Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ulster-13 Leinster-21



For once I’ll forgive Leinster for a victory which came despite an underwhelming performance.

Basically we won this encounter because we have a deeper bench, and frankly, that’s good enough for me.

Plus there were a few encouraging factors on the night, none more so than the return of Gordon D’Arcy who put in the kind of performance we needed to see from his particularly on the defensive side of the ball.  It was also good to finally see a man-of-the-match performance from Rocky Elsom; long may it continue.

It was your typical display from Les Blues this season – we started well, camping out on their 22, but never seemed able to finish off our moves by crossing the line; a penalty or a knock-on would normally ensue instead.

And so it was no surprise that they crossed the line first. Maybe I’m a bit harsh here, but I feel this was Darce’s one boo-boo on the night since he perhaps should have indicated to Dempsey that he had the winger covered so our full-back could have committed to tackling the onrushing Darren Cave rather than be caught in two minds.

But I suppose you can’t grumble too much about an away victory, particularly considering how things have gone for us of late, and with Munster also succumbing to Connacht, the Meaningless League seems a lot more wide open now.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Castres-18 Leinster-15



I think reality is finally starting to hit me – this Leinster team cannot win the Heineken Cup.

I was in denial up to now, thinking that the draw with Cardiff and defeats to Munster, Connacht and Glasgow were all blips which didn’t really matter because, as my name for it suggests, the League itself was meaningless.

Last night, however, my eyes were opened, and finally I think I can see where the problem lies.

From this kickoff, it looked like Michael Cheika had done everything right. Leinster were fired up, the backs were hitting good lines, it looked to all intents and purposes like a five-point haul was on the cards, especially when Girvan Dempsey slapped down the opening try.

And let me be the first to congratulate Jonny Sexton for his magnificent conversion from out wide. It was a kick Ronan O’Gara would be proud of.

Then for a short while after that score, we seemed to go a little flat. I was concerned.

But then I was convinced my worries were over when a series of drives, supporting and offloads led to Sexton crossing for a magnificent second score. Two tries in the first half, a poor opposition, everything was looking good.

And then it started again.

Sexton missed a conversion which was much easier than the first one.

From that moment to the final whistle, we couldn’t get phases going, we couldn’t throw into line-outs, we couldn’t scrum properly, we couldn’t catch high balls, we couldn’t kick tactically OR for points.

I’m not even sure how well our defence really played since our opponents were so average that I couldn’t be sure if they would have managed to cross our line in any circumstance.

So basically, we went into the match in the right frame of mind, yet we couldn’t sustain that level for eighty minutes. What can we put that down to?

You think I’m going to blame Sexton again, don’t you?

Well I’m not – I put our failure down to three words – LACK OF LEADERSHIP.

I suppose the obvious place to point the finger would be scrum half Chris Whittaker, since he was captain on the night, and you could hardly say he led from the front.

But it was all throughout the team, and each and every one of these players has shown this season they can do it. All the things I have listed above have been seen by Les Bleus this season, so we know they have the ability, just not the consistency it seems.

The moment that capped it all was Brian O’Driscoll’s inexplicable decision to kick the penalty himself in the dying minutes when there was plenty of time for the more polished Contepomi to find the line and give us one last chance to pinch it.

Right now, despite the fact that we creamed London Wasps back in October, I firmly believe that there is no way this Leinster squad can lift the Heineken Cup.

I guess it’s up to them to go to Twickenham in mid-January and prove me wrong.

One last point - I am sick to death of having to endure Sky's don't-give-a-damn-about-Ireland live rugby coverage of these matches.  Love him or hate him, we need Hooky!!!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Leinster-33 Castres-3

[update October 16, 2013] On Wednesdays here at HarpinOnRugby we look back to a previous Leinster meeting with our next opponents. We have to go all the way back to 2008 to find the last visit of Castres - we had no Heineken Cup victories yet but as you can see that didn’t stop this particular blogger from being a hard-ass! I have a feeling the Top14 outfit will pose a little more of a challenge this Saturday, what with them being champions and all…

I’m really sorry for being a doom and gloom merchant, but I have to use that statistic as my headline to put this scoreline in perspective.

Leinster had one goal and one goal only in this match as far as I was concerned, and that was to secure the bonus point. Therefore, they failed, and the aforementioned stat points the way to explaining the failure.

And what’s more, they didn’t even seem to give the 16,500 fans some sign that they had the four-try bonus as a priority.

With the score at 16-3 and over half an hour left to get three tries, we bizarrely chose to kick a penalty and missed, and then seven minutes later, we chose the same option and succeeded.

Purists may argue that conventional wisdom dictates that it was important to establish a lead of more than two converted tries to secure the victory.

Well to those who say that, I have a bit of extra conventional wisdom for you…CASTRES WERE CRAP!!! Never in a million years would they have crossed our line unless we somehow got fifteen yellow cards at once!!!

Now this may surprise you, but I actually think Sexton’s performance was his best of the season so far. I’d give him a C+. But that’s STILL not good enough for a side that claims to have designs on winning the Heineken Cup.

