Friday, September 24, 2010

Edinburgh-32 Leinster-24

Fordham Sports 

LEADERSHIP

Poor Ian Madigan.

Surely as the new season approached he saw his role in Leinster’s 2010/11 campaign as one where he would see some game time during International periods but still be able to develop in the shadow of Messrs Sexton and Byrne before him.

Friday night, having already reached the dizzy heights of clinching the good type of bonus point for his province with a super dip of the shoulder and burst against Cardiff, he found himself facing a nigh impossible kick from the corner in the last minute trying to rescue a consolation point at a practically empty Murrayfield.

Sadly, he never caught it right, but in all fairness, the youngster could have been forgiven if he missed the ball completely and sent his boot flying into the stands instead.

Over the four weekends in September, we have seen a Leinster squad clearly in transition. Not only are we coming to grips with a new coaching regime, but that same regime is itself coming to grips with restrictions imposed by the mother ship.

Also, naturally, there have been the predictable “dodgy ref” excuses, so please allow me the following paragraph to get a few from Friday off my chest before continuing.

[We were pinged a few times in the first half for defensive offside yet in the second, whenever we had the ball, Embra’s high line was ignored. For one of the tries, Scott Newlands can clearly be seen running forward and throwing a block on Isa Nacewa…a common occurrence I know, but he wasn’t even trying to hide it. And for another try, though Leinster WERE asleep when the penalty was called, it didn’t hurt the Scots’ cause that the referee acted as a perfect shield for Blair taking his tap and go.]

There. Feel a bit better now. Back to reality.

Much like the Treviso Travesty last week, those factors, even when combined, aren’t the reasons we’re just one win out of four in this league. Embra did impress on Friday, but given the amount of experience in our squad, we really should have been able to put together a better outing, particularly going forward.

On the defensive side of things, I have a feeling we have to accept the McQuilkin era is over. Our new style of play is such that we’re always going to leak tries – we just have to perfect retaining possession enough when we have it to score regularly ourselves. Once prop Geoff Cross lived up to his name when it came to our try-line after 23 minutes, you could tell it wouldn’t be the last time we were under such intense pressure.

Trouble is, we haven’t been capable of pressing the opposition’s line any time other than the first and last 10 minutes of the four matches so far this season. And of course, that form is far from good enough for the huge games to come over the next few weeks.

So what is needed? One word in my book, leadership.

Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon d’Arcy were our centres, but in reality it could’ve been anyone. I’d almost go as far to say that some of BOD’s offloads left me wondering if he was taking the piss?

Also Shane Jennings was meant to be captain, but at one stage when we earned a penalty, his charges were unsure as to who would take the kick, and that’s not the first time that has happened on his watch. That’s nowhere near good enough for this level. Different skipper till Leo comes back, please!!!

It was only when Jamie Heaslip took to the field that we played any kind of rugby that had an “x-factor” about it, and if we’re to have anything to hope for from this World-Cup-blighted club campaign, I’ll have to stop feeling the need to use the phrase “too little, too late” every week. And we certainly can’t go hiding behind injuries, rookie coaches and poor refereeing much longer, at least this blogger won’t.

The next three weeks could well define our season. As anyone who has followed the Heineken Cup knows, if you lose your first two matches, you have little or no hope of getting out of the pool. And the simple fact of the matter is, if we play in October as we did in September, not only will our impressive streak against the Auld Enemy be gone, but so will our European aspirations.

So to Kearney, Fitzgerald, Nacewa, O’Driscoll, D’Arcy, Sexton if fit (PLEASE lads, if there’s ANY uncertainty around him Saturday, list him as either/or? If he’s withdrawn at the last minute again or worse hobbles off early on, it will look like you named him just to flog tickets!), Reddan. Jamie, Jennings, O’Brien, Nathan, Healy & co I say this…you’re going to have to be much more than impressive names on a teamsheet.

Let’s just say there will be thousands upon thousands of blue-clad fans at Lansdowne next Saturday anxious to see you lead us as we know you can.

UPDATE MAY 29, 2013 – I reckon it turned out ok! JLP

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Benetton Treviso-29 Leinster-13

Nathan Hines in action against Benetton Treviso

SUB ZERO CONDITIONS

If you think my headline means I blame the atrocious weather at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo for Leinster’s defeat, think again.

There were several factors that led to this result, and the steady downpour most certainly wasn’t one of them.  First and foremost, there was the stunning 80-minute display by the home side.

