Sunday, February 22, 2009

Scarlets-17 Leinster-31

*** IRISH EDITORIAL USE ONLY ***
Magners League, Parc y Scarlets 21/2/2009
Llanelli Scarlets vs Leinster
Leinster's Paul O'Donohoe is tackled by Simon Easterby of Scarlets
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Huw Evans

MISSING THE POINT 

This seems to be a pattern for me this season, bitching about a performance in which a team I support won a game.  Sadly, it is once again necessary.

Yes, yes, of COURSE I’m happy Les Bleus won this match.   And seeing as how they had gone the last few encounters without crossing their opponent’s line at all, then yes, yes, of COURSE I’m happy they were able to do it in this match.

But let’s have some perspective here.  Leinster are the Magners League champions.  They have the biggest season-ticket uptake in the competition.  They are expected to play like they want to win it all.  And considering this is a Six Nations off-week, having names like Dempsey, Horgan, d’Arcy, Contepomi and Elsom to call on surely gives you an edge over your competition.

The moment that sticks in my craw about this contest came in the 62nd minute.  We had just scored our third try which virtually put the result beyond doubt, and we were awarded a penalty just inside the Scarlets’ half.

Sure, the infringement was dead centre and thus well within Contepomi’s kicking range. 

But wasn’t that a perfect opportunity to make a statement to the incredibly vocal travelling Leinster supporters at Pairc y Scarlets that their heroes had every intention of leaving with the bonus point?

Instead, they played the percentages, took the three-pointer and killed the momentum the try had afforded them.  If anything, it took the home side off the back foot and had them chasing their own bonus point, even though they weren’t quite good enough to do so.

And once again, the clock ran down to zero and what could have been a five point haul was only a four, and what happens in the next couple of hours?  Our friends down south run in four tries themselves to pull even further away from us in the table.

OK – I’ve made my point about the negative…here’s some things I liked, and to start I’m going to say four words you would probably be surprised to see on my blog.

WELL DONE JONNY SEXTON.

His offload to Jennings for the third Leinster try could quite possibly be included in a poll for Pass of the Season, since he slipped it to the flanker with a couple of opponents in the way.

I was also impressed with this rookie scrum half O’Donoghue…the occasion didn’t seem to phase him at all and to be perfectly honest, we didn’t miss Whittaker one iota on the night.

And what a try our opener was.  Will you ever see such impressive end-to-end passing rugby.  And as for Nacewa’s little feint to dive which deceived the defender and allowed him to score under the posts…I wonder if ANY coach in the northern hemisphere would advise their backs to try that?

I hope I haven’t come across as too much of a kill-joy with this post, but the fact is, I set high standards for the Leinster squad for this season and I write this blog to illustrate how close I feel they come to meeting them.  Over in Wales yesterday evening, they came close but no cigar.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Italy-9 Ireland-38



So what if it wasn’t pretty – we got the win, we got the points difference, and in my opinion, we also got a valuable lesson about the way our team should play.

Luke Fitzgerald is a natural talent. He has the potential to be every bit the player Shane Williams is if not more, since he is just as much at home at centre as he is on the wing. So why the hell do both Leinster and Ireland seem to be going out of their way to avoid giving him the ball???

Now I’m not one to pat myself on the back when I make a correct sports prediction…

Yeah, I couldn’t get away with that last sentence, could I? Especially since I am SO going to pat myself on the back…

When O’Gara went off the pitch with his yellow card on the half hour mark, I predicted that Luke would score a try while he was gone. Why? Because there was bound to be more central opportunities for him with only six behind the scrum, that’s why.

And lo and behold, who was there to take the pass from Stephen Ferris for the all important second try?

Then in the second half, he was carted back out on the wing, and he had to use his own intuition to create the chance for the score which put the result beyond doubt.

Now hear this, Messrs Kidney and Cheika –FITZGERALD IS A TRY-SCORING MACHINE and he MUST be included in your offensive strategy more often. It’s been all very well up to now, but with big games coming up against England, Wales and further down the line Harlequins, it would be a crying shame to see his kit continuously unspoiled.

