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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Leinster-33 Gloucester-22

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A PERFECTLY IMPERFECT START

After 2 weeks of TV sport where the slightest mistake could be the difference between forthcoming ecstasy and coming-fourth agony, rugby fans who travelled to Tallaght Stadium on Saturday evening had to adjust their expectations to appreciate this was an early pre-season contest.

For although there were many mistakes to be seen (even in the photography as seen above), I hope by pointing them out I'm not taking away from the fact that it was an extremely enjoyable occasion overall that I hope is repeated in the future. Besides, in some cases the rustiness had positive results.

Before the game even kicked off, as I walked towards the turnstile I spied Jonathan Sexton brazenly strolling through the car-park. Clearly he needs to do more strength & conditioning work when it comes to camouflage – the grey hoody just wasn't cutting it and before he knew what was what he had hoardes of youngsters after him looking for their jerseys to be signed.

Then on Leinster's first possession after the kickoff, it only took a few phases before the “home” side were pinged for not releasing after the tackle. The crowd were bemused by the pre-placekicking stance of Gloucester's Rob Cook which could only be described as an “exaggerated Wilkinson” but it certainly was effective and the visitors had a 3-0 lead.

But much like last season, Joe Schmidt's men are most dangerous straight after conceding, and they soon advanced downfield thanks mostly to phases which seemed to focus on carries by the front row trio of McGrath, Dundon & Hagan, which for the most part didn't disappoint. Their endeavours earned a kickable penalty chance which was spurned in favour of an attacking lineout.

A clean catch from Damien Browne led to a solid maul and after a few quick phases Leo Auva'a (who we could call a “terrace hero” if Tallaght Stadium had them) got hold of it and barged over the line. Maybe Leo's shoelace-tying wasn't up to full match levels as he had to go back to retrieve his boot but Leinster weren't complaing as Madigan added the easy conversion to make it 7-3.

Even the famed “fifteen-headed monster” of a home defence wasn't safe from the odd boo-boo, as no doubt Madigan will kick himself for missing the tackle that led to Gloucester's seven-point reply. He may take some consolation in that the scorer was Ian Clark, who recently proved a slippery customer in the recent Premiership Sevens, scoring tries for fun.

And ironically it was another Leinster error that led to their second try, at the same time sparing Madigan's blushes. Again it was off an attacking lineout but this was one of several occasions where the timing was far from perfect – Dundon's dart sailed over everyone and a fortunate bounce fell straight into the Blackrock College out-half's arms and all he had to do was coast of the line and plant the ball down.

The visitors tried to come back once more before the break but this time the defence was back to normal levels and twice repelled the advancing cherry and white jerseys from the tryline before deservedly earning a clearing penalty to end the first half.

After the interval we were finally treated to a moment of Madigan magic as his perfectly-weighted crossfield kick fell right into the grateful arms of right-winger Andrew Boyle who had time to go all the way under the posts and virtually seal the victory. From that point on, the rate of substitutions was matched only by the rate of relaxation in the tackles.

Peter Buxton pulled five points back for Glaws but the ease with which both Dominic Ryan and Darren Hudson got their own tries showed just how much the game was winding down in the final quarter. A late try from Dan Murphy brought the final tally to 33-22, ironically the same scoreline by which Leinster beat next week's opponents Northampton in the 2011 Heineken Cup final.

All in all it was an enjoyable evening's entertainment for the blue-clad fans who had been starved of live rugby for so long. Again I'd like to make it clear that I'm only pointing out the imperfections as observations, not criticisms. Even the inaccuracy in the numbers on the matchday programme sheet didn't take from the enjoyment of this pedantic blogger.

Of the performances on the day, I was impressed by the starting front row for the most part – any or all of these lads could be heavily relied on by Leinster this season with an injury or two and every game for the next while will be important for them to get themselves ready to step up.

Madigan ran the show impressively overall, so much so that we could be doing without him when the international training sessions come around, so I will be interested to see what coach Schmidt has lined up to replace him at out-half, more than likely new signing Andrew Goodman? I also liked Darren Hudson at 15, he impressed me during last year's preseason as well and he could be playing a bigger part in the senior setup this time around.

Gloucester for their part seem like a serious setup eager to get back to winning ways after a disappointing campaign.  This was every much a “possibles” selection as Leinster’s was and with the addition of names like Jimmy Cowan and Ben Morgan I have no doubt new coach Nigel Davies will soon get them up challenging for honours before long.  They also had a fair amount of fans scattered around the stadium; hopefully they enjoyed their visit to Dublin!

I also hope we return to Tallaght Stadium again...it's great to see Leinster being brought to areas not normally associated with rugby. Just one tiny gripe though...any chance someone could spring for a few aul bits o wood to be hammered together to make a scoreboard? Maybe a sponsor could be found who could display their name on it, like maybe a nearby geometrically-designed shopping centre?

And in an ideal world I wouldn't object to even the odd Pro12 contest (no offence to Italian fans but I'm definitely thinking about the visit of their teams) being brought to 20k+ capacity GAA stadiums like Nowlan Park in Kilkenny or O'Moore Park in Portlaoise. Yes, yes, I know that will never actually happen on account of the imperfect relationship between the sports on this tiny island, but such are the thoughts that creep into your head as you sit on the Red Line Luas back into town!

For the next couple of weeks no doubt we'll see different names in the starting lineups on our mini-English tour before the big Pro12 kickoff on September 1, though we won't be going back to the more familiar surroundings of the OarDeeEsh until the 8th. Still, great to have the rugby back, innit? JLP

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