|photo by Ken Bohane|
Much rugby has been watched by yours truly over the past two months.
Take last weekend for example. From Friday evening on there was Ulster v Treviso, Ireland v Wales, England v France, this match at the RDS and finally Munster v Ospreys to take in. I even managed half an Aviva Premiership contest between Northampton and Exeter somewhere in between.
So while I could easily look back over my recording of TG4's coverage of this match and give you a blow-by-blow account of Leinster's performance, I think it would be better to give you a sense of how I remember the contest given that at the time I was still reeling from a 4:45am wake-up call and trip across town to have my soul crushed in Kiely's of Donnybrook.
First, I want to mention the guy who was sitting directly behind me. Before Saturday I could honestly say I had never come across a Connacht fan I didn't like. This dude became the exception.
He seemed to want everyone around him to be impressed that he knew the names of all the players. "C'mon Swifty!", "C'mon Duffy!" "C'mon Flavin", and my personal favourite "C'mon Johnny Concrete!" Also he was taking it upon himself to give a running commentary on anything and everything positive the men in green were doing. Let me put it this way...he was every bit as annoying as those American golf fans who shout "Get in the hole!"
In his defence, he did have a lot to shout about in the first half. Although Leinster got the game's first try thanks to Devin Toner getting the ball and running straight through the Connacht fullback Matthew Jarvis, there followed two defensive lapses by the home side as baffling as those seen in Wellington that morning which meant the visitors went into the break 20-10 to the good.
Still, maybe it was the weariness from the early start to the day, but I wasn't all that concerned, and after the interval we slowly clawed our way back into it thanks to a couple of early Isa penalties and then a monster of a kick from inside his own half by Ian Madigan which brought us to within a point.
Yet it was a try we needed, and as you can see by the photo (click here for Ken's full set by the way) it was Luuuuuuuuuke who did the business and hey presto our lead was restored.
By this stage you could see by the numbers on the Connacht players' backs that their bench had been completely emptied, so considering how much they were struggling on the injuries front going into the game, there was little hope of them regaining the lead.
One thing I thought they did deserve, however, was a losing bonus point, and although I thought it a bit cruel of Madigan to take the easy drop goal after the clock had gone red to extend our lead to ten and thus leave the opposition with nothing to show for their travels, I did take heart in that it finally shut up Mr Namedropper behind me once and for all.
So...six rounds in, the RaboDirectPRO12 takes a wee break. Considering after round 3 Leinster were at one win and two defeats, I'm more than happy that now we're in a virtual tie with Munster for 2nd spot on the ladder.
As for my top performer over those six weeks, maybe I'm showing my Blackrock bias, but I'm going to give it to Ian Madigan. He saw a lot more game time than he would have expected to over that period given Mat Berquist's long term injury and Ian McKinley's retirement, and in my book he has been a key factor in our three-game winning streak.
With the World Cup stars returning and a Heineken Cup campaign to plan, I'd have no hesitation in penciling in Mads for at least a spot on the bench for the trip to Montpellier the way things stand right now.
Elsewhere on the park, while Sean O'Brien will no doubt be itching to get his 6 jersey back and Jennings and Heaslip likely to accompany him in our European backrow, Coach Schmidt has been able to use this time to develop quite the strong backup behind them, with Kevin McLaughlin and Dominic Ryan returning from injury, Leo Auva'a getting himself on the fast-track to cult status at the RDS and Jordi Murphy snapping at their heels.
But special mention has to go to Rhys Ruddock. Skipper for all six matches, he showed his own versatility in that he started 2 matches each at 6,7 and 8. Perhaps the captaincy role meant he wasn't able to dominate any of the contests they way he'd like to, but his presence is growing with every encounter and no doubt we can expect to see a lot of him in our Heineken Cup campaign.
So overall, whatever about our Welsh Wellington woes, Saturday evening's visit to Ballsbridge reminded me that there is much to look forward to in the future of Leinster and Ireland rugby. JLP
|There I am with my arms folded going "Harrumph!" after Connacht's 2nd try. Mr Namedropper is behind me.|