Monday, December 28, 2009

Leinster-15 Ulster-3

heaslip try

COLD TURKEY

Armed with all the usual seasonal puns for this post, and given our demolishing of the Scarlets, I was expecting this to be a Christmas cracker in which we’d knock the stuffing out of our visitors.  Instead we were served up something more resembling cold turkey.

Setanta’s commentators seemed to spot an entertaining quality in this contest from their booth that I just couldn’t see from my seat in the Grandstand.  I reckon the fact that the score at 45 minutes was the same as it was at fulltime says it all.

Of course it has to be said that Leinster will have an elephant in their room for the next few weeks with the crucial Heineken Cup pool match in Reading on the horizon, so despite the fact that we had our best lineup on the park while the northeners were without Ferris, Trimble, Wallace and for the first half Humphreys, there are blessings to be counted in four league points and no injuries.

In fact you have to wonder if the LettinOn Irish will take heart from Ulster’s performance.  They clearly came to Dublin with a mentality similar to Mick McCarthy’s Wolves when they played at Old Trafford a few weeks ago…and they very nearly earned themselves a bonus point for their defensive trouble.

Leinster’s success has been built around their prowess when their opponents have the ball…but it seems they struggle when opponents give them a taste of their own medicine.

The two tries we did get on the day needed strokes of luck and genius respectively for their execution…D’Arcy’s offload to Kearney was clearly forward for the first try, while Rob was clearly back to his high-kicking best as he caught his own Garryowen and quickly offloaded to Heaslip who steamed down the touchline to be able to give his Sheareresque salute before touching down.

But you can’t fault Cheika’s men for hanging in there in the Magners League…to be second at the halfway stage is just fine and with Connacht away on Saturday and current table-toppers Glasgow to follow, we’ll have every opportunity to improve on that before the bigger contests come around.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Leinster-39 Scarlets-7

Rob-try-Scarlets-RDS-09

AWESOME v AWFUL

I can’t decide whether Leinster’s second bonus-point hammering of the Scarlets in as many weeks was a result of us being awesome or them being awful, so I guess I’ll have to go with a combination of both.

Sure, the visitors started brightly enough, yet despite being in our half for most of the first twenty minutes, they still found themselves ten-nil down.

And even though Rob Kearney had his worst outing at 15 this season, he still helped himself to two tries.

The backs got all the glory in the scoring department, with two more each from both Drico and Darce plus a post-interception sprint the length of the pitch for Shaggy.

As for detractors of Shaun Berne, well there were still some rumblings of discontent around where I was shivering/sitting in the new stand but the way I saw it, he had a big part to play in at least three of the seven tries and deserves as much credit for this outing as he did last week.

In fact there’s not much more you can say about this team performance in that they carried on where they left off at halftime in Parc y Scarlets, and got the job done.

Maybe the crucial difference between the two sides was the respective home support. Both squads had a few injuries, but Leinster were more than able to allow for them, and having full houses every week helps give you the financial clout to do it. Can’t say the same for the Welsh regions I’m afraid!

Out of respect to our vanquished opposition yesterday, I’ll keep this post short and include a picture from the one try they did score via Rhys Priestland, in the hope that they can bounce back and take some group points off the LettinOn Irish in the next round.

Anything to make our job easier at the Madjeski Stadium, where this Pool is bound to be decided.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Scarlequins-7 Leinster-32

leinster_1542542c

PREPARE. BELIEVE. DELIVER. (Part II)

What a way to cap off a Grand Slam weekend by the four proud provinces of Ireland! But I’ll let bloggers from outside the Pale rave about their own results if you don’t mind…

Hmmm…Leinster win a crucial Heineken Cup contest in convincing fashion with an out-half who didn’t exactly have the fans’ full confidence. Don’t know about you, but I’m getting déjà vu from Croker in May!

That’s not the only reason I’m using the same heading for this post as I did for that momentus semifinal. For yet again we were treated to a performance which was clearly the culmination of a long process of preparation for which the bulk of the credit must go to head coach Michael Cheika.

After the Autumn International series everyone was ‘Sexton this’, ‘Sexton that’ and rightly so. He showed us what he could do in the green jersey against the world’s best, and it was awesome.

But then came the injury. Not too serious for Ireland’s sake, but at the time we Leinster fans were crestfallen because we thought we had no backup for our Heineken Cup double header with Kthlnethli.

Was there justification for our doubt? Sure there was. Shaun Berne had hardly set the world alight in either the Magners League OR the B&I Cup this season, so it seemed we had a gaping hole at a pivotal position.

