Saturday, September 01, 2012

Scarlets-45 Leinster-20

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Every Wednesday morning at 9am on the HoR social media channels we post a link to a match writeup from our archives. 

We generally choose a fixture involving Leinster or Ireland’s next opponents, so this week was an easy enough choice, since Matt O’Connor’s first competitive contest as Leinster supremo is at the Scarlets where our campaign began 12 months ago.

FASHIONABLY LATE

If you're throwing a party and you tell guests the festivities start at 8pm, you certainly don't expect everyone to show up bang on eight bells.

It's an unwritten rule that you're meant to give at least an hour before you make your way there, hoping enough people take the invitation literally for there to be a decent buzz going on when you finally do make your grand entrance.

That the IRFU through their player management programme deprives the provinces of their internationals in the early weeks of the season is not unusual in world rugby – the actual policy itself may be unique, but unions generally have their own way of controlling the fitness of their players for the long haul, and yes, I'm including the English and French ones in that.

Trouble is, it's a bitter pill to swallow for the loyal fans who have spent the entire summer counting down the days till the new season only to see their heroes crushed on opening day in Wales for the second consecutive year.

You certainly cannot take anything away from the Scarlets – they chose to arrive at the Pro12 party right on time and were rewarded with five league points against the European Champions, and not just thanks to impressive contributions from their host of “recognised” talent either. Names like Liam Williams, Andy Fenby and Aaron Shingler will be long remembered by Leinster fans after this tortuous Saturday evening's viewing.

Whether new head coach Simon Easterby can keep his squad focused until the bigger Heineken party gets under way in October remains to be seen, but they were certainly well prepared for this one and there is no question who has the bragging rights in the Easterby family for the immediate future.

The way the two lineups stacked up before this contest, if Leinster were to get anything out of it, they needed a decent amount of points on the board in the first quarter. Instead, we had done to us what we inflicted on many a team last season.

I lost count of the games in the 2011/12 campaign where the opposition took a 3 or 7-0 lead before we had even gotten a decent attacking opportunity, only for us to hit right back with a score once we did. That is exactly what happened to us at Parc y Scarlets.

You're on the road, you're 3-0 up, your team has just forced a turnover in your own half. If you choose at that moment to try a little dink over the man facing you at midfield, it's a monumental risk – if it comes off, it's genius, if it doesn't, it's stupidity. Sadly for Fionn Carr, the latter happened and not long after that Scott Williams was opening the Scarlets' account on the scoreboard.

But when the DVD session takes place at Leinster HQ this week and the seven Scarlet tries are examined, it won't be the chip kick that will be discussed, though I feel Carr will still find himself in the firing line. The foundation of Leinster's success since 2009 has been our defence, and when the positioning & first-hit tackling is so poor from positions 11 through 14 for eighty minutes, any team is going to struggle.

Some may say in Brendan Macken's defence in particular that he was thrown a block by referee Neil Patterson when attempting to make his tackle for the second try by Liam Williams. I'd be more inclined to say (also in his defence) that it was his lack of experience at this level that had his positioning so poor, not just at that stage, but at several key moments throughout the match, with his fellow centre Noel Reid in a similar situation.

And I can't really see how this vulnerability at 12 & 13 is going to improve over the coming weeks unless the likes of Reid, Macken & O'Shea can find their feet at this level quickly. It isn't just player management and injury that is hurting us; new signing Andrew Goodman would have slotted in perfectly at 12, sadly he remains with his Tasman Makos until they exit the ITM Cup – I fear he may not be as needed when he eventually does make the trip north even when the November internationals come around.

But it wasn't all negative from Leinster – I thought the pack did extremely well in every phase of the game. Lineouts were solid, we had the better of their scrum, and at very least we matched them at the breakdown. Although the tackling demons were there for all to see for what proved to be the decisive third try shortly after the break, Shane Jennings put in two massive tackles in the build up which shouldn't go unmentioned.

Jennings' backrow colleagues were equally active throughout, until of course poor, poor Dominic Ryan got the injury bug again...fingers crossed it won't turn out to be too serious.

Maybe, just maybe, if Leinster had an extra man at certain points, they could have stemmed the flow. A dangerous tackle in the air by Liam Williams on Isaac Boss went unnoticed by the officials - “that'll be in the referee's report on Monday” said an Irish accent in the crowd – not sure, but at least it's in mine!

Then in the second half before the margin got silly we were starting to look threatening and the Scarlets were giving away successive penalties at the breakdown – Patterson gave them a warning, telling them to warn even their substitutes, then did absolutely nothing at the next breakdown penalty they conceded shortly afterwards. But to be perfectly honest, I'm not so sure a couple of sin-binnings would have helped us with the result.

Ian Madigan had a couple of boo-boos but was one of the better tacklers and of course finished the game with a try. John Cooney looks a lot more ready for this level than he did 12 months ago, so I don't have half as many worries about the 9 & 10 positions as I do 11 through 14.

Next week, however, the Leinster action moves to the RDS for the first time this season. The Dragons, coming themselves off a big opening day win (albeit over a Zebre team still trying to earn their, er, stripes), will be under no illusions. We'll see how the boys in blue can pick themselves up and get this year's party started for real.

I finished my writeup of our defeat at Liberty Stadium last season with the following line...it seems to belong at the end of this one too.

Besides – Leinster don't do opening day wins, it doesn't seem in our nature, and I reckon we have the right man at the helm to turn things around even more quickly than he did last year. “ JLP

Also last weekend…

Dragons 37 - 6 Zebre

Benetton Treviso 12 - 6 Ospreys

Ulster 18 - 10 Glasgow

Connacht 9 - 13 Cardiff Blues

Edinburgh 18 - 23 Munster


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