“Leinster win but fail to impress”, Irish Times. “Madigan drags limp Blues over the line”, Irish Independent.
See, this is why I keep on bloggin'. In what other country would a top-level sports team go unbeaten for 20 matches yet get have the 20th one summarized so negatively by the national press? Is it that Leinster is but one province and they feel the need to placate folks outside the Pale somehow?
“Ah, sure, take heart folks, maybe it looks like nobody can beat them but they were really, really jammy this time”.
I mean, let's be clear...they didn't exactly have things all their own way in the Stadio Zaffanella. But was that all down to a poor display on the part of the European Champions? Maybe Aironi are the Pro12 cellar-dwellers and are likely to remain so for a while to come, but does that mean they go out there just to make up the numbers?
Not at all. Of course I don't watch the “Herons” play every week, but on this occasion they set themselves up like an away side, almost assuming a 12-man defensive curtain BEFORE they were sure Leinster had the ball. And looking at their record, can you blame them?
The visitors were also set up like an away side, because guess what – they were. Sure, if you take a top v bottom fixture in isolation you'd expect the the former to blow the latter off the park whatever the location – but with already an 11-point lead established at the top and much bigger fish to fry down the line, are you really going to go into this one all guns blazing?
Leinster poked and prodded at the 12-man curtain as much as they could from the start and it's true, there were a few slip ups along the way, but there were also some penalty chances forced, and Ian Madigan, assuming a rare primary placekicking role, hit three out of four in the first half and with little happening down the other end, a 9-0 lead at the break was very much deserved.
The main reasons Aironi weren't clicking going forward was their halfback pairing of Tebaldi and Oliver, who had about as much creative rugby between them as you'd find in my mother-in-law's toenail. And as for the outhalf's placekicking...given the desperate need the Italians have for someone able to punt the egg over the bar, I can only imagine a porky pie or two was told in the process leading to his transfer to Viadana from South Africa.
But although he JUST managed to squeak one inside the upright early in the second half, his coach opted to pull him in favour of Orquera, who at least had some recent experience against Leinster & Ireland to draw on. This switch together with a new prop pairing that included the wily Perugini led to a purple patch for the home side which saw them spend a decent amount of time in our 22.
Yet still, our defence was easily able to hold them out. This is something the headline-writers fail to notice – only a half-dozen tries down the other end would have appeased them it seems. All the home side could muster was a penalty Orquera easily converted which saw the clock tick into the final quarter with just three points between the sides.
And as I have been saying about Leinster all throughout this run of theirs, they have shown this amazing knack of being able to reach into their back pocket for a telling play or score when required, and when Aironi dared to breach our 22 again, it was Leo Auva'a who dug himself into a breakdown and forced a turnover penalty which told the Italians their side of the scoreboard wasn't going to change again.
This was a realisation that no doubt led to frustration in the home side, especially after Madigan restored the six-point advantage shortly afterwards. It's a frustration that no doubt builds up over the weeks as your side loses again and again and again and finds themselves at the bottom of the league. And it's the kind of frustration that will cause a utility back to come in off the bench and follow through on a routine tackle on Eoin O'Malley by lifting him up and driving him into the turf in plain sight of the ref!
Here I'd like to thank Setanta Sports not only for doing their best to bring the match to Irish fans by screening it on the Saturday morning, but also for their commentator Will Downing who delivered the line “What a muppet!” as Gilberto Pavan trudged off to the sin-bin after his transgression. The resulting penalty saw Madigan make it 15-6, and shortly afterwards Noel Reid's interception try where he sprinted three-quarters of the pitch wrapped up the contest.
On the most part, a positive display for Ian Madigan. I'd give him a C+. It was a stodgy defence to break down and six out of eight placekicks really isn't a bad tally at all. Apart from the odd burst from the backs, particularly one trademark dance from deep by Fionn Carr, there was no standout player on the Leinster side, they just did enough to stay ahead, a fact which made this here blogger very happy indeed.
Of course many eyes were on Luke Fitzgerald – perhaps they should have looked away! It was a long lay-off and a double-injury to boot, but those poor misguided lateral passes were rearing their ugly head again, plus he dropped the offload after the Carr run I mentioned, but the man needs an injury-free run in a position he's likely to stay in, and I for one can afford him some leeway for now.
So to summarize, right before a two-week layoff after which they face the Ospreys, Munster and of course Cardiff in the Heineken Cup in successive weeks, Leinster travel to Viadana, restrict the home side to six points, come away with a victory, and with the Ospreys slipping up at home, stretch their unbeaten run in all competitions to twenty and their lead at the top of the Pro12 to 14 points.
Any online journos out there willing to see the glass as half full?
“Leinster march on”, Yahoo! Eurosport UK. “Madigan inspires Leinster to win”, Setanta Sports. “Leinster Finish Strongly In Italy”, 98FM.
That's much more like it!
And speaking of online contributions, many thanks to the OLSC courtesy of Leinster superfan Aisling O'Connor for keeping us all back home up to date via twitter of the action as it unfolded. JLP
Also this round
Ospreys 20-26 Glasgow
Ulster 38-16 Edinburgh
Scarlets 38-10 Connacht
Treviso 13-20 Cardiff Blues