Saturday, April 30, 2011

Leinster-32 Toulouse-23

JAMIE

JAMIE ALL-OVER

I just have two words for Leinster fans after this famous victory : “You’re welcome.”

Why do I say that, you may ask? Well, because the victory over Toulouse happened thanks to me, of course!!!

And why do I say THAT, you may ask? Because clearly Jamie Heaslip read my preview column on SportsNews Ireland last Thursday, where I said this…

“I’m personally looking to talismanic Number 8 Jamie Heaslip to step forward and grab the headlines. He showed us already this year he can square up to the likes of Dusautoir at the Aviva Stadium back in February, so I’m expecting big things from him this weekend.”

Who scored our first try and went on to be voted Man Of The Match???

Again I say, “you’re welcome”.

OK, hopefully you know I’m joking and you’re still reading this post, so now to the real stuff…

HEALYThe final winning margin was 9 pts, and the final try tally was 2 each, so I suppose when I saw some headlines around the mainstream media claiming Leinster “edged” this contest, they were referring to stats like those.

But let’s examine exactly how these two great clubs scored their tries on the day, shall we?

The visitors struck first thanks to a series of events that you couldn’t re-create in a million years. Many a time has a defence been caught napping by a penalty kick that has struck the crossbar, but you can’t say it’s my blue goggles talking when I say there is nothing any Leinster player could have done about Skrela’s rebound falling perfectly in the bread basket of the on-rushing Florian Fritz after a wicked bounce.

After a couple of early attacking opportunities were wasted with dodgy lineouts, Leinster had their first real chance to cross the line approaching the half hour, when The Jamie Heaslip Show took centre stage. You really should watch the sequence from the lineout in the Toulouse 22 around the 27-minute mark, it’s something else. Not only does he receive the knockdown from his skipper AND complete the score with the touchdown, he’s involved half a dozen times in between what with marshalling the phases, clearing out tacklers and at least another 3 carries.

We’ll discuss the reason Toulouse had an extra man for the 2nd try later…but the fact remains, they had him. With a scrum virtually on our try-line, we had to concede the man advantage in the backs. I’ve watched it a few times and I’m still not sure whether flanker Jean Bouilhou meant to boot the ball straight out of the scrum or was he just trying to keep it in…either way, with the ball shooting out at pace and Doussain reacting so quickly, his offload to Picamole was only to have one result.

But once again, Leinster were fully locked in a mode of “anything you can do, we can do better”, and having just inched ahead by two points, we won the restart on our own 22 and after a clever chip from Luke, a couple of super scrambles from Strauss & Isa, impressive carries from Mike Ross and (of course) Jamie, before you knew it we were camped on their line again and who else would you expect to apply the finishing touch in that situation but Mr Triskaidekaphobia himself.

Leinster defence v ToulouseFor the rest of the contest, when 15 played 15 and there were no freaky bounces, Leinster were well in control of this match, and though the visitors made brave attempts towards the end to claw their way back, their only hope of crossing the line was out wide, and on 73 minutes when sub winger Gregory Lambooley had the ball flung at him, first a crunching tackle by Isa and then an incredible jackle & strip from, yes, you guessed it, Jamie, thwarted their last chance. 

Even a couple of late errors from Nacewa & Stan couldn’t help the visitors.  Our Gandalf defense as I call it (“you shall not pass!”) was just too good. (see Ken Bohane’s pic for a classic shot of our defence in action…click it for his excellent-as-always set from the match).

For me the game’s “pivotal moment” was Toulouse lock Albacete’s unforgivable charge through the maul to concede a penalty just before halftime.  Never mind whether or not it was legal…to do it at the breakdown was ALWAYS a risk, and his side were fortunate to be level with Leinster at that point PLUS they had an extra body on the park, so he really had no business doing anything.  Though they were to regain the lead shortly after the restart, Leinster had to have been buoyed by going in 16-13 up at the half.

Now…to the ref.  I normally hate bashing the man in the middle, and after all the pre-match moaning by Leinster fans about Dave Pearson I was hoping to give him benefit of the doubt, but the fact remains that Toulouse were pinged several times in their own 22 without so much as a warning, while even if O’Driscoll WAS guilty of something horrific when he was binned, surely Pearson should have been consistent.  There would be quite the inquest going on right now had the result been different.

In stark contrast to Richard Cockerill’s whinging after the quarterfinal, legendary Toulouse coach Guy Novès, who knows a thing or four about winning this great competition, was magnanimous in defeat (points made in this paragraph courtesy of @ciaran69 on twitter):

"Despite our two tries and our workrate, we were beaten by a stronger side who deserved to win.”

