Saturday, September 14, 2013

Leinster-29 Ospreys-29

The Biggar Picture

THE BIGGAR PICTURE

biggar [big-er]

verb

To allow a sporting opponent to believe they have beaten you only to prove them wrong at the last possible moment

example : Leinster were well and truly biggared at the RDS on Saturday evening.

Let's just face it...it's an unwritten rule that when Dan Biggar comes to the RDS, a 40-minute period of rugby can't be considered complete until he nails a place kick. He did it not once but bloody TWICE on Saturday!!!

There was everything in this contest – free-flowing rugby, innovative offloading, tough tackling, five well-worked tries, a controversial call or two, and the result in doubt right up to the very end.

OK...maybe it did seem like referee Leighton Hodges was looking for an excuse to award a penalty in that final series of phases. But had he not made a call, we'd have Ospreys fans inspecting every tackle, every jackle and every move made by a defender, and no doubt they would find something which would have them be harping on the ref being a “homer” despite hailing from Wales.

So on the balance of play, neither side can have too many complaints about the result. Both had purple patches in which they scored two quick tries, both responded well to falling behind on the scoreboard, both played their part in making this match entertaining, so both deservedly go into Round Three unbeaten and in the playoff positions.

On the analysis side of things, I must first turn my attention to Jimmy Gopperth. Man-of-the-match last week, a great signing for Leinster, and showed some more great touches on his home debut. You can tell I'm about to use the word “but”, can't you?

BUT...even though all three of Joe Schmidt's campaigns at the RDS began with September honeymoons, the standards need to be such that even a pair of missed touchline conversions have to be held to account, and given that Biggar was flawless on the night from the tee including one from the same spot, the Kiwi will need to hold his hand up.

And it wasn't just the missed tee-shots...some may call his crossfield kick from his own 22 in the opening possession as brave, but I'd be more inclined to call it needless. Even though the ball was caught by Darren Hudson, the sun was in his eyes so he had to put so much effort into the catch that he couldn't do much else afterwards and in the next play there had to be a conventional clearance anyway.

With that the Ospreys picked up the ball around their own 22 and showed from the off that they had once again come to play. An impressive series of patient phases followed and before we knew what was what, Biggar was slotting them into a 3-0 lead. Nothing to alarm us too much as we always seem to concede the first score, but the dangers posed by the four-time league champions were there for all to see.

On the subject of Darren Hudson...the very fact that he was on the pitch was a head-scratcher in itself. This time last week I was worried about the fortunes of Luke Fitzgerald after he limped off in Llanelli...not only did the squad update calm my fears but he was also named to start this match only to be absent when it kicked off. As much as I'd love to see Luke back in action I'm really not sure how much longer this uncertainty can carry on now the season is in full swing.

And to add injury to injury Hudson hurt himself in those opening exchanges, although he took another fine catch despite his hobbling and it led to our opening try from Richardt Strauss, which was finished after fine carries from Kearney & Darcy, a quick-thinking offload from Jack McGrath and the fact that there was nobody home for the visitors guarding the touchline didn't hurt either.

Hudson's removal meant an earlier-than-planned appearance for Ian Madigan who was sensibly installed at full-back. They could have gone for Coughlan-Murray as a straight swap but I like the way they respected the opposition and it would seem the player-protection rules are at least a bit flexible in certain circumstances.

After the try Gopperth was at it with the crossfield kick again and once more it didn't hurt us too much but was still an unnecessary risk from where I was sitting. And the “Mad-Dog”'s first contributions were hardly earth-shattering themselves, for example a pass thrown straight into touch.

But a few moments later he found his range and played a part in the try of the night. Fast, long, accurate passing have been a feature of back play this season, particularly in the Top 14 I have noticed, and when Darragh Fanning forced a turnover around halfway Madigan played a part in getting quickly out the other way and when Gopperth got a hold of it he put on the jets and suddenly the line was broken.

When he shipped it to Dave Kearney who had moved out to the wing there actually wasn't a try immediately on but he had the presence of mind to run a superb line first towards Richard Fussell then away from him to dive over the line Superman style.

Once more Gopperth failed with the extra points so although the RDS crowd were delighted with the early brace, the scoreboard still only showed a seven-point lead and every true Leinster fan was well aware that those pesky Ospreys were far from put away.

Since I'm being hard on our outhalf in this writeup I'm going to spin his drop goal on 23 minutes as a negative. Sure...it came to him at an awkward height and he showed quick thinking and superb execution, but it could also be argued that it wasn't a very “Leinster” thing to do. We had the Ospreys on the back foot at that stage and perhaps had he rescued the situation to resume the phase play a third try could have been the result. But I'll admit that's being a tad over-critical.

