Saturday, October 31, 2009

Leinster-23 Cardiff Blues-6

Horgan-group-celebrate

SHAGADELIC

This match was a battle between one team who wanted to entertain and one that wanted to thwart, and since the home side failed to get the bonus point I suppose you could say the latter came out on top.

Though as hard as I find it to understand, there’s actually a thread over on Babbling Brook which suggests Leinster were wrong to go on the attack so early in the contest, one poster even suggesting that it was their determination to go for the bonus point that ultimately cost them one.

What absolute, utter, complete bollocks. These detractors clearly went to the Eamonn Dunphy School of Punditry, where to get your diploma you have to find as many clouds in you can in some silver lining.

Leinster Rugby had been plugging this match for weeks, as the “Halloween Thriller”, no less. Clearly it was an attempt to swell the crowd by using the fact that the game fell on Halloween night. Fans were encouraged to come in fancy dress, and there was other entertainment billed for the night.

And since it was all over the papers that Warren Gatland insisted the Welsh internationals stayed at home, plus the fact that Leinster had one of their strongest starting XVs of the season so far taking the field, why on earth WOULDN’T they try to give the crowd their money’s worth?

We had two penalty chances in the first few minutes that Johnny Sexton could have gotten in his sleep, but instead we kicked for touch and went for the try. Apparently the fact that we didn’t get them proves we should never have gone for them? I respectfully disagree.

Sure, Cardiff weren’t at full strength, but it was hardly a schoolboy XV they had on the park. They were still full-time professionals, and their goal was clearly damage limitation. They took every opportunity to eat up some clock, most notably deep in second half when we had some momentum and they chose to substitute their left winger Chris Czekaj who was furthest from the touchline.

They lined up in such a way that it made them hard to break down, and though the destination of the four points was rarely in doubt, they at least succeeded in preventing us getting the fifth, and they deserve credit for that.

But credit must also go to the home side, not only for their early statement of intent, but also their opening try by Shane “Shaggy” Horgan. I think my message to twitter right after it claimed it wasn’t merely “champagne rugby” it was Dom Perignon! Have a look at the YouTube clip of the sweeping move from one end of the field to the other yourself if you don’t believe me.

So at least the Halloween crowd was treated to a moment of rugby greatness, and my son for one thoroughly enjoyed his first taste of the RDS and is hungry for more.

And with results elsewhere going perfectly for us, we are left top of the Magners League going into the Autumn Internationals, and surely even the Babbling Brook boo-boys can’t find a way to moan about that!!!

Back to Sexton, who yet again was my man of the match, I repeat my call for him to be given the Number 10 jersey for the internationals against Australia and Fiji. We’ll see if Mr Kidney will answer the call.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ulster-16 Leinster-14

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SHOWING US WHO’S BOSS

Maybe it was karma because I slagged Isaac Boss’ hair-do in the vidcast.

Maybe it was that the players were distracted by Cheika’s hands-on involvement in objecting to the Jennings rulings.

Maybe it was the fact that we chose not to have Jonny Sexton on the park when we needed a reliable placekicker.

But all of those reasons do Ulster a major dis-service, since the fact remains that both teams have to play the conditions at kickoff and to put it quite simply the home side made a lot more use of possession when they had it and thoroughly deserved their victory.

And it doesn’t hurt Irish rugby either that they sit atop the Magners League for a while since fans to the east and south of the island tend to think it’s all about them these days anyway.

Of course I’m not happy with the defeat, and if we play like this when we have the ball for the rest of the season results like this will keep happening, but I think we can call this a blip and hopefully we can put things right before the Cardiff Blues come to town next Saturday and we can go into the Autumn International break on a high-note, and who knows…maybe Munster can do us a favour and find their form to beat the Ulstermen and help us back to the summit in the process.

Not much more I can say about this match, except that on the evidence of their displays I’m wondering if we’re wasting two valuable NIQ berths having Messrs Berne and van der Linde in the squad. Perhaps I’m being hard on the latter on account of his injury woes but the jury is still out on him in my book.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Brive-13 Leinster-36

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NOT QUITE GOODE ENOUGH

Can you guess who I’m referring to with my title?

Could it be the home side, particularly perennial bad-boy Andy Goode?

Or could it be Leinster themselves, not getting the bonus point?

Or maybe it’s George Hook, who still seems to think Ronan O’Gara is the front-runner for the Ireland number 10 jersey?

In actual fact it’s directed at Welsh referee James Jones. Since he went to so much trouble to make sure we heard his voice throughout the 80 minutes of this match, I’d like to make this post all about him.