Of course we can’t discount the effort made by Jonny Sexton, who not only slotted all eight kicks on the day, but also played a nigh-on flawless 10 throughout.  One can’t help wondering what might have been had he been able to play a year ago in the Stade Municipal.  Also there was a super effort from the front row, with the marauding Cian “Proper Church” Healy (pic) & Mike Ross holding sway and then the likes of Heinke van der Merwe providing seamless transition from the bench.

This was the latest in a series of remarkable occasions at the Aviva Stadium, and the atmosphere was electric throughout.  Only worry now for Leinster will be if Sean O’Brien is nabbed by the citing commissioner for this swipe at Yannick Nyanga.  Otherwise, Joe Schmidt can bring his charges to Cardiff on May 21st knowing a similar display could well provide the perfect result for the fans back home in the 12 eastern counties of Ireland.

elsewhere in Europe…

Results at the weekend mean that all four teams travelling to Cardiff for European Finals weekend have some sort of Irish connection, but not quite in the manner we may have expected.  What a performance & result by Conor O’Shea’s Harlequins, eh?  No doubt about it, they out-Munstered Munster.  I can’t help but point to the decrease in Ronan O’Gara’s form when he plays as captain, but by no means should that take away from the visitor’s achievements.  They now face Michael Cheika’s Stade Francais in the Amlin final, and that’s a matchup which should be a cracker as both need to lift the trophy to guarantee a spot in next season’s Heineken Cup.  As for Northampton and their Belfast-born No8 Roger Wilson, I congratulate them for reaching the final, but despite the hype from the Sky commentators I really felt it was a case of their B game overcoming a dreadful Perpignan’s C game.  Let’s just say that if the two Heineken Cup finalists play as they did in the semis, there can only be one winner.  But I’d be very surprised if the Saints were unable to up their performance on the day, and it’s bound to be a close one.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Aironi-8 Leinster-20

Click here for the pre-match HarpinBoo podcast “McLaughlin All Over The World”

Click here for my latest article previewing the Magners League for the Irish provinces on SportsNews Ireland

aironi-ken_thumb5

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX

If this match were an episode of the sitcom Friends it would be titled “The One That Wasn’t On Telly”.

But for Leinster fans, the news seems to be all good – four more Magners League points secured, so a win vs Glasgow in our final match will clinch the home semi.  Plus the squad seems to have gotten through the game unscathed ahead of the big match next Saturday.

I didn’t see the action myself, so I can’t really comment.  But if you click where it says “Thinking Outside the Box” above, you’ll go to the official Leinster website where they offer a full report of the action.  You will also see ads for such quality institutions as UPC, Bank of Ireland and Nivea for Men.

So that’s that then!  Nothing more I can say, right?

Hang on, let’s just back up the truck a moment.

THE MATCH WASN’T ON TELLY. Think about that.

When it comes to mobile phones, every so often I still hear people say with great sarcasm “Oh, Lord, how did we ever survive when we didn’t have them?” Well, that is true. There was a day when none of us had them, and the earth still turned.

But now we DO have them, we wouldn’t want to go back to the way things were, right? And the same goes for telephones in general, same goes for televisions, same goes for computers, the list is endless.

And so the same goes for live coverage of Leinster rugby matches.

There was a time not too long ago when live rugby was restricted to the RBS Six Nations and more recently the Heineken Cup. But over the past couple of seasons first Setanta and now RTE/TG4 have provided coverage of every Magners League fixture home and away from week to week.

So I suppose in a sense it could be said that last Saturday’s absence of broadcast could be considered a bit of “market research”. Care to venture a guess as to the findings?

(Before I proceed, I’d like to point out that up to now, I’ve already named a cider manufacturer twice and a lager one once. Not to mention the products on the Leinster website and a bank PLUS a famous TV show which is available on Blu-ray from leading stockists like HMV)

By using a statcounter to monitor traffic on HarpinOnRugby.net, I can see what people Googled to arrive at the site. Between Thursday and Saturday morning, I received well over 100 hits from people who had searched for something along the lines of “Aironi Leinster TV”.

That’s just on my humble little blog. So what that tells me is that there must have been thousands scrambling around looking for the chance to watch Leinster play an away fixture against the Magners League’s bottom team in a match we were heavily favoured to win.

So when I hear the “official” reason for the match not being shown, ie the company that had the rights Dahlia TV going into liquidation, I have to ask myself…is that really good enough?

