Saturday, May 05, 2012

NG Dragons-18 Leinster-22



How does a writer do a writeup about a match he hasn't seen? That's the challenge that faces me this week.

For the previous 29 competitive matches of Leinster's season I had seen each and every minute, either in person, live on the telly, or by tape delay when the networks didn't deem the match worth showing.

I suppose I could make this article a rant about why it wasn't on the telly, but the thing is I already did that last season for our trip to Aironi.

Besides, it's not exactly comparing like with like. This was the final series of the RaboDirectPRO12 regular season, and thus all six contests were to kickoff at the same time. It would be hard to fault the broadcasters for picking out the contests that actually had something riding on them, and you certainly couldn't say that about what was going on at Rodney Parade (or “Dave Parade” as it is affectionately known by the fans) Saturday evening.

Leinster already had 1st place sewn up and as for the Dragons, finishing as high as seventh last season wasn't enough to avoid being the only team in the league to miss out on Heineken Cup rugby so this year's 9th-place finish wasn't going to bring much glory either.

On the scoreboard, only two Leinster players registered, both of which were meant to be names for the future though one has forced his way to the bench of the Heineken Cup team.

In the lead pic you see loose-head Jack McGrath touching down for our only try – you'd wonder how much first-team rugby he'll see next season with Heinke Van Der Merwe extending his stay but we certainly won't complain about having a promisiong Irish-born prop at the province that's for sure!

And then of course we had the six goals slotted by Ian Madigan. This wasn't meant to be his year at all. If it was, Mat Berquist would never have been brought over from the Canterbury Crusaders. Ironically Berquist's injury that virtually ended his season happened against these very same Dragons, during Leinster's first victory of this Pro12 campaign back in September.

With Sexton otherwise occupied, Ian McKinley tragically being forced to retire and Noel Reid as yet uncapped at the highest level, there was only Madigan to turn to and that's a lot of pressure for anyone to take on board, but take it he did and there is little doubt a large slice of the credit for the first place credit must go to him.

Not that it has been plain sailing, of course. Every time I'd watch him it seemed as though he was favouring one aspect of his game over the others. Sometimes he'd show some great skills dropping his shoulder and gaining yards, sometimes he'd pull off some amazingly accurate long zipped passes which took out up to three defenders, sometimes he'd land some monumental placekicks. Although he seldom managed to put all these together in one performance, it was always enough to see Leinster home and oh, yeah he helped himself to seven tries along the way as well.

Let's just say that my confidence in the young ex-Rock boy is such that I'd definitely be happy starting him in the Pro12 playoff against the Warriors next Saturday. I have a feeling coach Schmidt is going to opt for a strong bench just in case he needs a few front-line players in the final quarter but Madigan has shown he has the ability to put in a match-winning 80 minute shift all on his own.

One name Leinster fans may have forgotten that I feel should be mentioned is Cillian Willis. No disrepect meant to John Cooney, but with Boss & Reddan off down under it was clear the young Lansdowne scrum-half was out of his depth in that opening day loss in Swansea – we needed someone with experience to come in and steady the ship and Willis did just the job until our internationals came back. He went off to Sale Sharks in November and hopefully he'll be able to see more top flight action next season because he definitely played a big part in getting our season back on track.

That's about all I feel I can write regarding this match. But in some ways the incomplete nature of my report is ironic. There have been 30 matches for Leinster in Pro12 & Heineken Cup this season – we have lost just 3, drawn 2 and won a whopping 25. Yet as of now the only Irish province with any silverware to show for this campaign is Munster.

The next three weekends will show how the 2011/12 campaign will be remembered...and let me be clear, I'm totally happy with that. There are those who will question the value of “playoffs” as a means of deciding a championship but even with Leinster's success so far I feel that if you're meant to be that good you should be able to perform on a knockout occasion as well with most of the rugby world watching.

No doubt Leinster will be favourites in their remaining matches this season, but you never know what can happen in this sport...and early red card here, a controversial refereeing decision there, and basic loss of form even. The biggest task Joe Schmidt faces over the coming weeks is to keep his squad focused, but I have to say if he can't do it, noone can.

Here's hoping the boys can make this season complete.

Also this weekend

Edinburgh 44 - 21 Benetton Treviso

Glasgow 24 - 3 Connacht

Aironi 11 - 18 Ospreys

Munster 36 - 8 Ulster

Scarlets 29 - 20 Cardiff Blues

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