Here’s a breakdown (pun fully intended) of the the game, with particular attention to the numerous Brive penalty infractions last Saturday.

4:42 not rolling away

7:39 off feet after the tackle

19:40 in at the side of the ruck

22:30 front row violation

32:00 not releasing after tackle

34:03 tackling man without the ball

38:47 not rolling away

40:22 in at the side of the ruck

41:18 in at the side of the ruck…HERE is where Mr Jones chooses to mention to the Brive players that perhaps they're thwarting their visiotrs a bit more than they should.

46:02 front row violation…this time Mr Jones is very keen to give Yashvilli the opportunity to stay on the pitch. Those were his actual words!!!

48:22 Hi tackle from Nacewa is definite penalty but 50/50 yellow card at best and despite he constant refusal to go to his pocket for everything gone before, Jones takes the linesman’s advice (remember, he doesn’t have to) and makes Isa take a seat for 10mins.

51:14 yet another front row violation from Brive…THIS time, Jones decides to give another talking to. Why? Cos it’s not Yashvilli this time. We are beyond the realms of bullshit at this stage.

57:01 you guessed it, YET ANOTHER scrum violation from the home side.

71:00 having scored a second try and JUST enough time left for two more, yet another Brive infraction in our 22 gives us a penalty but Jones denies Sexton the quick tap and he must burn up time by kicking for touch.

73:00 Brive get a penalty in their own 22 and, yes, Jones lets them take a quick tap.

79:00 Andy “Up To No” Goode sees a banana boot at the base of a ruck, slowly grinds his studs down into the leg that wears them, BOD takes exception to this and though we get penalty, all Goode gets is a talking to. I suppose after all that went (or should I say didn’t go) before it would’ve been a poetic injustice for a card to be produced then.

It can be safely said that Brive were so poor and our backline looked so up for this game that had we been afforded a 10-minute spell with an extra man in the first half, a bonus point haul was well within our grasp. And it doesn’t help the games credibility that the nationality of the ref who was partly responsible for this was the same as a team which benefits from this failure.

As for our individual performances on the day, there were many good ones, particularly Sexton, who was not only flawless from the kicking tee yet again, but also showed great awareness on the field, and surely in my opinion MUST be handed the Ireland jersey against both Australia AND Fiji in November.

On the down side, well, Shaggy has had better days, and as for Malcom O’Kelly, well, I took a lot of stick on the Babbling Brook forum for suggesting he be made captain if Cullen couldn’t play, and now I know just how wrong I was. He should drop in the 2nd row pecking order behind Toner after yet more acts of carelessness.

But all in all we would’ve taken four points from the French trip before kickoff, and with the Scarlets showing that the LettinOn Irish can be beaten at home, it throws this Pool wide open and gives us every opportunity to seize control again with home-and-away matches against Llanelli in December.

Why do I have a feeling, however, that the refs for both those games will be English?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Leinster-9 LettinOn Irish-12

Nacewa-Hodgson

SILENCED BY THE LAMB

This match was decided by two moments of questionable interpretation right at the death.

First, the referee ruled that there was no high tackle on Jonny Sexton. Then, Eoin Reddan thought he had one arm raised instead of two and chipped a through ball assuming we’d still have the chance to kick the equalising 3-pointer, but instead he was kicking away valuable group points.

Let’s have a look at the high tackle. Of COURSE I thought it was a foul, but don't take my word for it...let’s look at the reaction of Mr Stuart Barnes in the Sky commentary box. Right after the tackle he let out a “WHOAAA!” but once it was clear the ref wasn’t giving it, he kept his gob shut and the incident wasn't even so much as mentioned until the players had left the pitch.

My interpretation of all that? They’ve thought “Lads, we’ve gotten away with one here, better say nothing though so we’re sure to get out of here alive!!!”

But once we accept that the ref had made up his mind, what then followed has to be Reddan’s bad. Hoards of Munster fans sprung to Ronan O’Gara’s defence at the end of the 2nd Lions test over the summer after his last minute howler, and in a way I’m glad it’s a Leinster boy this time so I can make my point.

Surely what separates the good from the great in ANY professional sport is how they deal with pressure in a tight game right at the death? It’s at times like these when training ground routines are forgotten, when all the chalkboards in the world can’t prepare you for the situation at hand.

ROG should have enough experience to have kept his head at a time when giving away a penalty was the last thing his team needed. By the same token, Reddan shouldn’t have chipped the ball through unless he was ABSOLUTELY certain there was a penalty coming for his team.

Of course, there was the small matter of 79 minutes of action before that last gasp drama.