Apparently, we’re in a recession. Now I certainly couldn’t call myself an economist, but I can’t help feeling that if so many people are willing to shell out for Leinster season tickets before the season even started, a large proportion of those people will be also willing to stare continuously at a TV screen for an hour and a half to watch Leinster play, assuming of course they were unable to travel to the match.

So with over 10,000 pairs of eyes guaranteed, are you telling me there isn’t a single company out there willing to hawk their goods during that time????

Maybe RTE wasn’t to blame. Maybe Leinster Rugby wasn’t to blame. Maybe the Magners League wasn’t to blame. Fine.

But we as fans have gotten used to our weekly fix of pro rugby on the box and it’s up to all of them to get the job done to sort it out for us.

Instead of everyone holding up their hands and saying it wasn’t their fault, it was one of those situations where heads needed to knocked together and told : “Just Do It”. [This paragraph of common sense was brought to you by Nike]

And this is a timely discussion to be having. Apparently, Magners are ending their association with the League, which makes sense, since with the addition of Italian teams there’s a need for a sponsor whose product has a reach across all four of the associated nations.

So I’d like to think that a company looking to fund the tournament for the next few years would be saying to the league’s blazers : “Eh, yeah, you see the way that match with one of your most heavily-supported teams wasn’t being televised last April? Don’t let that happen again.”

At least we had the saving grace that when conventional media failed to deliver, there was social media to step in and fill the void. Full kudos to the Official Leinster Supporters Club for both arranging and promoting the live Twitter updates, it was great to see.  Plus on a personal level, the texts from Noel and the super photos by Ken (click the pic above for the full set which, by the way, were taken with a Canon EOS 50D) were much appreciated.

But this issue should make us as Leinster, Munster and Ulster fans realise…our clubs are known in rugby circles throughout the globe in a manner similar to the likes of Manchester United and Barcelona in soccer (I know nowhere near in money terms but I’m talking about prestige within the sport) .

Look at all this talk of the Irish provinces poaching New Zealanders. Whatever about its rights and wrongs, that’s US doing it! Little ol’ Ireland! That’s the net result of the sport’s popularity on these shores! It’s not just the Top14 with the major league sheckles anymore!

Therefore we should expect a certain standard of the sport’s presentation to be maintained and guaranteed coverage should definitely be part of it.

Having said all of that, I’m willing to assume that Saturday’s “black-out” was but a blip. That’s not naïve of me, is it???

And so we move on to preparations for next Saturday’s big Heineken Cup semifinal at the Aviva.  Not sure why, but typing that last sentence has made me incredibly thirsty…

One thing is for sure…you can bet that Rupert Murdoch’s minions will make sure ad revenue is maximized for that one. (And if you DO bet, make sure it’s with a quality bookmaker like Paddy Power)

By the way – this post filled with free plugs to make a point about how easy it is to get your company exposure in rugby these days was brought to you by me.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Leinster-34 Ulster-26

Click here for the pre-match HarpinBoo podcast “Simply The Boss”

Click here to read my preview for the Irish provinces on SportsNews Ireland

shaggy17

WELL AND TRULY SHAGGED

So there I was on the Number 18 bus, headed for the RDS and well on schedule for a pre-kickoff pint or even maybe two.

Then as we got to Ranelagh, rather than turning right at the triangle as expected, we instead go in the other direction on a route which took me so far away from where I wanted to go I wondered if Dublin Bus had been bought out by Ryanair without my knowledge.

Eventually I disembarked at the Horse Show House and the distinct lack of drinking punters outside told me the match had well started. So I legged it up the Simmonscourt Road but half way to the entrance, the roar of the crowd told me we’d already gotten a try.

Thankfully the boys in blue had chosen to put on a full 80-minute display of “Schmidt-ball” at its absolute finest to put them in pole position to clinch a home Magners League semifinal.

It wasn’t that Ulster were poor. It was just that Leinster were firing on all cylinders from the off. And having seen every second they’ve played this season, I can only assume that’s the gameplan our Kiwi coach is going for.

Blitz them from the off, establish a sizeable lead, empty the bench and trust the defence to bring it home.

Of course tries don’t come easily at this level, but in that first half we sure made them look like they were. Nacewa was, by his standards, quiet throughout, but both his break and his inch perfect pass to Luke for the second try were sublime.

Then not to be outdone, Shaggy over on the opposite wing touched down for a third a few minutes later. To the untrained eye it seemed like a cricket score could be run up, but I’d say most home fans knew the visitors wouldn’t take this lying down.