It has to be said – in the 60 minutes Sexton was at fly half, we scored but one try. In 20 with Holwell, we got two. Who could argue that if that ratio went the other way we’d be celebrating maximum Pool 2 points right now with sights firmly set on a Number 1 seeding for the knockout stages.

The word is the French are actually going to field a full strength team for the return match on Friday, and also they have a pitch that is practically a mud bath, so I may look more favourably on a narrow victory on the night.

But let’s be clear – Munster have set the bar pretty high for this tournament as far as Irish teams are concerned, and if we hope to be heading for Edinburgh at the end of May for the final, we need to play a hell of a lot better than this for 80 minutes.

At least we had strong showings from young guns like Devin Toner and Sean O’Brien to give us hope. JLP

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Leinster-29 Dragons-13

[Update February 12, 2014 : With the Dragons coming to the RDS this Friday, our latest trip into the HoR archives looks back to our first writeup involving the region.  This was of course pre-Grand Slam, pre-Heineken Cup victories, pre-Joe Schmidt, and as you can see, pre-my having faith in Johnny Sexton!!!]
 

For the second week running, a rugby team I support won by a scoreline that flatters to deceive.
 
First of all, the match itself was a perfect example of why I refer to this competition as the “Meaningless League”.
 
How are we supposed to take these matches seriously when they are played on the same weekend as crucial internationals? Especially as Ireland AREN’T playing, and their provinces are free to field full strength fifteens?
 
And so, as I was shivering my twig and berries off, I sat in Section F of the RDS stand and watched the boys in Blue, complete with the likes of O’Driscoll, Dempsey and Horgan, beat the weakest Welsh franchise yet failed to take the bonus point.
 
Yes, the failure to get the bonus point DOES bother me. Why? Because despite the freezing weather over 15,000 fans showed up on the night, and when we were awarded a penalty at the 22 with over ten minutes remaining, Leinster chose to kick for goal (and miss…) rather than at least display an interest in going the extra mile, and quite frankly, I wasn’t impressed.
 
Not that there weren’t some highlights on the night. Clearly in man-of-the-match Sean O’Brien and Fergus McFadden we have even more strong players coming through the ranks.
 
But I’m sure anyone who has read this blog before now won’t be surprised that I still don’t think Jonathan Sexton can cut it at this level, at least not yet.
 
Look at the facts yet again – for most of the time he was on the pitch, Leinster were losing. Even on our opening try, his pass which sent O’Brien clear looked to be a bit suspect forward.
 
It seems as though Sexton has his mind made up what he’s going to do even before his scrum half handles the ball, and does it regardless of what transpires as the ball is coming towards him.
 
All night the Dragons played with a backline flatter than a pancake, and only once do I remember a Leinster back try to exploit the space behind them and that was McFadden.
 
We continuously tried to run the ball through their strong defence and he didn’t seem to cop on it wasn’t working.
 
And as if to top it all, we have yet another shoulder injury to Brian O'Driscoll, and hopefully he will recover quickly.  Naturally it could be argued that he should have been rested with the Heineken Cup on the horizon, but I for one applaud him and Leinster rugby for at least rewarding the spectators with his presence on the park.
 
I sincerely hope Cheika chooses to start with David Holwell next weekend as the big boy’s tournament cranks up for another fortnight. JLP

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ireland-17 Argentina-3



Having watched the game in Sinnotts with a few beers, the wife and I headed over to Eddie Rockets on South Anne St to chase the hunger away.

As I stood in line to pay our bill, someone who just walked in the door spied my Ireland jersey and asked “Hey, who won the game?”

Normally I hate it when people assume by my American accent that I know nothing about rugby, but I honestly think this guy did fall into that category.

Even so, when I related to him that the final score had been 17-3 to Ireland, I couldn’t stop myself from adding this…

“The score doesn’t reflect how the game went at all. It was brutal.”

I’m sure he took the word brutal totally the wrong way, and I’m sure he didn’t really want a post-game analysis, but I just couldn’t let the final score come out of my gob without clarification.

It really, really WAS a brutal match.

But if you want to see the glass as half full, then you can say we got the job done, ensuring that we kept our eighth-placed ranking which gives us seeding for the World Cup.

That’s all well and good, but this performance left some lingering questions in the air…

(1) Would we have won if Argentina had Hernandez and Contepomi on the park?
(2) Have we seen a significant improvement in this squad since the darkest times of the O’Sullivan era?
(3) Can we feel confident now looking forward to the Six Nations?

Well I’m sorry if this makes me a doom and gloom merchant, but I have to answer “no” to all of the above questions.

Maybe George had it right analysing the Canada match after all.

And as for Tony Ward giving man-of-the-match to RO’G well that must have been an Out-Halfs Union sympathy vote, since not one player from numbers 9 to 15 played to their capacity on the day.

The frustrating thing is, we have all seen world class performances from every individual in the backline this season, but only with their clubs.

This is the essence of Declan Kidney’s role. Tactics, formations and strategies will look after themselves, but in my book it’s down to him to get these players casting aside their provincial differences and playing for the green jersey.

