Saturday, May 29, 2010

Leinster-12 Ospreys-17

[UPDATE Oct 9, 2013] every Wednesday morning on HoR we look back to a previous meeting for Leinster against their next opponents.
 
Ahead of our Heineken Cup clash with the Ospreys, I have gone back to the first-ever Magners League Grand Final for two reasons :
 
  • It was arguably the start of the unique rivalry that has developed between the two clubs.
  • It was the last time the two sides met with equal rest and full squads without player protection.

It was also a disappointing end to the Michael Cheika era, but I think we all know things got a little better in the years that followed.

 
 
When we lost to the Scarlets way back on opening day, we could’ve blamed the Lions Tour.

When we lost to the Dragons and the Warriors, we could’ve blamed the fact we sent over our Academy team. When we lost to Ulster, we could’ve blamed the weather. When we lost to Connacht, we could’ve blamed the scheduling.
 
In each case we didn’t make those excuses, nor should we have, I’m just saying we COULD have.

Let’s be perfectly clear.  On Saturday evening in the RDS, Leinster were comprehensively beaten by an Ospreys side that put in a performance that was structured, clinical, and comprehensive.  And they were rightly rewarded as Champions in the Magners League’s first ever Grand Final.

They employed the same tactics as Clermont and Edinburgh had recently done, ie keep us pinned in our own half and establish an early lead then rely on defence to see it home, only the Welshmen were the first to carry it through to the final whistle.

Ultimately it was our biggest liability throughout the season, ie our low try-scoring count, that cost us dear.  When sides have squared up defensively the way we have done so many times ourselves in recent times, we haven’t been able to find the combinations no matter who we had on the park.

Naturally it was a disappointment, especially when Cheika, O’Kelly, Demspey & van der Linde were coming to the end of their current involvement with Leinster rugby.  Though it should be said, I haven't seen a more polished display from Big Mal in the last two seasons, particularly in the lineout.

So when the dust has settled, we must take stock of what the 2009/10 season has brought.  Well, no trophies for a start, but perhaps there’s a silver lining there?  Did the dizzy heights of the previous campaign fill us with a notion that we were somehow entitled to silverware whatever the other nations did?

And though it’s hardly a consolation, I guess there is a crumb of comfort in the fact that in the last 12 months Leinster rugby has once and for all consigned the “Ladyboys” jibes to the annals of history.  Our southern cousins had set the mark in our one-on-one battles, and we showed we could meet it.  Of course the tide will flow back the other way in the future, but at least we have shown we have the ability to dominate.

As for next season? Well, it’s going to be all change in the Leinster camp.  A new head coach in Joe Schmidt, who as Clermont’s backs coach has proven that it is possible to be a league’s top try-scorers AND be its champion, not to mention the prospect of new signings-even Luke Fitzgerald will seem like one! 

PLUS there’s the small matter of the World Cup squad to be assembled, so it pretty much goes without saying there’s fascinating times ahead.

But back to Saturday night, when the final whistle blew, my mates and I went and shook as many travelling fans’ hands as we could and hoped they enjoyed their stay in the Irish capital.  Their boys certainly did them proud, albeit with the help of an Irishman ;-) JLP

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

It Only Ends Once…

Soon, on a mysterious Island, a great long-running saga will come to an end.

I’m sure I could have gone a lot further to link the Lost finale to the Magners League final but out of respect to non-fans of the show I’ll leave it there!

What can I say.  Even though Ireland fell short in the Six Nations and Leinster did likewise in the Heineken Cup, thanks to the new playoff format in the Magners League, we have a perfect chance to cap off the season on a high note this Saturday at the OarDeeEss AND to make it a perfect eleven for eleven at home in the competition.

But of course, there’s a flip side.  The star-studded Ospreys are coming to town, and after the success of their blue-clad countrymen, they certainly won’t cross the Irish Sea just to make up the numbers.

Well, I’m expecting a carnival atmosphere in Ballsbridge, I’m expecting enough travelling support to have some craic but not enough to drown us out, I’m expecting an opposition up for a battle.

I also expect a performance by the home side on a par with those that got us to this stage in the competition.  Not too much to ask surely?

And as if the Grand-ness of the occasion wasn’t enough, we Leinster fans also have an opportunity to witness the end of an era for the province, with several key figures taking their bow.  First there’s CJ van der Linde.  As for players who have served us honourably over the years, there’s Girvan Dempsey, Malcolm O’Kelly and Bernard Jackman.  Last, and certainly not least, there’s the man who no matter what happens on Saturday will surely be the most successful head coach Leinster has ever seen, Michael Cheika.