Yet we kept piling on the pressure and it was only a matter of time before a white jersey would be sent to the bin and sure enough Vannenburg obliged, which led to a much deserved try for the forwards as Heinke van der Merwe secured a bonus point in record time for the Magners League this season.

The only downside for my mates and I in Block G of the grandstand was that all the tries had come down the other end, and with such big games to come on the horizon, we feared the cotton wool would be dragged out and there wouldn’t be much in the second half to savour.

Enter Mr. S Horgan (pic).

It wasn’t quite on a par with O’Driscoll’s wonder-try in the same corner against Wasps in 2008, but still, such flashes of brilliance (albeit with a well-earned slice of fortune) are the kind of thing that make the season ticket worth every blue cent.

And the most telling stats on the scoresheet are the subsitutions…Cullen, Nacewa, Sexton, Nacewa, Strauss & Wright, all hauled ashore before the 55 minute mark.

Sure, Ulster pulled a couple of tries back to make a pesky losing bonus point a distinct possibility, but what locked down the maximum result for Leinster was the ten minute spell when Sean O’Brien was off the park after Wanneburg’s try, during which the visitors didn’t even come near scoring.

It was yet another awesome showing by the blu edefence, and with Shane Jennings playing well from the off after returning to action, they surely have plenty more in the tank this season.

I sincerely hope Brian McLaughlin won’t have any problems preparing his troops for their remaining matches in this campaign. They have evolved into a squad which will only improve with additions like Jared Payne next season (not to mention a certain Mr Ferris) and should they face a return trip to Ballsbridge as the table suggests right now, will be more than able for the challenge.

One fascinating sub-plot on the night which reports didn’t seem to pick up on was the battle between the number 13s. With BOD looking down from on high in the crowd, Eoin O’Malley and Nevin Spence both put in displays that showed there will be quite the tussle for his Ireland jersey once he decides to release it.

Both O’Malley and McFadden were finding gain-line-breaching runs like it was for fun from start to finish and it made it hard to tell which pair of five-eighths was their province’s second string.

And while normally I thinking awarding man-of-the-match to the leading try-scorer is a lazy decision, on this occasion it was the right one. As well as the YouTube moment Horgan was catching restarts and making tackles throughout and well deserved the honour.

For those on “Luke-watch”, well, there was a try which he finished clinically, but there was also the odd turnover as well. Mojo still unfound in my book.

I’d also point to the wayward dart by substitute hooker Jason Harris-Wright in the second half. He surely must start against Aironi next weekend with Strauss possibly rested altogether as the South African will be key against Toulouse.

But that’s just me being picky. Despite the public transport issues, my trips to watch Leinster rugby play live have been perfect in every respect this season so far. And unless Aironi can find the kind of form which helped them overcome Biarritz, I see no reason why I won’t be sweating every turn of the 18 bus for an extra OarDeeEsh occasion on the second weekend in May.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Leinster-17 Leicester Tigers-10

Click here for pre-match HarpinBoo podcast “Many Rivers To Mike Ross”

Click here for my weekend preview for the Irish provinces on SportsNews Ireland

isa-nacewa_thumb1

PUTTING THE “D” IN “D4”

What is it about Aviva Premiership coaches not knowing when they’ve been beaten fair and square?

Back in October, Leinster squeaked past Saracens at Twickenham, and as we all know Venter’s comments afterwards were tame for him but still reeking of sour grapes nonetheless.

Yet fierce a competitor as he has always been, Richard Cockerill surprised me a bit when he went straight for the ref in his post match talk.

What say we leave him (and George Hook) with their delusions and get on with what actually happened, shall we?

Two things brought home the bacon. One, the try (main pic), took seconds, the other, our defence, took 80 minutes.

Before I thumb through my thesaurus for words I haven’t yet used this season to describe Isa, let’s look at the tries we DIDN’T score on the day. I may have had a few jars on me, but I was tearing my hair out at half time because we only had a 9-3 lead.

manuThe facts of the first forty minutes were quite simple. When Leicester had an attack in our 22, we’d stop it (even when it was the marauding Manu – pic). When we had an attack in their 22, we’d drop it (the ball that is -it was left to them to drop their shorts!).

Just as I feared before this game, we seemed unwilling to take our time before going for the jugular. No doubt the tactical report showed that rather than go wide, our best chance of success was for someone wearing 11-15 to find a good line and cut back against the grain of a drift defence.

But why do it off the first or second phase? Did we have so little confidence in our forwards that we couldn’t at least have a go at crashing over the line first? Maybe they were trying to save the pack’s breath for their defensive duties?