And in the two matches that mattered in this series, I have yet to see it happening, so he has a lot of work to do between now and the French visit to Croker in February.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ireland-3 All Blacks-22



One thing that has surprised me about attending Leinster rugby matches this season has been how few fans are aware of the full range of rules in the sport.

Little did I know I was actually one of them.

Often I would see scrums and penalties being awarded with people around me scratching their heads with no idea what transgression had occurred, and more often than not I would know enough about the game to be able to show off and explain what was going on.

But let me say this in all sincerity, putting all sour grapes aside – if the laws of the game dictate that what Tommy Bowe did just before half time yesterday really did warrant both a penalty try AND a yellow card, then the laws of the game are an ass.

Just what was he expected to do? Let Richie McCaw touch the ball down and do nothing? I can’t for the life of me understand why a ball that is kicked over the goal line isn’t fair game to players from both sides.

Maybe, MAYBE, if he knocked the ball forward, but he didn’t. It makes no sense to me that McCaw was in any way entitled to the ball.

I have devoted so many words of my report to that incident because I strongly believe the result of the contest could have been different without it.

Imagine the confidence that would flow through the dressing room had they gone in at 3-3 and a full compliment of 15 players. Sure, the ref (who seems to like the sound of his own voice by the way) atoned for the incident by binning Woodcock just after halftime, but the damage for me was already done.

As for the performance of Kidney’s men as a whole, we were resilient in the most part, though our tactical kicking let us down badly and prevented us troubling the scorers more than we did.

And can I also add that no matter how trivial the injury to Paul O’Connell may have seemed, there is no way he should have stayed on the park, and this was responsible for one of their tries since they simply ran around him and there was no cover to pick up the slack.

One thing the commentators failed to mention – if we had nicked a try right at the end even without a conversion, the extra five points would have brought us within the 15-point margin which would have made the result a positive one rankings-wise.

As it was, with Scotland losing so narrowly to the Springboks, and Canada their only remaining opponents this autumn, we really do need to beat Argentina to have a good chance of holding on to our eight seed slot for World Cup 2011.

It really is all to play for, and Declan Kidney is going to face a tough early challenge in his reign to get his men ready for it over the next few days.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Ireland-55 Canada-0



Whatever you do, don’t try and enjoy any success when George Hook is around.

The facts – Ireland passed the ball around, scored loads of tries and comfortably put away far inferior opposition.

The Hook verdict? We were as bad as we were under Eddie O’Sullivan. I’m starting to think the man isn’t only blind when it comes to distinguishing colours.

Sure, things weren’t perfect. But surely a brand new coach is allowed to have things in his first game in charge go less than perfect? And surely a final scoreline of 55-0 isn’t to be sneezed at whatever way the players arrived at it?

One thing I will agree with George on was that if the ticket prices were high as reports suggest, that is an absolute disgrace. Considering the fact that Canada were so much further down the rankings, the loyal Munster fans deserved a lower entrance fee, and the unusual sight of several empty seats at Thomond Park could have been avoided.

And of course the horrendous conditions didn’t help matters much. It looked like one of those nights you wanted to forget about the game and go home to a cup of hot cocoa and the telly.

As for the two controversial tries, I think Kearney’s definitely was, while Heaslip’s (see pic) definitely wasn’t.

Maybe another criticism of Kidney was leaving on O’Gara for so long, but I suppose watching Wallace’s performance it’s understandable and we’ll just all have to hope and pray that ROG avoids injury, at least until the end of the 6 Nations!!!

So when you consider that Scotland we soundly defeated at the same time, if think the days results were the best possible for Ireland all things being considered.

Sure, there was precious little you could take from this game to bring into the clash with the All Blacks next week, but maybe a baptism of fire will do Kidney’s men good.

Unlike Mr Hook however, I’d like to retain a measure of belief that the man may just cometh when the hour does.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Glasgow-15 Leinster-12

[update added Sep 18 2013]

Archive time here on HoR…every Wednesday we look back to a Leinster/Ireland match against our upcoming opposition.

There’s a perception that the Glasgow Warriors only “got good” last season but I’d put forward an argument that they have been almost as much of a bogey team for Leinster as the Ospreys have over the years, albeit without ever beating us in a match that really “mattered”.

You can also see in this writeup from 2008 that I had about as much respect for the Celtic League as the English & French clubs do today! The difference being, I believe the league has become much more meaningful in the time period since then.

You can also see back in the early days of this blog I wasn’t so keen to write much when Leinster lost! 350 words is pretty pathetic!!!

DAN-5 FELIPE-4

With minutes remaining, there was yet another Leinster attacking move which progressed steadily into the Glasgow 22.

They moved through the phases until a promising passing sequence through the backline ended up with a stray pass arriving in front of Shane Horgan down around his bootlaces which he proceeded to knock-on.

Thus was the pattern of the evening. No disrespect to the home side, but surely even the most partisan Scot would admit that the visitors lost this one more than the Warriors won it.
 
The difference was both in discipline and Dan Parks’ right peg.
 