Though we want a good contest, we’ll also want to see them all go off on a high.

Bring it on.  Hope to see you there.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Leinster-16 Munster-6

RK v Munster

PLAYOFF PAYOFF

To have the (Magners League) decider still to play for will only increase the profile of the league in the month of May. Besides, this increases the odds of yet another chance to beat The Munsters, and who wouldn't want that???

JL Pagano on Babbling Brook forum, August 2009

I figured needed to include my own quote to prove I have always been in favour of the new top-four-playoff format, though I could also point to the fact I used to always refer to the competition as the “Meaningless League” until the system came into effect.

But to the organisers’ credit, they’ve made a few necessary tweaks, first being linking Heineken Cup qualification to league position, the next being the end of season playoff, and finally next year’s inclusion of two Italian teams.

And on Saturday night at the OarDeeEss, Leinster were able to capitalise on their well-earned home advantage by putting the auld enemy to the sword for the fourth time in a row to reach the first ever Magners League Grand Final on May 29th.

Despite the form book, I don’t think anyone in the 19,700 crowd believed for a moment that Munster were going to be shrinking violets in this one, and from the kickoff they set about throwing the kitchen sink at us.

It appeared from their starting selection that the gameplan was to hit us early, establish a lead and then bring on the Flannerys and the Wallaces to close it out.

And to be fair, when a Munster XV comes into a game that focused and that motivated, the only thing that’s going to repel them is a typical Kurt McQuilkin-inspired 80 minute defensive effort that Leinster are famous for, and luckily the boys were able to do it.

Jamie Heaslip won man of the match AGAIN, but although he did produce one his trademark barnstorming displays, he really only took off in the final quarter, and there were many more impressive showings from the boys in blue.

Healy and Wright were phenomenal in the loose, and edged the front row battle as well, although I’d agree with George Hook in that our tight 8 was the better of a bad pair.

But as usual it was in the backs where we made the difference.  Yes, BOD threw a block on de Villiers but the match-deciding try was still the result of a great backline move with everyone involved especially the returning Jonny Sexton, who followed up with the place-kick of the night for the extra two.

And credit must also go to Rob Kearney for not only being as reliable as ever under the high ball, not only for crossing for yet another crucial try, but also some super tackling throughout the match.

I’d be loathe to give too much criticism to our visitors, but if I were to pick out one thing I’d have to offer question marks over ROG as a captain. 

Not knowing when to let go while arguing with the ref, patting O’Leary on the head for his high tackle on Healy and not taking easy 3-point chances early on (maybe these calls came from the bench but I’d be surprised) were all signs that, much like Brian O’Driscoll before him at Leinster, greatness as a player does not necessarily translate into good provincial captaincy.

Other than that, it can’t be said that Munster lost this match with their performance.  They came at us right to the final whistle and I for one applaud them for their determination to break this try-scoring drought against us which now stands at 326 minutes.

And the Leinster faithful will be rewarded with a perfect way to close out the season as Ballsbridge welcomes back the star-studded Ospreys in two weeks.  They’ll be up for a fight I’m sure, a super night of cup rugby awaits us.

One final thing I’d like to note…as much as I’ve enjoyed the RDS this season, I REALLY wish they’d do something about the stadium clock.  It’s NEVER in synch with the referee.  Might I suggest a “hooter” system when the official clock goes to red much like in France and the Super 14?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Leinster-37 Edinburgh-28

Leinster v Edinburgh

D4TRESS

As a loyal Leinster fan/blogger I guess I’d need a pretty good excuse to not only miss my team’s final regular season home game but also take a few days to post my write up.

I guess my 1yr old son having to go to hospital for acute conjunctivitis on Saturday afternoon qualifies as a good one, right?

Being in touch with so many people on Twitter & Facebook as I am I felt it best to tell a white lie that it was myself who was ill so as people wouldn’t worry. And thankfully the little fella has been IVed to the max and is now home & hosed and back to his old self again.

But Sunday night it was my turn to get to stay at home while his mum did the hospital overnighter, so I at least got to see a recording of what went on at the RDS, and what a match it was.

I’ve seen teams come back from 8 points down in a rugby match before. I’ve also seen teams come back from 14 points before. But for the life of me I haven’t seen anyone come back from BOTH deficits at two different parts of the same game.

Edinburgh have to be praised. They needed a bonus point win and they came with an all-attacking style that was designed to do just that, and they were duly rewarded with a bonus point for that.

But of the four tries the home side managed to get in return (which ironically yielded our one and only try-scoring bonus of the season), I have to point our Shaggy’s, because for me it perfectly symbolised Leinster’s run-in to their Magners League campaign.

