Friday, December 02, 2011

Leinster-52 Cardiff Blues-9

To some that headline may seem a bit harsh. Sorry if you feel that way but it seems fine to me.

As much as I enjoy seeing Irish teams doing well in the Celtic/Magners/Rabo League/Pro12 thingy, knowing that other nations aren't taking it anywhere near as seriously makes me hopping mad. Though in their defence, having such a ridiculous name doesn't exactly help in the “taking seriously” department.

But joking aside, it has to be said that the current “league table” of nations when it comes to giving a jot about this competition (one I might add that has produced 4 of the last 6 Heineken Cup champions) reads thus : 1. Ireland 2. Italy 3. Scotland and a very distant 4. Wales. The Scots won themselves a few extra ranking points by tempting Rory Lamont back to Glasgow last week.

I was having serious problems as it was with league matches being played during international windows, but by scheduling another test outside them, no matter who is retiring, one that even some Welsh fans think was unnecessary, basically means the WRU are sticking their finger up at the league for the sake of a quick buck.

While we're on the subject of a quick buck – I'm not going to take the time to do the maths*, but I'm pretty confident that if you total up home attendances at Irish provinces so far this season and subtract the equivalent from the Welsh regions, you'll get a figure not a million miles from the 69,000 that were at the Millenium Stadium on Saturday.

And it's not as though the regions themselves are innocent victims either – taking part in the Anglo-Welsh LV Cup doesn't exactly display a glowing endorsement of the Celtic competition.

What's that? Am I going to write about the actual match in question at any point? Really – why should I?   And why should I even mention the quality names that were missing from the visitor's lineup since we weren't allowed to see them do what they do best?

I mean – when you strip away all the media hype this was little more than a glorified training session, even though there were officially over 16,000 souls missing a chunk of the Toy Show for it.

Take Ian Madigan's display for example. For the first quarter he was passing the ball whenever he got it. Then, and I kid you not, the very second the clock hit 20 minutes (right after Sweeney hit his second pen to make it 13-6), suddenly the tactic of choice was to kick for territory. This phase didn't go so well for the lad.

Cue half-time, and from the start of the second period, the passing and the kicking have gone out the window and now Mads is in his comfort zone, ie dropping his shoulder and running against the grain. Ironically it was a similar move by him that earned us a bonus point last season against the same opposition and in many ways propelled him into the Leinster spotlight.

He was doing so well with it that he helped himself to a try right before giving way for Sexton's clearly-scheduled last-quarter cameo. Overall it was a good run-out for the Blackrock College youngster, but you can't help feeling that if he was able to make decisions based on the situation rather than the time elapsed then he'd be better prepared should he be needed against Bath over the next couple of weeks.

Of course there were other memorable moments, like Nathan White's determination to reach the line, Sexton's deft little chip to Kearney The Younger (who had been screaming “Sexy!” at the top of his lungs moments before), the improbable success rate of Fergus McFadden's “dead-duck” style of placekicking, and of course the sight of the scoreboard ticking over the 50 mark. Still – part of me wanted to run over and stick a giant asterisk beside it.

Normally I write over 1,000 words about Leinster & Ireland matches. This time, I'm going to leave it around the 700 mark because delighted and all as I was with the maximum points and first place on the league table through Christmas, I'm going to leave my readers feeling as short-changed as I felt on Friday night. 

Of course the next time Cardiff send a decent team to Dublin and get a victory, assuming there is a next time, no doubt I'll have a lot more to say. JLP

* = on second thoughts, I will try and do the maths Monday evening and will publish the results as the "#2amrugbyfact" on both Twitter and Facebook overnight.

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