Every time Leinster had possession, something would happen to hand it back, be it a turnover, a knock-on, a penalty; it was like we were trying to invent new ways of cocking up each time.
 
The home side, on the other hand, never threatened to cross the whitewash (legally, that is; they had one try rightfully disallowed) and with people like CJ van der Linde needlessly giving away penalties right under the posts, Dan Parks was repeatedly given the perfect opportunity to defy the blustery conditions and get another three-pointer for his team.
 
Our offensive shortcomings turned this into a battle of the boot, one which Contepomi was unable to win.
 
It brings to mind a question that has been festering for a while…if we insist on playing Jonathan Sexton because we feel the need to develop him as an out-half, why don’t we have him taking more of the place-kicks? Surely he’ll need practise under match conditions same as every other aspect of his game?
 
As for where this leaves Leinster’s season, well naturally the two bonus point Heineken Cup victories more than makes up for the three Meaningless League losses that sandwich them, but if we actually wish to retain our crown, it’s going to take a ten-game winning streak similar to the one we achieved last time around.
 
With the Dragons next up at home and Nacewa to come back from injury, it is clearly within our abilities to pull it off despite Friday night's setback. JLP

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Leinster-41 Wasps-11



Forgive me for resorting to the obvious wasp-related pun for my headline, but in this case I reckon the cap fits, don't you think?

Now, believe it or believe it not, I actually managed to find a negative spin for Leinster on the back of this performance and result, but I won't share it with you until the end of this post.

After one minute of this contest, when Paul Sackey took the kickoff and shot all the way down the wing to virtually the try line, it looked like it was going to be a long, long Saturday evening in Dublin 4.

But from that moment on, the Leinster boys turned quality on paper into class on grass.

Right throughout the team, and I include subs in that (yes, even Sexton) there were top notch performances.

Sure, I could rave all day about O'Driscolls early brace of tries, particularly the second one, which had me bowing to his greatness (woulda looked a lot better if everyone in the stand did it with me though).

But what made the difference on the day was the fact that our defence remained solid for the entire 80 minutes, just like I said it needed to do.

The visiting English champions never looked like breaching the blue wall they faced, and it took a controversial try (ironically by an Irishman) to post five points on the board and leave the home support nervously contemplating what the second half may bring.

Well, whatever Michael Cheika said to them in the dressing-room, I'd like to bottle it and sell it on ebay cos I'd be able to retire early. Even with the loss of our talismanic Number 13 to an injury which I hope won't rule him out of Ireland's crucial upcoming internationals, we came out all guns blazing and effectively killed the game as a contest from the kickoff with Luke Fitzgerald's touchdown.

And as we looked on in a mixture of delight and disbelief, we secured the bonus point shortly after and even found time to cross the line twice more, completely blanking our opponents for the second half.

So it's two wins out of two for Leinster in Pool Two, a maximum of ten points, and already a six-point lead over the rest. We now have a home-and-away pair of clashes with a Castres team which is now effectively out of the competition.

How on EARTH can I possibly find anything negative about our situation?

Well, it doesn't have to be negative, it just could be. This result, together with what will no doubt be and endless loop of re-runs on Sky News of Drico's wonder try, will surely have Leinster installed right throughout European rugby as favourites to win the Heineken Cup.

If the lads can stand up to that pressure the way stood up to their illustrious opposition yesterday, this could turn out to be a memorable season. We shall see.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Edinburgh-16 Leinster-27



Edinburgh today went from bogey team to bogus team.

There was only one thing lacking from Leinster in this contest, and that was offensive execution.

Now that may sound strange since we ran in four tries in the first half and collected an away-day bonus-point victory that will be the envy of the rest of the teams in the Heineken Cup.

But if everything Leinster tried on the day had come off, the scoreline would have been a lot closer to the drubbing they handed the same team in the Meaningless League a few weeks ago.

When it came to tactics and defence, we were a class apart from our opponents and although there were a few questionable refereeing decisions and things got a bit tighter in the second half than maybe they should have, the actual result was rarely in doubt.

Clearly Michael Cheika had done his homework and realised that even from deep in side our own 22, punting the ball straight down the field was the way to go and sure enough, when they ran it back at us more often than not we were able to turn it over.

Though it took us a while to get into our stride, it was clear that all we needed was discipline in ball-retention and the tries would come. Rocky Elsom proved that by opening the account with a surge forward from Edinburgh’s 10-metre line.

Then came arguably the defining moment, or at least that is what no doubt home coach Andy Robinson will claim. Having taken a high ball Horgan flung it clearly forward to Dempsey and after a burst from Contepomi and a neat pass, Drico touched down for a killer second.

Though the home crowd, what there was of them in the cavernous Murrayfield, have a legitimate beef, I very much doubt that this decision would have made much of a difference really.

And if things were as they should be and there was an Irish TV network covering this match, I sincerely hope they would have awarded man of the match to Brian O’Driscoll.

Instead, Sky’s so-called experts gave it to Rocky Elsom, and although he did have a good outing, it was more important to Irish rugby that the Leinster number 13 put in a full match display somewhere near his Lions-captaincy form, and with his line-breaks, his passing, his tackling and even sometimes his kicking, Drico was the man in my book.