You would think a club new to a well-established league would be intimidated enough by the arrival of the 2009 Heineken Cup winners and 2010 table-toppers without conceding a try in the opening minutes as Nacewa followed up his man-of-the-match showing last week with a perfect finish to a perfect backline move. He even added the two from the corner for good measure.

But the Italians clearly had a gameplan to pin us back in our own half and not only did they find the composure to settle into it, they executed it perfectly.  Basically, when they pressed in our 22 they were able to put points on the board while we couldn’t.

And when it came to stopping us, if it wasn’t their number 8 Vosawai being a brick wall when we ran at them, it was their fullback Brendan Williams slithering his way past tacklers after fielding a garryowen.

So while there were parts of Leinster’s game which need addressing, let’s be clear that the home side was every bit worthy of their victory, and having seen the Munster v Ospreys match which followed, I doubt either of the league’s last two champions would have fared much better against them.

So…just how did we contribute to our second away downfall of the campaign?

For one thing, I counted four line breaks by Sean O’Brien where we ended up turning the ball over because he had no support.  I have a feeling that is down to his not getting the memo on our new offloading system.  It appears to be a method by which you ONLY break through a gap if you know you have passing options.  So clearly the squad still has to come to grips with the new offence, and if so it’s a shame that’s the case three matches into the season.

Next, we have our decision-making on the pitch.  This hurt us last season as well, and I hate to say so but it was also when Shane Jennings was captain. 

Down by 9 after 72 minutes, with place-kicking anything BUT a reliable option, and with a guaranteed extra man for the remainder of the match, SURELY the option was to kick for the corner.  It stands to reason that if you definitely need a try to get back into a game, it’s better to get it first, THEN you may be left with a 3-pointer to get. 

But instead we kicked the first penalty, and missed. Then we kicked the second penalty, and also missed.  But the third? No, THIS time we’ll go for the try, but now instead of having 8 minutes to go through organised phases, we were scrambling for a bonus point which left us wide open to a fly-hack down the field which ended up in Williams’ much-deserved clincher.

And last, but certainly not least, we have the player-protection system.  I have a simple philosophy when it comes to sports with limited substitutions  NEVER start a player who you don’t want to/ think can finish a match. 

This season, unfortunately, every time I watch Leinster play in the Magners League I’m going to dread the moment when the clock nears 60 minutes.  Why? Because that’s when the pre-determined replacements take place. Our defence had JUST been broken down for Treviso’s first try, and anyone with an ounce of rugby knowledge could see that Eoin O’Malley wasn’t cutting it going forward so the sensible move would be to bring McFadden on to partner Gordon D’Arcy in the centre.

Sadly, the IRFU mandate dictated that the Wexford man had to come off.  Or at least I have to assume that’s the case since I haven’t heard of any injury.  Meanwhile, over in Thomond Park, it was ok for Ronan O’Gara to come on after 3 minutes and see out the game.

I KNOW what the protection is for and of COURSE I want the national squad to be at full strength when the World Cup comes around.  But my contention is, if you want to protect a player, don’t let him play at all.  Let the coach have a 23 he can work with for 80 minutes and adapt according to match conditions.  I bought my season ticket so I can watch Leinster compete, and that means behaving as every other professional rugby team does over the course of a game.

As you can see, I’m giving coach Schmidt the benefit of the doubt here.  Not so over on the Leinster forum where folks are already calling for his head.

Well given the interference from the mother ship, I’m prepared to give him time, but with a trip to wounded Embra next weekend followed by the Auld Enemy in front of a huge AVIVA crowd, that time is wearing thin.

PS…on TG4’s presentation, well it was “an-mhaith”, and long live the Irish language and all, but with all the radio stations keen to show off they’re “official Leinster partners” you’d think ONE of them would offer live commentary “as Béarla” of every match.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Leinster-34 Cardiff Blues-23


Last season you would’ve bet your house on a Leinster team with a 14-0 lead at any stage of the match.

Only thing is, I’m not sure we ever had such a lead last year, since to do so we’d have to score a try.

When Ian Madigan crossed for our bonus-securing try at the death, it was our 6th touchdown of the season in only our second game. A year ago it took us till the 38th minute of our 6th game up in Ravenhill for Shaun Berne to cross for number 6.

So that begs the question : has Joe Schmidt brought the tries with him from Clermont? On yesterday’s evidence at our home opener, it really looked like it, especially after Nacewa crossed for our second on eight minutes to add to Jennings’ opener.

But of course such an addition to our repertoire can’t come without it’s drawbacks. For the second week in a row we threw away that early lead, and also for the second week in a row, the lead was lost mostly due to mistakes on our part.

