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

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