I know I must have been driving the people sitting around me bonkers, but I probably shouted “keep it simple!” a dozen times. My apologies to everyone in Block 127.

And guess how we got the try that sealed the match? No slick passes, no sly behind-the-back offloads, just our mercurial (found one!) full-back sizing up the defence in front of him, shifting the ball from left arm to right arm to both hands at just the right moments to break through and seal the contest when for all extents and purposes he had no right to.

If you look at the try again, just check out the movement of Isa’s opposite number Scott Hamilton. A veteran of many a big Heineken Cup contest himself, he was so befuddled by the Fijian international’s motions while charging at him that he couldn’t even begin to know how to tackle him - he simply fell over!

So finally we had opened up a double-digit lead, but even when Sexton made it 17-3, you always had a notion that if the visitors could nick a quick score, we’d have a nail-biting last few minutes.

But as it turned out, even though they DID break through and get within a converted try, there was no earthly way they were doing it again as the infamous Leinster defence was able to regroup and run down the clock.

I’m nowhere near an expert on the technical aspects of how the modern game is played, but it was fascinating to watch from where we were sitting, two rows from the front on the 22. We’re fractionally below pitch level so you get a great angle to see the clearing out being done and the primary tackles being made.

And it seemed more often than not, Leinster’s primary tackler had the number 2 on his back.

Leinster Leicester lineoutIt was more of a team effort by the pack, particularly in the lineouts where we completely ruled Cockerill’s roost (pic - click here for more from Ken Bohane who was sat beside me), but I was delighted Strauss got the man-of-the-match, probably because I’ve been harpin’ on about his importance to us in this competition since last November.

Elsewhere along the backline, things were solid enough, especially in the tackling department. As for Luke, well, he did drop one or two and there’s a very strong case for McFadden to be given his starting berth, but I’d be very surprised if that actually happened.

My assessment of the visitors? Well, their fans were great. They arrived in large numbers, and I was congratulated by several afterwards, so I don’t mean to offend anyone, but I was extremely disappointed by their heroes’ display given they are the best the English club game has to offer.

It took them till the final quarter to work out the only way to come at us was quickly – I would’ve thought a scan over the second half at Thomond Park the previous week would have them doing it from the start. And as for Ben Youngs and Toby Flood, I very much doubt they’ll fancy coming to Dublin again any time soon.

So now we face a rematch of last year’s semifinal, but under completely different circumstances. This time it’s on OUR patch, this time we’ve a new coach who knows a thing or six about playing and beating Toulouse (Clermont did the Top14 double over them last season) and this time, our young stars are a year smarter.

We must not even think about a trip to Cardiff until the full-time blows against Guy Noves’ men, but one thing is for sure…we’ll be a lot more confident than we were the last time we played a Heineken Cup semifinal in Dublin.

Once we can keep putting the “D” in “D4” I reckon we’ll do alright.

***************

Elsewhere in the Heineken Cup, it SHOULD have been a full house of home wins, but I guess only Biarritz’ winger Ilikena Bolakoro knows why he dove over the line rather than go for an easier conversion after his side gradually pegged back the reigning champions.  In extra time it’d take a brave man to bet against Toulouse.  Perpignan were always going to make the most of their clear advantage over Toulon both in ground and experience, while Ulster fought bravely in Milton Keynes against the Saints but ran out of steam near the end.  The Nordies are an interesting side to watch in that they only seem to click in to top gear when they’re losing. The move that created Trimble’s try was top-drawer stuff but that ability seemed to evaporate once they had the lead. But for Adam Darcy inexplicably dropping the ball towards the end they could have pinched this one. No disrespect to the Saints who were literally scrappy in the pack thanks to Hartley and Lawes but I have to say I fancy the Catalans to prevail in their semi based on what I saw at the weekend.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Munster-24 Leinster-23

Click here for the pre-match HarpinBoo podcast “Shaggy May”

Click here to read my weekend preview for the Irish provinces on SportsNews Ireland

Muns_Leins_TO0411_Web_thumb3

THE REAL WINNERS

Normally when I do these match writeups I shoot for 1000 words.

Back in April 2009 when Leinster last lost this fixture, given Munster’s domination of not just our derby matches but European rugby as a whole, I was so frustrated I could barely muster 100.

Yet although I let out a sigh (by sigh I mean an unprintable word) as O’Gara’s last-gasp kick sailed over the bar to end this match, I still feel as though I have plenty to write about.