This week’s Leinster brainfart wasn’t quite as costly as Fogarty’s, when Shaggy looked bemused and stood his ground despite the ref telling him to move in the ruck. Still, you can’t give soft chances like that to Dan Parks and it settled the visitors by getting their side of the scoreboard moving.

But we went in at the break with the fourteen-point advantage restored, and my only concern was our ability to retain possession when we had it. Guess what – before I could say I told you so in the second half, we’d coughed up the ball twice the in the opposition 22 for the Blues (who were masquerading as the Pinks) to counter attack both times for scores. Another Parks pen followed and the home crowd was shell shocked into thinking it was going to be a long, long campaign.

All we needed to do was hold on to the frickin ball! I’ve never seen the one team lose it in contact so often! Clearly that’s a by-product of the Schmidt-inspired brand of offloading which, while devastating when it works, needs a few more matches before it’s perfected throughout the squad.

Despite our handling errors, we deserved to win this game, as we dominated at virtually every position.

What can you say about Isa Nacewa. Well on this showing, I say “Superman”. Catching, kicking, running, tackling, he delivered at least one highlight-reel moment in every department, and well deserved man of the match.

He was ably supported by a Luke Fitzgerald with mojo restored, a display from Ian Madigan beyond his years given the situation Jonny10’s injury foisted upon him, and in the forwards, a second strong outing in a row from Richardt Strauss at hooker which for me puts him ahead of Fogs in our pecking order.

And even though I was part of it, I’d like to think the almost 16,000-strong RDS crowd helped us pressure the Cardiff line in the final quarter and keep the ball when it counted to first nudge ahead thanks to Fads  after a super crash ball/offload by Healy, and finally clinch the 5 Magners League points thanks to Madigan selling the Blues defence a wonderful dummy and surging through the space before him.

That final 15 minute spell gave the Leinster faithful the sense they were looking for – that they still have the stuff necessary to produce the goods, though this time, goods of the try-scoring variety. Long may it continue – I’d take a 34-23 bonus-point win over an 18-12 kickfest any week.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Glasgow Warriors-22 Leinster-19

Click here for my pre-match HarpinBoo recording "Warriors, Wishes & Welcomes"

 *****IRISH EDITORIAL USE ONLY*****
Magners League 3/9/2010
Glasgow Warriors vs Leinster
Leinster's Isa Nacewa fails with a drop goal with the last kick of the game
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Graham Stuart  *** Local Caption ***

THE FOGGIEST NOTION

So it’s a new season, one that’s leading to a World Cup.

Though you had a pretty good campaign last year, Sean Cronin’s better one saw you fall to Number 3 in Ireland’s pecking order at hooker.

Also, at your province, there’s a South African trying to get himself Irish qualified. He gets picked ahead of you in the opening game, and has a solid first half.

Not to mention the fact that your team has built a handy 10-point lead, though when you take the field momentum is starting to swing towards the home side.

So wouldn’t you think the LAST thing you’d want to do in those circumstances is to throw a few digs in one of your first rucks and get yourself sinbinned, lucky not to be sent off???

There were several things about Leinster’s second half display at Firhill Arena which contributed to the result- inability to retain possession, Luke Fitzgerald's wobbly return to action at 15, responding to the score-levelling try by bringing on Eamonn Sheridan for his first cap-but every time I think about this result I keep going back to John Fogarty’s 50th minute brainfart.

In no way do I hold Isa Nacewa responsible for this defeat despite his last minute drop goal miss. Simple fact of the matter is, we shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place.

Even though the halftime lead we had built had as much to do with a Keystone-cops-like Glasgow defence as it did our impressive moves going forward, if there was one time you most certainly do NOT want to go a man down, it was then. I know things happen in rucks and something was probably done on him, but he should certainly know better than to react that way.

Now of course, credit must go to the home side. Not only did they turn their defensive fortunes 360 degrees but they also discovered when it counted that Duncan Weir was a more worthy recipient of Dan Parks’ number 10 jumper than starter Ruaidhri Jackson.

But on a weekend which saw wins for the other three Irish provinces, Joe Schmidt is going to have adapt to the IRFU protection system pretty damn quick or his team is going to have a lot of catching up to do in the Magners League with the in-form Cardiff Blues coming to Dublin next week and a couple of away matches to follow.

We all know how the team can play with its stars, but this season it’s going to have to be able to produce the goods without them and that’s just something we have to get used to.

As for Fogs, I have a feeling the citing commissioner is going to grant him a few weeks to reflect on things before he gets a chance to redeem himself on the pitch. Here’s hoping he can use the time wisely.

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