Of course, there will be a need for improvement as the tournament progresses, particularly in Jackman’s lineout throws.

But overall, five points on the board with three home matches still to come is a perfect position going into next week’s Wasps encounter, and I wouldn’t have swapped today’s score with either the Connacht OR the Munster ones for love nor money.

By the way...it was a struggle to go this long without saying "I told you so" about the need to switch Felipe in to the number 10 slot.  

Monday, September 29, 2008

Leinster-0 Munster-18


pic courtesy of www.rte.ie


Allow me, if you will, to jump into the future and give you a taste of what my blog might read like in about six years’ time…
…and overall it was a mesmerising display from Sexton – he had the French at his mercy on the day, running his back line like finely-tuned machine for the entire match, and clearly was the man of the match in the 52-0 drubbing which sealed the Seven Nations Championship for Ireland.


When asked afterwards what inspired him to this level of world domination, he told reporters that it was the invaluable experience he gained playing for Leinster against Munster way back in 2008 that surely did the trick…
Only something like that happening years down the line would make last night’s match easier to swallow. In the meantime, it will stick in my throat.

Yet AGAIN, I will state that the reason I buy a season ticket for Leinster rugby is that I expect them to field the best available team for the night. With Nacewa unable to play No 10, the obvious move for such a big game would have been to switch Contepomi to out-half, bring someone like Horgan into the centre to partner O’Driscoll, and give Rob Kearney a full 80 minutes out on the wing.

But noooooo…we have to DEVELOP young Sexton, don’t we. So he gets a full match which means Kearney gets brought on as an impact sub too late, and besides, the young fly-half’s ineffectiveness was so deep rooted at that stage that nothing really seemed like getting started anyway.

We never, ever, ever looked like crossing the line last night. Sure, Felipe missed three kicks early on which would have possibly given us a momentum of sorts, but even though this was a better quality opposition than we had seen at the RDS before now, the free-flowing champagne rugby was nowhere to be seen for the night, and even the most naïve follower could spot that it came from the number 10 shirt.

Now let’s be clear – I don’t blame Sexton personally for last night’s result, I just don’t agree that he should have been anywhere but on the bench when we had such accomplished players in the squad to lead the line.

And of course, there was some of the “sour grapes” incidents. Mafi and Howlett between them got away with at least three high tackles on the night, and right before the first try which effectively settled the contest, new boy van der Linde was clearly obstructed (effectively a “block” as in American football and thus illegal) as he tried to make a tackle. Yet the Irish ref saw nothing.

One thing I will say is that the score does the game little justice. The half-time 3-0 tally would have been more appropriate.

But congratulations to the Munster boys. The occasion itself was a great one, with a full house and a tense contest for most of the match.

I just hope against hope that this selection policy only remains the same for the Meaningless League and that the boys get to take a back seat to let the men face the Heineken Cup challenge in a couple of weeks.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Leinster-19 Ospreys-13

skyvegas.com
 
[update January 15, 2014] This weeks’ trip into the HoR archives brings us to my first-ever Leinster v Ospreys writeup over five years ago.  Apart from the competing sides the only thing it had in common with this Friday’s encounter was that Leinster were reigning league champions.  Since then the rivalry between the two has grown steadily, and another change that I had forgotten happened this recently was the use of the clock, which was still “old school” in the Celtic League at the time.
 

Anyone reading this blog is going to think I’m an awful moan before this season is out.

I mean, I’m a Leinster season ticket holder, I witnessed yet another impressive victory for my boys last night, and it was overall a great occasion; nice weather, large crowd, enjoyable atmosphere, so what could I possibly bitch about?
 
Well it didn’t exactly ruin the night for me, but the fact that we the spectators had no idea how much injury time was to be played did leave something of a bad taste in my mouth as I walked out of the RDS, especially since the visitors’ late, late try earned them a bonus point.
 
Now for the match itself; it definitely lived up to its billing. Leinster, Meaningless League Champions from last season, squaring up against the Ospreys, who themselves lifted the EDF Challenge Cup.
 
And the teams were so well matched that it took 20 minutes for Hook to drop a goal to open the scoring.
 
But after trading 3-pointers, what was effectively a deadlock between these two was finally broken by a glimpse of the champagne rugby that Leinster had shown the week before.
 
Contepomi and Luke Fitzgerald traded a series of back-and-forth passes which mesmerised the Welsh defence and led the young Irish international to cross for yet another try to the delight of the home crowd. That was worth sacrificing your Friday night for the RDS all in itself.
 
The main feature for the rest of this enthralling contest was the way the visitors pummelled the Leinster line only for the boys in blue to repel them each and every time.
 
Actually I have just remembered another beef I have from the night – why, oh why do they appoint a Welsh referee when one of the teams is from Wales? Is there a shortage of Scottish officials? 
 
Well Nigel Owens came in for a lot of stick on the night, even prompting the Leinster supporters to come up with a new chant (the re-fer-ee’s from Way-uls!) which is quite an accomplishment in itself!
 