At the kickoff, we charged right down to their line and got a deserved 3-point lead. Then shortly after that, we got similar good possession yet Sexton fancied himself for a Murrayfield-esque drop goal when no doubt the smarter move would have been to send it out the line again and keep the visitors on the back foot.

I feel this error of judgement by Sexton allowed the LettinOn Irish to regroup and start into their gameplan, which turned out to be both well prepared and well executed.

We’ve heard this expression several times about another province, but in this case, the Irish definitely “out-Leinstered Leinster”.

They absolutely OWNED the lineout, thanks mainly to Messrs Casey and Kennedy, and they had a lions share of the breakdown as well. Clearly their mission was to keep things tight, and as good as we are at doing that to others, we didn’t look so hot when the boot was on the other foot.

And of course you can’t fail to mention the two impressive pressure kicks from Ryan Lamb which ultimately won the contest on the scoreboard, so don’t get me wrong…I am well aware that they thoroughly deserved to go back to London-sorry, I mean Reading-with something, it’s just that in this Leinster fan’s opinion, if the ref were different or Eoin Reddan had gone to SpecSavers, the result could have been oh so different.

What now for our Heineken Cup campaign? We now need at least ten group points from our three away matches, that’s what, starting with a trip to the south of France next Saturday, which is never easy.

Still, if there was a squad of players in this tournament you’d back to pull off something like that, you wouldn’t look much further than Michael Cheika’s, so rule us out at your peril.

Elsewhere in the competition…

Talking about keeping your head in last-gasp situations…it’s the last minute and you need a try to get a result. You have a penalty under the opposition’s posts. What do you do? Oh – wait – I forgot one crucial bit of info…YOU’RE MUNSTER. What do you do? Well, I would’ve said “take the scrum” but instead they ran it and the Saints’ defence held out for a famous victory.

Our nemesis did get a Heineken Cup break this weekend, with the improbable result from Treviso where the home side overcame Perpignan 9-8.

Congrats also to both Ulster and Connacht for fine opening round European victories.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Leinster-30 Munster-0

BLUE MAGIC

The hangover’s gone, the head is now clear, and, well, fancy that…the scoreline’s still the same!!!

And although we couldn’t get the fourth try, we still got a bonus in that the Hairsprays managed to overcome Edinburgh to leave us sitting proudly atop the Magners League going into the first break for Heineken Cup action.

Superlatives which befit this Leinster performance are hard to come by. I’m not sure if many international teams would have been able to break through our defence the way they played, and the big difference on the night was that going forward, things are beginning to click as well.

Remember folks…this was MUNSTER we beat. All due respect to the following teams I’m about to mention, but these weren’t Connacht, they weren’t the Dragons, they weren’t Calvisano. These were the guys whose fans once called us the “Ladyboys”.

Well I sincerely home that moniker is put to bed once and for all, for if we’re ladyboys, what does that make a team which hasn’t crossed our line for 166 minutes of rugby? (Fogarty got one in 74th min back on April 5).

And here’s a sentence I never thought I’d be able to write…WE OWNED THEM IN THE FORWARDS. Even when their strong bench took the field. Be it the scrum, be it the rolling maul, be it the line out, be it turning the ball over in the ruck, we were a step ahead of them at every turn.

Now...on the subject of John Hayes...yes, Cian Healy was making mischief at the base of the maul but in NO WAY was Ireland's highest-capped player justified in what he did in return. And just what the hell do phrases like "Oh, that's not like him" and "It's not in his character" have to do with anything???? The same was said of Alan Quinlan at Croke Park.

All I can say is...if we're getting the Munster boys to do things like that out of what is clearly sheer frustration, we must be doing something right.

Back to actual rugby matters, there was also the tackling. The marker was laid down in the first few minutes when Jean de Villiers made his first attempt to crash through and instead was sent crashing to the turf by Jamie Heaslip. And it didn’t let up, right to the 80th minute, with Nacewa stopping Williams in his tracks one of many big hits by the men in blue.

Going into last night’s encounter, the LettinOn Irish were clear favourites for our big Heineken Cup showdown next Friday. Once the final whistle blew, it was a whole different story. If we can play like this, we can beat anybody, and that’s a cast iron fact.

Happiest man in world rugby right now has to be Michael Cheika, who will be more than willing to put up with the headaches he’s bound to have to get the right 22 for the RDS.

Hopefully the Leinster faithful will be equally chuffed come fulltime on Friday.

Congratulations again lads, that night alone made the purchase of the season ticket worthwhile. JLP

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