So at half-time the margin remained at 7 points and the visitors felt that just one Lion on the park wasn't enough for them (we had none from 2013 in our lineup at all by the way) so they introduced the “hair bears” to their front row since despite our lead we were still having our problems coming to grips with the new scrum laws.

But although we managed to keep the Ospreys at bay in the early stages of the second half including a trademark choke-tackle from Kearney & McCarthy, the Welshmen refused to give up and you just have to admire the way they were able to quickly organise, run at the right areas, and most of all be creative with their offloads to create the space for their two quick tries which turned a 7-point deficit into a 7-point lead in no time at all.

I'm sure there will be many a word said about Leinster's tackling during that time at the coaching sessions but to be honest I'm not so sure what we could have done...if anything it's a testament to our organisation that it took such a slick set of moves and offloads from the likes of Eli Walker and Ashley Beck to get past us.

So the game ticked into the final quarter (by which time Osprey Lion number 3 Hibbard had been added), and this time it was our turn to play catch-up. Fair play to the boys in blue though, they didn't let the scoreboard get them down. Our first real attempt at a lineout/maul combo brought us as close as was humanly possible to getting a try...sadly once the attacking team makes the decision to commit to driving over the line, if it isn't obvious that the ball has been put down, it forces the ref to call the turnover.

And it was in those resulting scrums where Sean Cronin got his yellow card. In fairness, maybe Hodges was singling him out although front rows from both sides were transgressing, but we can't say we weren't warned. Luckily for us, we took the yellow-card as a motivation rather than a hindrance.

The Jack McGrath try certainly wasn't as pretty as some that went before on the night, but it was every bit as impressive, especially as the Mary's prop was involved at least twice in the build-up even before dotting down, and thoroughly deserved his man-of-the-match award. There we had the scores level, and soon after we were back again earning a penalty under the sticks. For that one, given the Ospreys were on the back foot, and desperate to stop us any way they could, I wondered perhaps was a card in order.

But Gopperth slotted the three and we had four minutes to keep the visitors at bay. I'm going to choose not to be petty about the actual decision to award a pen at that moment. Tebaldi took a lightning-quick tap and got tackled within 10 to make Biggar's final kick all the easier but as I have said already, he was on the top of his kicking game and overall it was a fair result.

Overall for Leinster much to work on but with back-three players continuing to drop like flies Darragh Fanning was once again a revelation and I wonder is he playing his way to a season-long contract. Our scrums may not have been great but at least the lineouts seems to be steady enough and Jordi Murphy put in another fine shift including a wonder catch on the way to our third try.

And so we move on to yet another stern test Glasgow next Friday – right now I'm thinking some changes are in order to both freshen things up and allow for the 6-day turnaround. A Lion or two starting wouldn't hurt plus a Boss/Madigan halfback combo may do the trick.

All in all a great Saturday evening with a season-ticket pack full of freebies as well for good measure. 

What a belter of a Heineken Cup opener it promises to be on October 12, and what a shame it would be for the competition to be without either side.  And basically anyone who felt the need to either leave early or boo on Saturday should think again before they come to the RDS on occasions like this because perhaps what goes on just isn't for them. JLP

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Also this weekend

Zebre 21 - 43 Munster

Cardiff Blues 21 - 10 Connacht

Ulster 12 - 13 Glasgow

Edinburgh 16 - 13 Dragons

Scarlets 26 - 10 Benetton Treviso


TEAM PLD PTS W PD T PF TD
1 MUNSTER 2 10 2 33 9 77 5
2 GLASGOW 2 8 2 8 2 35 2
3 LEINSTER 2 7 1 23 8 71 4
4 OSPREYS 2 6 1 5 4 53 1
5 NG DRAGONS 2 5 1 4 1 28 -1
6 CARDIFF BLUES 2 5 1 4 0 36 -2
7 CONNACHT 2 4 1 -2 4 35 3
8 SCARLETS 2 4 1 -7 3 45 -3
9 EDINBURGH 2 4 1 -8 3 39 -3
10 ULSTER 2 2 0 -8 1 20 0
11 TREVISO 2 1 0 -21 2 29 -2
12 ZEBRE 2 0 0 -31 3 37 -4

stats on the table are presented in order of importance from left to right, ie if match points level then it’s wins, then pts difference, tries scored, points for and try difference

ROUND 3 FIXTURES

Fri Sep 20

Dragons v Scarlets, Rodney Parade, Newport, 19:05

Benetton Treviso v Munster, Stadio Comunale di Monigo, Treviso 19:30

Cardiff Blues v Zebre, Cardiff Arms Park, 19:30

Glasgow v Leinster, Scotstoun Stadium, 19:35

Sat Sep 21

Ospreys v Edinburgh, Liberty Stadium, Swansea,  18:30

Connacht v Ulster, Galway Sportsground,  18:45

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