But although it seemed Owens was determined to give every 50/50 decision to the visitors for the evening, it could be said that one lineout that he overturned could have settled the contest.
 
Contepomi found a good touch from inside his 22 turning defence into attack, but it seemed as though the touch judge (who was Irish would you believe) missed the fact that the Ospreys winger had caught the ball on the line then brought it to touch, which of course meant the throw should have been for us.
 
Well he awarded it to the Welsh, but the man in the middle ran over and over-ruled him, to the ironic cheers from the Leinster faithful. What now became an attacking line-out led to us eventually converting a penalty which, closely followed by two quick Nacewa drop-goals, put at least the destination of the four league points beyond doubt.
 
But with the stadium clock still mysteriously frozen on 80 minutes, time also seemed to stand still for the Leinster defenders as Ospreys left wing Nikki Walker crossed the line and with Welsh Grand Slam hero James Hook slotting over an impressive conversion, all of a sudden the visitors had earned a bonus point, and the blue-clad supporters were left wondering what had just happened.
 
There are two ways this injury time thing can be resolved.
 
First, they could let the clock run past the 80 minutes and much like soccer let the crowd know how much extra time is to be played.
 
The option I’d prefer, however, is the one they used in the World Cup last year whereby the referee controls the clock and stops it where necessary, so that when it reaches 80, you know that the next time the ball goes out of play the contest is over.
 
It’s a small tweak, but a necessary one. All in all though, I dare say the Leinster fans would have taken that scoreline had it been offered at the beginning. Sets us up nicely for the big one with Munster next Sunday night. JLP

Friday, September 12, 2008

Leinster-52 Edinburgh-6


There really isn’t a whole lot you can say about a match like this – the scoreline more or less says it all.

But it wasn’t just about the quantity of the scoreline, the near sell-out crowd was treated to a performance which especially towards the end could only be described as champagne rugby.

The visitors actually started well, with sensible tactics. With their first three or four possessions from the ruck, they ran the ball. Clearly Andy Robinson was more than aware of the dangers of putting the ball in the air towards a back three that consisted of Kearney, Fitzgerald and Dempsey.

And so thanks to a monster kick by Phil Godman, the visitors took a 3-0 lead and things did not look easy for Leinster by any means.

Then we started to get some ball for ourselves, and we proved just as capable of getting on the scoresheet ourselves and after 21 minutes, the scores were locked at 6-6 and with a quarter of the match gone it looked for all intents and purposes that the scores would remain close throughout.

Now – you see the final score above there right? So obviously things changed. In my view, what turned this match around was a substitution, and it’s one that is actually worrying for Irish rugby when you consider the result of it.

After 28 minutes, Jonny Sexton was taken off and Isa Nacewa installed at out-half.

After 29 minutes, Luke Fitzgerald was crossing the line for the first of his hat-trick of tries which was the perfect set-up for his 21st birthday celebrations the following day.

In that first half an hour, the only thing that was keeping the scores close was Sexton’s ineffectiveness at Number 10. The most telling moment for me was when he took the ball himself from the ruck and clearly intended to kick, yet didn’t realise that his teammate Brian O’Driscoll had just peeled himself out of the same ruck and was going back to his position, and was standing in Sexton’s way.

Even though he had plenty of time to adjust, the youngster still went through with his kick, slamming it into O’Driscoll and handing possession back to the opposition. I have a feeling that his collar bone injury wasn’t the only reason he was replaced, and although Nacewa did not himself trouble the scorers, the difference he made to our attacking prowess was immense.

From then on, there was simply no stopping the boys in blue, and with Felipe good for 9 kicks out of 11, the result, margin and bonus point were never really in doubt.

Definitely a performance which, on its own, justifies my investment in a season ticket. Hopefully they can continue their form next week, although surely the Ospreys will provide more of a challenge seeing as how they have won three out of three to date.

But going back to the Sexton thing, it does make you worry about the Irish team, seeing as how having also watched Ulster’s defeat in Cardiff and Niall O’Connor’s ineffectiveness. Just how screwed are we for a decent quarterback if O’Gara gets injured/retires?

Leave it to me to find something negative in a 52-6 thrashing, but there you go!!!

for an excellent account of the game plus the current state of Leinster rugby (and I don't just say excellent because he appears to agree with me), check out Brendan Fanning's article in the Indo.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Cardiff-16 Leinster-16


If I really thought this league was worth taking seriously I’d be saying that Cardiff must really be kicking themselves right now for not winning this match.

The only two positions at which Leinster were not outplayed on the evening were at numbers 4 and 5, where Toner and O’Kelly respectively put in accomplished performances.

Everywhere else across the park we were beaten, and the only thing for me between us and a losing scoreline was the fact that the home side paid us way, too much respect and opted for drop goals when they could have surely crossed the line at least once more for a five-pointer.

The way things shaped up, the team that finished the match for Leinster could very well be the XV that should have started it, particularly the backline.

For all of O’Driscoll’s huffing and puffing, it never looked like he and Contepomi (who seems to be carrying an excess pound or two this season) would break the line and our only real attacking option seemed to be the new boy Ica Nacewa, who proved this by following up his own kick for our only score on the night.

