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.


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