Last week I called for Leinster to play “smart” rugby. Well for the first half, they were in frickin Mensa.

The no-look passes were gone, the wraparounds were gone – it was just just simple, no-nonsense tactics from an away team, pinning their opponents in their own half at every turn.

You could see it from the very first whistle. Every time Sexton kicked from the halfway line, the ball was straight into the opposing 22, as if to say “go on, have all the possession you want, you’re not getting past us.”

By contrast O’Gara’s restarts were aimed, not always successfully, at our 10 metre line showing how desperate the home side were to have it in our territory.

HorganlinetryMunster11_rdax_402x308Not that Munster weren’t doing reasonably well on the defensive front themselves, mind you. It took a sensational line from Isa Nacewa together with a kindly bounce from his grubber kick to produce the fitting result of a try for Shaggy (pic) on his 200th appearance.

Still, at halftime, with the score 20-9 in the visitor’s favour, even though a Munster fightback was always on the cards, it was hard to see how we wouldn’t be looking for phrases like “seventh heaven” to describe our next encounter.

But Leinster weren’t counting on the extent of that very fightback.

However secure Tony McGahan’s men are in first place on the Magners League table, had they lost yet another to their nemesis, it would have left a giant scar on their season. So given the way they came at us all guns blazing from the restart, it’s clear he and Paul O’Connell used that fact in the dressing room to light a spark under the boys in red.

And as sickening a cliché as “rugby was the winner” may be, in an Irish context it really was. For although the records show such battle-weary names as Stringer, O’Driscoll, Horan and the Bull joining the fray at some stage, Munster can be proud that it was stellar outings from future stars like Jones, Murray & Coughlan that dragged them back into it.

Yet they were still not getting near crossing our line. When we had the ball ourselves, you could tell we were rattled as the no-look passes made their unwelcome appearance, but on defence it was equally clear we were determined to at least keep them from touching it down. For that reason I wouldn’t be so worried about the second half penalty count. Tiny crumb of comfort it may be, but at least the clock is still ticking on Munster’s last 5-pointer against us.

So it all boiled down to that kick from Ronan. I made a point of tweeting “Full kudos to ROG if he gets this” as he lined it up. Though you could tell by his body language (and I don’t just mean his shiner!) it took huge mental strength to compose himself (pic), the greatness of the man shone through as he not only slotted it over, but remembered his leadership duties to focus his team-mates on the task at hand from the restart.

I’m leaving it until now to mention the referee Andrew Small. Let’s just say we should revisit the cliché “all we want from the man in the middle is consistency”, because he was not only consistently bad throughout, he was so towards both teams. Surely in the future the Magners League can afford to give this occasion the quality of officiating it deserves?

We can’t be sure that reports were true of him telling Leo Cullen that the only reason he didn’t sin-bin Johne Murphy for a deliberate knock-on in the second half was that it would have meant a red card, but it definitely wouldn’t come as a surprise. And when it came to BOD’s trip to the line, while I wouldn’t condone not producing yellow based on the identity of the player, I’d wonder would that particular ref have done it had he seen the number 13 before reaching for his pocket.

But Leinster cannot point to the referee for their defeat. They must look to their own game, and particularly how it shapes up going into their much bigger match at the Aviva Stadium next Saturday.

And you know what, I think it shapes up pretty well.

The Leicester Tigers have enough European rugby experience to know they should fear our first half more than they should find hope in our second half. It wasn’t just Nacewa who was performing well for us…Luke kept things simple and did them well, Rhys Ruddock was a revelation when he came on and as I’ve already said, our defence was solid.

I’m pretty confident that Joe Schmidt can use this narrow defeat at the runaway Magners League leaders’ fortress to prepare his troops for battle in front of a passionate Dublin crowd against the top team in the Aviva Premiership.

As for our Magners League standing, although matters are no longer completely in our own hands, with two home fixtures and a trip to Aironi to come, we’ll definitely be there or thereabouts for that prized second spot when the fat lady sings. Who knows – maybe a mouth-watering rematch in the Grand Final could be on the cards?

So as I approach my 1000th word in this writeup, all I’ve left to say is that Saturday night’s 80 minutes down in Limerick should only be seen by fans of both great provinces as a true celebration of the very best Irish rugby has to offer, one of course that was hopefully not spoiled by too serious an injury to Paul O’Connell.

Liked or loathed what you saw above? Be it by comment, email, Twitter, Facebook or carrier pigeon, let me know!

On second thoughts – don’t do the pigeon thing.

Blog Archive