First, the mercurial stand-in outhalf (and my vote for Player Of The Year) Isa Nacewa made a cutting line break before chucking a perfect pass to Horgan, a sequence which in this little metaphor represents our 7 league wins in a row which put us within touching distance of a 1st place finish.

And when Shaggy got the ball, it looked for all intents and purposes that he was going to make it over the line, much like it seemed we’d be top seed in the playoffs.

But as he ran towards the line, you started to wonder if he had the legs to make it, especially with his opposite number Mark Robertson bearing down on him. This doubt is much like our recent defeats in Galway and Glasgow, plus our early setbacks in Sunday’s contest.

But when it came to the crunch, our cult hero number 14 had enough to put the ball down over the line, much as Leinster were able to secure two late tries to make it 9 Magners League wins out of 9 at the RDS for the 2009/10 season, and if that doesn’t show value for money on a season ticket, I don’t know what does.

Of course you can’t discount Nacewa’s seven-for-seven display from the kicking tee. Not too shabby from someone who isn’t even in our top three pecking order! Or least he wasn’t before Sunday!

And with Munster limping over the playoff line despite defeat in Cardiff, it now leaves us with a mouth-watering semifinal derby on Saturday evening which, despite the differing league records, could easily go either way.

Do you still think the playoff system doesn’t add anything to the rugby season? What would we be looking forward to right now without it?

Here’s hoping for a night to remember at D4tress. For the boys in blue, of course.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Toulouse-26 Leinster-16

E-Redden

FALLING SHORT

One moment more than any other summed up Leinster’s performance in Toulouse, that being Eoin Reddan going all butterfingers as he went to put the ball down for what surely would’ve been a match-changing try in the first half.

As I’ve said before in Heineken Cup reviews this season, we’ve been riding our luck in this competition to date and this was always going to be the battle where we couldn’t rely on fortune and instead we’d have to bring the kind of “A game” that we had at Croke Park 12 months earlier.

Alas it wasn’t to be. Toulouse may not have been the powerhouses the pre-game buildup suggested, but they certainly set a standard we found ourselves unable to match on the day. Jauzion and Skrela were able to be clinical at just the right moment unlike our equally famous names.

In my mind’s eye before this kicked off, I had a vision whereby they ran in two or three tries in quick succession, but for me it was always in the first twenty minutes. When we had them at 9-9 at half-time, I was beyond optimistic that we could pull it off.

But if Reddan’s fumble summed up our performance offensively, another moment defined our failures in defence, and the finger of blame can only point towards one man, CJ Van Der Liability.

Since when do the words “ROLL AWAY” make you think you’re meant to “lie there like a sack of spuds?” It wasn’t the only senseless penalty we gave away by a long chalk, but it was clearly the most frustrating to watch.

In all honesty, if we hadn’t continued to virtually invite them into our own 22, I’m not altogether sure they would have scored any tries on the day, despite their domination in the scrum.

Yet it wasn’t all negative. First, there was Shaun Berne. Surely even he would admit Jonny10 would have provided us with more fizz going forward, but the Australian did exactly what could have been expected of him and then some. The best compliment you can give him is that in no way did the Sexton injury result in the defeat.

Then there was our attitude when their second try was scored. Many would have thrown in the towel, but we managed to dig deep and throw the kitchen sink at them like the reigning European Champions that we were, and we were rewarded with a superb fling by Nacewa to Heaslip for a touchdown that at very least gave us some hope going into the closing stages.

But again a mind-numbing transgression on our part restored the two-score margin and that was a bridge too far.

Can we blame Michael Cheika? Maybe we can say he failed to instil the required match-winning attitude before kick-off. Maybe we can say it was a mistake to bring on the South African prop when despite his injuries he has failed to ever show anything resembling dedication in a blue jersey. Maybe we can say our coach is winding down in anticipation of his next assignment.

They may all be valid points, but there is also one over-riding factor to consider…the Heineken Cup is a huge competition and NOBODY has a God-given right to win it. The record of the Irish provinces has been superb over the years and getting half the semifinalists I reckon our boys have done us proud yet again this time round.

Let’s face it, both Leinster AND Munster were always going to be up against it playing on foreign soil, and although we lost by 10 and they by 11, neither of us need be ashamed.

And now at very least we can both focus on the end of the Magners League campaign. Some fascinating battles next weekend to round out the Final Four, then the competition’s first ever playoff series.

Here’s hoping Leinster can bring the motivation that led to Heaslip’s try into the weeks ahead.

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