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.

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