I mean, if you had to nitpick at the result from Rome yesterday, you’d say that we had to rely on interceptions and opportunism for the five-pointers we got, so the result could have been very different.

Yes, I know that Masi should have been redcarded for his shocking clothesline tackle on Kearney in the first minute, but as it turned out it was better he stayed on the pitch because it gave us a better sense of how this team plays together fifteen on fifteen.

I would also suggest that Kidney admits that the Paddy Wallace at centre experiment just hasn’t worked. Every time I remember him with the ball it was as though he grasped it in desperation and closed his eyes waiting for contact. He even got himself a shiner to prove just how effective that policy is.

If the coaching brains trust doesn’t believe Luke is ready to partner Drico in the centre, then surely Gordon d’Arcy is ready for battle by now?

And if provincial inclusion is the problem, there is plenty of Ulster contribution in Ferris and Bowe – I wouldn’t replace either – and if your man Tom Court can play at No3 then I’d be more than happy to leave John Healy stranded on 91 caps because he appears to be addicted to giving away needless penalties.

Maybe it’s also time to swap the Munster scrum-halfs back around and let Stringer start…it could be argued that O’Leary’s poor distribution is one of the reasons the ball isn’t making it as far as our pacy wingers more often.

When all is said and done, we’ve four points, we’re top of the pile, and with a few tweaks here and there, we’ll have the English shaking in their boots in a fortnight. We have to start believing that we can actually win this thing, and to do that we can’t rely on the opposition handing us easy scores.

Click the headline beneath the photo for RTE's official writeup

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Ireland-30 France-21


ireland v france

WE’RE BACK

Just in case you were unfortunate enough to watch RTE’s coverage, allow me to tell you what really happened at Croke Park.

While the boys were Montrose were glowing about what a wonderful game of rugby this was for the neutral, the rest of us were on the edge of our seats hoping we’d be able to hold on and fair play to Declan Kidney’s men, we did it.

And as for George Hook suggesting this result was Munster-driven…eh, the tries were scored by who? Man-of-the-match Heaslip, O’Driscoll and d’Arcy with Rob Kearney playing a virtually flawless no 15? Do me a favour, mate!

Of course it is natural to compare this performance with what we would have expected from a team led by Eddie O’Sullivan. That’s simple – the fifteen men in green yesterday were able to adapt to the team they were playing, whereas in recent Six Nations campaigns we’ve never been able to deviate from our plan at kickoff.

Having said that, I had serious reservations about our plan at the kickoff of this match. I counted four times in the first twenty minutes that Tomas O’Leary kicked the ball away from the base of the ruck – I couldn’t see the reasoning behind putting the ball in the hands of any French side no matter how experimental.

So although nobody at our state-run broadcaster seemed to think the final pass to Harinordoquy was forward for the visitor’s first try, the score seemed to justify my confusion at the wisdom of surrendering the ball so easily.

But where in the past the kicks would have more than likely continued, we managed to adapt, and for the first time in I don’t know how long we looked like scoring every time we won possession in their 22, which it has to be said is the hallmark of a side capable of winning it all.

And what stunning tries they were, each and every one of them. Perhaps the French may question their own tackling, but you only have to watch the determination of the scorers crossing the line to see that it would have taken quite an effort to stop them from anyone.

Add to this my assertion that BOTH French tries were fortunate (although the final execution of their second try was exquisite, the move began with the ball yet again falling kindly for Harinordoquy) PLUS the fact that O’Gara wasn’t exactly 100% with his kicking, I’d argue that we could have won by more on the day.

I mean – the signs are all good; this French team will only get better so this was the best time to play them, and if we can produce four more displays like this one and avoid injuries, we have as much a chance in this tournament as anyone else, even the Welsh.

So what if Tom McGuirk and his merry men would be happy to see us lose all five once the overall rugby was entertaining? Hopefully Kidney’s army will appreciate the real fans are fully behind them to succeed whatever the cost.

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