gets it with acres of space ahead of him.  In keeping with how our day went (at least IMO) he chose exactly the right option, going for territory in the opposite direction, only with the wrong execution, picking out, surprise surprise, the same Johnny May.


This leads to another kick from the England winger that’s less than perfect, in that it rolls over our try line for a 22 drop out.  Yet despite our having won the ball back following the restart, Quinn Roux is penalised for pushing Tom Curry off the ball and despite all our early pressure, Owen Farrell is suddenly gifted the opportunity to stretch his side’s lead over three scores.  Absolutely no way can Roux be blamed for this IMO, in fact several of our penalties stemmed from our attempts to bring the very physicality I was looking for in my preview.


We did really really well in that ten minute spell, yet still managed to lose it by 3-0.  And yes, we did make mistakes in that time, but so did our opposition and I believe that for our sakes it’s vitally important to appreciate that had certain decisions and bounces of the ball gone the other way the outcome could have been very, very different.


But it’s probably about time I held back on the silver linings for a paragraph or six.  Because there’s no escaping that earlier ten minute spell where we fell twelve points behind.  And the recurring theme of our failures in this time was, of course, our lineouts.


It started with a dart at halfway that was not only overthrown but also called not straight.  Having also begun this half relatively well,  this is where we began to give England a path forward.  They won a penalty at a scrum shortly afterwards, and there they were with a lineout in our 22.


Like I said earlier, we did extremely well throughout the match holding them out in this situation but with an experienced head like Owen Farrell pulling the strings, they were quick to go for a plan B and again, while Ross Byrne’s crossfield’s kicks were often a shade off target, this one by Faz to May was inch perfect and he was able to beat Keenan to the jump and open the scoring.


But of course nobody is ever going to remember that try are they.  It’s all about the next one.  And what makes it even more facepalming for Ireland is that it actually came from an attacking lineout of our own.  Once more we went for the long throw, once more it evaded the intended jumper, and once more, England were able to pounce.


Fair play to their quick thinking putting it through the hands getting it to May but once he had it, it was all him.  Gassed beyond the flailing challenge of Farrell, easily found a gap through our transitioning rearguard, and, well, JGP put in a spirited attempt to stay with him but it was never happening was it.  As did Stockdale deserve the benefit of the bounce from his kick forward in 2018, so did May this time.  Squint your eyes and forget opponents for a second and you’ll see this was a quality, quality score.


Yet another scrappy lineout at the 50m mark led to a penalty that allowed Farrell to stretch the lead to 18 but before everyone bears down on Rónan Kelleher for the blame, it needs to be noted that the set piece continued to malfunction when Rob Herring was providing the service.  It was part systems error, part standard English bullying led by the superb Maro Itoje, who did many things to deserve Player of the Match but probably clinched it with his emotive celebrations of every minor victory from start to finish.


And while of course we need to consider that with an 18-0 cushion it’s very likely that the English were happy enough to stay in a low gear for the rest of the afternoon, there was absolutely no question of anything close to capitulation happening on our part.


Then around the 60 minute mark we had almost a carbon copy of what happened just before halftime.  Gibson-Park, Ross Byrne and James Lowe were all absolutely hammered by Irish fans afterwards for their positional kicking.  If I say that was harsh you’ll probably think that’s my blue goggles talking, so be it.  But I still think that while some went wrong, others were just an inch or two from being perfect and there was one in particular from Lowe that actually was a thing of beauty, rolling into touch in England’s 22.


Again we turned up the heat on England’s maul after a lineout resulting in a choke tackle.  Then we won a free kick at the scrum.  Next it was a penalty.  Then, surprise surprise, we actually secured an attacking lineout and Herring got on the end of the maul to break away and set off towards the England line, where he was met by his opposite hooker, Jamie George.  


Yet another blatant neck roll.  Yet another series of phases that followed.  Yet another turnover as the result.  Yet another mountain of praise heaped on the English defence which is all that is remembered from this sequence.  Just to be clear - I have no problem with their line speed, even if they do appear to, shall we say, flirt heavily with the offside line.


But not only were those two potentially citable challenges completely missed (while Roux’s was actually called back by the TMO), the English actually shipped a decent amount of penalties themselves in the second half so I was curious as to why Owen Farrell wasn’t given similar advice at any stage to talk to his own players.


Eventually our work trying to crack the English D paid dividends. First Ross Byrne grubbered one through nicely for Chris Farrell who was brilliantly grabbed at the line by Henry Slade to hold him up. Then shortly after Billy Burns' introduction he opted for one just over the top of the onrushing tacklers and it fell perfectly for his Ulster team-mate Jacob Stockdale who finished strongly and took the dreaded duck egg off the board once and for all.


I’ll say it outright just in case there’s any doubt - England definitely deserved to win, and we definitely made mistakes at times.  But I couldn’t let this writeup go without pushing back on the ridiculous, overly pessimistic reactions from Irish observers, and not all of them on Twitter either; Eddie O’Sullivan for one was pretty brutal at full time.  


What we need to do is look at what lies ahead - home matches against Georgia and probably Scotland before a full Six Nations campaign in the new year.  Maybe the way we square up to both England and France at home will give us a better indication of the direction in which Andy Farrell’s Ireland is going.


I know everyone knows players they think will perform better or styles of play they think will work better and that can be what makes all of this harping worthwhile, but if we really are going to give them until 2023 to find their level, then need to let them fix what went wrong, because those things are fixable, and we need to let them be encouraged by what went right, because those things did actually happen.  


There’s an amazing crop of talent coming through our ranks to join the vast experience we already have.  Let’s give them the space they need to put it to good use.  JLP


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Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019