But what can you say about a Leinster squad that can bring on the likes of Girvan Dempsey and Luke Fitzgerald from the bench. And with van der Linde, d’Arcy and captain Cullen all to come back, you can only assume things can get better for this bunch of players, especially when the real competition starts, ie the Heineken Cup.

All in all Michael Cheika should be happy to be travelling back to Dublin with two points in the bag and an unbeaten record intact.

Monday, September 01, 2008

How Will BO'D Be Remembered?



First published on personal blog July 5, 2008.

It’s a wet miserable Saturday morning here in Dublin, so there’s not much else to do but sit in and watch Southern hemisphere rugby.

As the All Blacks look to exact some retribution on the Springboks for their having the audacity to snatch the World Cup from them last year, I begin to wonder what the next European season has to offer, and only one thing springs to mind.

Since he burst onto the scene in 2000 with his famous hat-trick in Paris, we have all been waiting for Brian O’Driscoll to assume the mantle his potential demanded – the world’s greatest player. And of course, with consistent Six Nations performances (albeit with limited success), he was given the ultimate accolade when he was named captain of the touring Lions in 2005.

Captain! Of the bloody LIONS!!! It really doesn’t get better than that, does it?

Enter Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu.

Since the infamous spear tackle in Christchurch, we have seen the odd flash of brilliance from O’Driscoll; a blistering sprint for a try here, a pinpoint crossfield pass there, and now and then what I consider his trademark, a try-stopping diving tackle out of nowhere rarely seen anywhere on the globe.

But can we say that we have seen him maximise his true potential? If we had been told back in 2000 that his achievements would amount to the Lions captaincy, a few Triple Crowns and a Meaningless League crown, would that have been enough?

I guess it challenges us to determine what we consider success. When it comes to European rugby, once you look at the success of Wales and Munster and realise that it is not all about the English and the French, the only silverware that really matters a damn is the Six Nations Championship and the Heineken Cup. Both have eluded O’Driscoll.

Not that I’m saying that it is all his own fault, and I hope the above YouTube file demonstrates that I appreciate the role injuries have played on his career.

What I’m getting at is just how important the 2008/09 European season is for the man.

In the May edition of Rugby World magazine, controversial columnist Stephen Jones picks his Lions squad for the tour next summer, and he leaves BO’D at home, favouring Shanklin, Henson, Tindall and Barkley.

Now Jones has a reputation for being a bit anti-Irish (he also excludes Paul O’Connell) but one sentence in his column hits the mark in my view...

“O’Driscoll will need to find some of the old freshness next season before the real Lions are chosen.”

You’d find it very hard to convince me that Brian has done enough in the past 12 months to guarantee him the Number 13 jersey for the first test in Durban on June 20, 2009.

And if that’s the case, then how would it look on his CV to be brought along as a replacement, or even worse, an also-ran on the midweek team having been skipper four short years earlier?

So I believe the upcoming season is crucial for BO’Ds legacy. He needs a string of outstanding performances, he needs his name regularly in the back page headlines, he needs to be the inspiration to meaningful silverware for his teams.

How will he do that? Well of course, he needs to stay fit, and that is in the lap of the Gods.

One thing that can help would be to take the captain’s armband away from him and allow him concentrate on his own game. If I were close to him I’d advise him to actually request this and make it publicly known.

Despite the risk of injury I’d also like to see him playing some role in every match throughout the season, at very least the first half of every Meaningless league encounter.

Although I have been a critic of his in the past, I still have no doubt that he has the ability to make the upcoming campaign a success, and hopefully my Leinster season ticket purchase will be worthwhile.

Interesting times ahead.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Leinster-48 Queensland-19


I watched this match from two perspectives…on the one hand I wanted to see how the 2008/09 version of the Leinster squad shaped up for the new season, while on the other I was interested in what kind of overall service was being provided for me, the season ticket holder.

When it comes to the performance on the pitch, I can hardly complain about a 48-19 drubbing, can I? Well, actually, I can.

You can only really analyse a match like this based on the opening 40 minutes, since the second is full of endless chopping and changing as the subs bench on both sides gets emptied to give everyone a run. 

So with that in mind, Leinster only barely won the first half thanks to a Cian Healy try in injury time. What made things close against a decidedly average touring side was extremely dodgy defence coupled with Felipe Contepomi leaving his kicking boots back in the dressing room.

I wouldn’t worry about the kicking so much, but it has to be said the Leinster tacklers parted like the Red Sea for every try by the visitors, and this is something that has to be ironed out, and of course this is exactly what this type of match is for so there is plenty of time to put this right.

Now – going forward, things were much rosier. New boy Ica Nacewa shows a great awareness on the attacking side of the ball, though I’m not altogether sure I’d prefer him in the #15 jersey to Girvan Dempsey. In the centre, O’Driscoll and Felipe chugged away, but rarely broke the line.

I was glad to get a good look at Sexton at fly half, and if I had to find fault with his game I would say he needs to assess his options a fraction more – every time he went to kick the ball his body language telegraphed his intentions in such a way that perhaps a touring second-string Super 14 side wouldn’t pick up on it, but a first-string Heineken Cup side most definitely would.

