With such massive games on the horizon for Leinster, all I wanted from this one was four league points and zero injuries, and by all accounts it seems we achieved both at Rodney Parade.
So I guess that leaves me with nothing to write about! See you next week! I’ll just fill in this extra time with some Angry Birds Rio!
What’s that? You think I should write something anyway? Oh, alright…
Normally I pinch my lead photo from the interweb, but for this match I’ve chosen a simple screengrab from RTE’s coverage for a reason.
While of course I’m happy with the result, I have concerns over the means Leinster used to come to that end, and the photo shows exactly why.
It looks like Jonny Sexton is doing a super fancy offload to Nathan Hines, doesn’t it? Well, he isn’t. What he’s doing is throwing the ball away needlessly (it goes right by Hines who, in his defence, probably wasn’t expecting it) when we had a ten-point lead, we were a man down and with only two tries on the board, there was no hope of a bonus point.
And in case you think I’m singling out our fly-half, let me add that not only was this pass preceded by a similar one by Jamie Heaslip that happened to come off, more than half the team were trying things like this from the word go, and on a different day, it could have cost us.
Now don’t get me wrong…I’ll sing the praises of the Joe Schmidt brand of Leinster rugby till the cows come home, it’s just that as my title suggests, there’s a time and a place for it, and Sunday afternoon in Newport was neither in my book.
I totally agreed with RTE pundit Brent Pope when he rubbished suggestions that the team may have been rusty after the Six Nations break. Like he said, they are full-time professionals who play together every day during the week so even if there were kinks there was plenty of time to iron them out.
It looked like our gameplan was to dazzle them with champagne rugby from the kickoff and have the points wrapped up by halftime. That’s all very well, but you’re leaving out crucial variables with that strategy – particularly the referee and the way he handles the offside line.
Now Dragons fans may have a problem with that last sentence as by the sounds of the, er, “tenacious” home support they were getting the thin end of the wedge from Andy McPherson. And it’s true that Dominic Ryan’s yellow card, which he got when the match was all but won on 71 minutes, should have come earlier in the half when he thwarted a quick tap penalty which probably would have resulted in a try.
But the fact remains that the home side were doing everything they could to prevent quick ball emerging from our breakdown early on, and it’s not the first time opponents have done this, and it’s not the first time the ref has turned a blind eye either.
So all I’m saying is…when you have an obvious talent advantage over your opposition, would it not be better to be patient early on and play simple rugby, aiming to open things out in the second half when the defence is starting to tire?
The manner in which we got our two tries seemed to bear this out. One dive over the line by Issac Boss and one penalty try after some powerful scrummaging. Happy as I was with the win, I can’t help feeling that some extra phases instead of some high-flung passes could have gotten us the bonus.
And if I had to single one Leinster man out for over-egging the pudding it would be Luke Fitzgerald. Luke, for the love of all that’s holy, stop going for the YouTube moments for the time being!!!
It’s totally understandable that he’s frustrated after his spell at full-back in the Six Nations, especially since his replacement Keith Earls had little or no high balls to deal with against England. But if he has a similar outing against Munster next week as he did in Newport, I’d bench him for McFadden in the Heineken Cup. All he needs to do is make his tackles and be smart with possession, and gradually his natural talent will re-emerge. The more he tries to force it, the more damage he does to his game, let alone his confidence.
Of the Leinster players who seemed to have the right idea re: approach, there was Leo Cullen and Isaac Boss, and most of all man-of-the-match Isa Nacewa. Can we just award him Player of the Year now and be done with it? Or would that be a bad omen? Yeah, it probably would, but it’s just I’m running out of superlatives for his displays this season!!!
Can’t go without mentioning some Dragons as they did play their part in keeping this a contest. Hughes showed incredible pace to get their try though in the absence of Dan Lydiate, their only true star player was Aled Brew and he didn’t disappoint, with a couple of bone-crunching hits and some dazzling runs. He still doesn’t quite seem the finished article yet, but although Shane Williams is of a totally different build, the youngster can learn a lot from him at the World Cup and I’m sure he has a great future ahead of him.
Hey, whaddya know, guess I was able to write something about the match after all!
But as I said at the start, when all is said and done, it’s the result that matters, and we got one, which put us second in the league to add extra spice to next Saturday’s clash with our first-placed southern cousins, as if it needed extra spice! And if coach Schmidt can coax the lads into playing smart rugby in the hostile confines of Thomond Park, who’s to say we can’t make it Six In The Sticks?
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