What did Cheika do? First, he used the new “Top 4” system in the Magners League and sent a team of babies over to Newport. They got hockeyed, but his key players remained fit and we’re still well in contention when that competition reaches its business end.

Then it came time to announce the squad. We were all : “Who’s gonna be outhalf? Nacewa or Berne?” Debate was rife amongst the Babbling Brook forum, with the consensus seeming to be that while Isa would be better at the position, since he wasn’t much of a place kicker AND he was needed in the back three, we'd have to settle for Shaun.

Coach Cheika agreed with the choice of Number 10, but in his press conference, he not only spelled out different reasons, he made it clear to everyone…

The first person that I would have told that we were having a look (at Matt Giteau) was Shaun. He, like us, understands that the more quality players we have available the better chance we have of winning any game. So it's not just a matter of this week, there are other weeks to go after this. So if we take another injury in the backline - we're missing Luke Fitzgerald and Jonathan Sexton - you're starting to lose a good chunk in the backline. It's about having the playing resources for the big games, not for the development games when you try different things. These are games that we have to win.

So instead of letting the debate rage on before the makeup of the XV was formalized as would normally happen, he dealt with the Giteau thing AND publicly gave his replacement out-half his full backing.

From the kickoff at the Parc y Scarlets, the boys in blue showed that their gaffer’s confidence was more than justified. From Cian Healy at 1 to Rob Kearney at 15, the team produced a display that showed that even with no Sexton, no Jennings, no Fitzgerald (and of course no Elsom), we’re very much a force to be reckoned with in this tournament again.

And Berne himself was in my book every bit as impressive as Ronan O’Gara had been the night before.

What’s that? You don’t want read my descriptions of our four tries, you’d rather see them again yourself? No problem…just check these clips > Shaggy, Darce, Berne, SOB.

All clear evidence that the preparation had been spot-on, so full credit to the coaching staff. It’s clear the Aussie has this whole European rugby calendar with its long layoffs down to a T.

Not that this result means we’re a cert for the quarterfinals, by a long chalk. Having done the sums, I see that even if we get a maximum ten-point haul from our next two home matches in this Pool, chances are we’ll still be required to get a result at the Madjeski Stadium to finish top.

At least we know we’ve the right man at the helm to get us ready for the challenge.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

NG Dragons-30 Leinster-14


No disrespect to the Dragons, but it has to be said; on most rugby weekends Leinster’s loss in Newport would look a lot worse on paper than did Munster’s in Swansea to the Ospreys.

This week, however, there’s a levelling factor…the teams the two Irish provinces sent to Wales.

I sounded like an owl when I read Leinster’s team-sheet…after every name saying “Who?” but it was clear what Michael Cheika’s motives were – having lost Jonny Ten for the crucial home-and-away series with the Scarlets in the Heineken Cup, he saw the points at Rodney Parade as expendable so he could wrap the rest of his first team in several layers of cotton wool.

So there’s no real point in getting technical about the gaping holes in Leinster’s defence in the first half of this encounter…not only had they not played competitively together before, they are unlikely to do so again anytime soon, even for the ‘A’ side, so we can chalk this game in the ‘experience gained’ column and take refuge in that we’re the only Irish team in the top four so we can focus on the Heineken Cup knowing we still have some eggs in the Magners basket for later in the year.

Not a whole lot you can say about the actual performance of the lads…I sat through the whole thing and I think everyone made mistakes even the seniors like Jackman and O’Kelly, but at least they won the second half 8-6 I suppose!

But the eating that will prove this pudding that Cheika has created won’t come till next week when we see how our strong 1st XV perform at Parc y Scarlets. Should be quite the contest, and hopefully our weakness at backup outhalf won’t be cruelly exposed.

LEINSTER:
15: Niall Morris (Ian Madigan, 48)
14: David Kearney
13: Eoin O'Malley
12: Fergus McFadden
11: Simon Keogh
10: Ian McKinley (Michael Keating, 70)
9: Chris Keane (Paul O'Donohoe, 59)
1: Ronan McCormack (Mike Ross, 48)
2: Bernard Jackman CAPTAIN
3: CJ van der Linde (Ronan McCormack, 73)
4: Devin Toner
5: Malcolm O'Kelly (Trevor Hogan, 67)
6: Rhys Ruddock
7: Dominic Ryan (Paul Ryan, 56)
8: Stephen Keogh

REPLACEMENT NOT USED: Richardt Strauss

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