In the pack, Jamie Heaslip was as commanding as ever, and though I had never heard of new second row Devin Toner before, he showed he is more than capable of filling in for either O’Kelly or Cullen should the need arise. Jowitt was his usual pesky self on the fringes, and overall the forwards earned themselves a few impressive pushover tries, although I wonder if the new ELV’s which allow you to drag down the maul will make this ability moot once the real season kicks off.

Best attacking move had to be Kearney’s try. The move began with Reds possession inside the home 22 and a couple of fly-hacks from O’Driscoll (the second actually taking the ball out of Contepomi’s hands) sent the ball right down the other end where our international right winger took full advantage of a couple of lucky bounces to make the score look a lot easier than it was.

So when all is said and done, Leinster played like the Meaningless League Champions they are, there are still some kinks to be ironed out, and hopefully our first four outings will get them ironed out before we travel to Murrayfield on October 11.

Now…how about the way I feel Leinster rugby treated their customers…you’d like to think, would you not, that when you buy a seat for a match or indeed any event, that it actually exists???

Well as you can see, in Donnybrook stadium, there actually is no Block E, Row N, Seat 23, so I guess I was expected to park my behind on that menacing-looking bolt sticking up out of the ground! Luckily, there was noone in seat 25, so we got to watch the match ok, and since this was the only match to be played there all season, I didn’t see any reason to complain (besides – with about 4 quick pints on me I couldn’t guarantee that my complaint would make any sense to the stewards!).

Still, whether it was the fault of Leinster rugby, Ticketmaster or the owners of the stadium, it was a bad show.

As for the atmosphere in the ground, well, there wasn’t one. I guess Leinster rugby fans aren’t pre-disposed to showing any kind of unified support for their team. There was one chorus of the awfully dull “LEHHHH-nster, LEHHHH-nster” from the opposite terraces in the first half but since then except for some individual cries of encouragement the rabble were never sufficiently roused.

For this I have to lay the blame at Leinster rugby’s door, since they pay a guy to climb into a lion suit and I presume his job is to get the crowd going. Well, he didn’t, at least not today. Perhaps much like our defence, the mascot has some pre-season kinks to be ironed out.

As an example…when Bernard Jackman touched down for his try as you can see in the leading picture, there should have been a chorus going through the crowd of the Batman theme “de-na de-na de-na de-na JACKMAN!!!”. But all that happened was a clip over the intercom of Chelsea Dagger by the Fratellis (who hail from Glasgow – wouldn’t something like U2’s Elevation be better?), and this was reeled out after every Leinster try and got a bit tedious.

And though I know he missed a lot of kicks, what happened to the Spanish-style trumpet-blast that usually follows when Contepomi does get the ball over the bar?

These are all subtle touches that would turn a match like this one into a memorable one and more importantly, turn the 10,000 season ticket holders they keep boasting about into a 16th man much like they have down in Thomond Park.

And as for the whole environmental message supposedly encouraged on the day, I really, honestly truly think it was lost on the supporters. Well think about it – trying to get all green with a crowd of people the majority of whom came to the match in their SUVs isn’t really going to make much of an inroads, is it? But I suppose their heart was in the right place.

Now I know I’ve gone with a lot of negative in this piece, but I’m still looking forward to the new campaign, and hopefully things will improve as the season goes on. JLP

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Padova-5 Leinster-34

courtesy of rte.ie...

Leinster kicked off their pre-season preparations with a resounding 38-5 victory over Padova in Italy on Wednesday evening.


The province started strongly with the impressive Isa Nacewa crossing for his first try in Leinster colours after good work from Stephen Keogh and Cameron Jowitt in the 10th minute. Jonathan Sexton added the points to give the visitors a 7-0 advantage.

The hosts rallied and clawed their way back into the game with a try four minutes later, but the Magners League champions held on to a slender two-point advantage at the interval.

The visitors raced out of the blocks after half-time and Gary Brown gathered a delightful 46th minute cross-field kick, passed to the supporting Felix Jones, and took the return catch to score an effort which was converted by Nacewa, who assumed kicking duties.

On 51 minutes, a break on halfway from Nacewa, where the former Auckland Blues star beat several defenders, concluded in an offload to prop Jamie Hagan, and the former Gormanston College man crossed over.

Eight minutes later Simon Keogh gathered a bouncing ball from another clever cross-field kick, this time from Ireland international Luke Fitzgerald, to add his name to the score-chart. Nacewa, who reverted to out-half on the interval, again added the points.

With ten minutes to go, former Leinster Under-20 captain and second row Conor McInerney benefited from a wonderful take by Devin Toner, and a strong maul by the pack, to cross over, though his conversion was missed by substitute Kyle Tonetti.

Tonetti would later make amends by adding to a Fitzgerald effort in the closing minutes after replacement prop Stan Wright offloaded to Kevin McLaughlin who fed McInerney, who then found Enniskerry man Fitzgerald, who ran in to out-pace the defence.


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