Friday, September 27, 2013

Leinster-34 Cardiff-20

CARBON COPY

I’d like to think the … RDS crowd helped us pressure the Cardiff line in the final quarter and keep the ball when it counted to … finally clinch the 5 … points thanks to Madigan selling the Blues defence a wonderful dummy and surging through the space before him.”

A phrase or two was removed perhaps, but no words were changed in the above passage from my writeup of Leinster’s win over the Blues in September 2010, and it could easily apply to Friday night in the RDS. In fact, if Leigh Halfpenny had been successful with one of the placekicks he missed, even the final score would be exactly the same.

It all stands as a compliment to Matt O'Connor that this Leinster performance bore all the hallmarks of what the RDS fans have gotten used to during the Schmidt era.

That doesn't mean we were perfect by a long chalk, and anyone who reads this blog knows I'm happy to point out when Leinster are below their best, but given how our results went from win to draw to loss over the opening three weeks of this young season, we have to be happy overall with five league points in the bag, given there are trips to Thomond Park and Liberty Stadium around the corner.

Look back over our victories for the past few seasons and you'll lose count of the amount of times we conceded the first score. So when we not only went 3-0 down but also took over 11 minutes to have an attacking phase in the opponents’ half, the home crowd could be forgiven for not being, er, phased. No matter how many points the other guys put on the board, you won't be able to tell what kind of Leinster team is on the park until we have had our first decent spell with the ball, and on Friday once we had it, we scored an outstanding try.

One distinguishing feature of this match was that for the most part the returning Lions really seemed to be up for showing why they were chosen to go on that tour, and noone fit that bill more than Brian O'Driscoll. When you think about it, having been so vocal about his third test disappointment, he pretty much had to come out and show us what he could do, and his offload for Sean Cronin's try was the first of several stand-out contributions – if he continues this form this final year could well be his best ever.

The ball was actually slowed down coming out of the ruck under the Cardiff posts and it looked like the overlap was gone as the defenders got over to cover, but once Ian Madigan let fly one of his torpedoes and BOD threw a few shapes they parted like the Blue Sea for Cronin to high-hurdle a tackler and stroll over the line.

So we knew the tries were there for us, but we were only seven points up at the interval. Thankfully we were able to regain control from the restart and once we were camped on their line with a second try imminent, a dive over the top of the ruck by Filo Paulo earned him a yellow and in the resulting scrums referee Marius Mitrea awarded a penalty try.

According to the “totally unbiased” ScrumV commentary team, both the yellow and the pen try were harsh. I'll admit he could have given a warning instead of the binning, but when you go off your feet so close to your line you run the risk and it has certainly been given against us before. Same goes for the pen try...some refs could have given the weakened scrum a second chance but then again the spirit of the new laws is to avoid resets. Either way, Leinster had well regained control of the possession and territory stats (80% poss for Cardiff after 10m was just 33% at fulltime) at that stage and were deserving of the 14-point cushion.

Then we had another Lion showing us why he was selected. It all happened in a split second. The ball arrived in the hands of Alex Cuthbert, and he looked Rob Kearney in the eye. Both knew there was space outside. It was like the wild west with two gunslingers waiting to draw. The Welshman was just that fraction of a second quicker to pull the trigger and he still had a ton of work to do once past the world-class full-back including avoiding the touchline and cutting a swathe through the scrambling defenders who fell into each other trying to catch up to him. A superb score that spoke more for Cuthbert's brilliance than it did for a suspect defence, though many online went to great lengths to spin it the other way!

Before long we were back over the Blues line again ourselves, only this time McFadden just failed to get the touchdown. Nothing controversial about that decision, but there certainly was moments later when Cuthbert was involved once more.

Cardiff had forced a turnover in midfield and via the ref’s mike you can hear Isaac Boss screaming at O'Driscoll to come away from the breakdown area and cover as there was an overlap. BOD didn't get the message and after a tidy offload from Owen Williams and slick pickup by Todd from Breaking Bad Rhys Patchell, Cuthbert was through again and when he was tackled by both Dave Kearney and Sean Cronin, the ball went forward to be picked up by Harry Robinson who was left with an easy run-in.

However Mitrea called it back for a knock-on in the tackle. On the one hand, the Scrum V team were bemoaning that he didn't at least go to the TMO, while on the other they were saying categorically that it was Cronin who had knocked it out of Cuthbert's grasp. For the rest of the match they basically said it was a legitimate try that wasn't given.

Cuthbert offloadNot sure you can have it both ways really, but perhaps the ref could have gone upstairs to see some more angles...one thing is for sure, there was absolutely nothing conclusive from the one angle we did get and if the officials were confident enough to make the call straight away, we have to assume they saw what happened.

Still, it was a lucky escape for Leinster and they needed a trademark lineout/maul try from Dominic Ryan plus that carbon copy score from three years before by Madigan to not only seal the victory but also the bonus point.

Here I have to credit the Cardiff Blues. I'm not so sure they were the victims of injustice as suggested by BBC Wales, but unlike their previous three visits to Dublin that I was harping on all through the week, they certainly appeared willing to engage us from the kickoff.

Sam Warburton was at his full test level of demonic possession at the breakdown although there were turnovers in contact for both sides throughout as our back row of Ruddock, Ryan and Heaslip held their own. A sloppy pass from Jack McGrath straight to Cory Allen allowed him an all-too-easy late consolation and fair play to the visitors for pushing for the losing bonus right to the end.

Overall a satisfying five points for Leinster, and BOD wasn't the only highlight. That fizzed pass from Madigan is going to be the feature of many a highlight reel this season, and however well Jimmy Gopperth played in the opening weeks, it was made pretty clear what our outhalf pecking order should be.

It wasn't the best night for the Kearney brothers but both made up for forgettable moments with decent contributions. Fergus McFadden had a decent shift but I wonder was he trying too hard to stand out on the wing.

In the forwards, although Devin Toner was pinged a couple of times for silly breakdown pens (he knows everyone can see him right?) I'm delighted to see him getting stuck in and he did force a turnover or two himself in the process and formed a decent lock partnership with young Quinn Roux.

All told, it's the end of September and Leinster find themselves in the playoff places. Matt has to be happy with that position in the Pro12, especially given the tough schedule we had to open the season. Of our remaining 18 matches, 13 are against teams who finished 6th-12th on the table last season so there will be plenty of opportunity to move up.

In the meantime, however, we must gear up for the big one. And yes, the Heineken Cup is still the big one, whatever those loudmouth English club chairmen may have us believe. Normally the first weekend in October sees Munster at the Aviva but it's to Limerick we must go.

For me, we need to focus on four things during the week – defence, defence, scrums and defence. I reckon it was improved on Friday and the two Cardiff scores were opportunistic rather than sloppy on our part but still there is always stuff to work on.

As for the scrums, we can't continue ignoring the new laws and Cronin in particular will have to start actually hooking the ball whether there's an 8-man shove coming at him or not. However, if the ref is going to keep an eye on the straight-ness of the feed, it wouldn't hurt to watch for early defensive shoves either.

Anyway...I'll definitely take a carbon copy of last season's result in Thomond, that's for sure. Without the controversy, of course, ahem. JLP

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Also this weekend

Zebre 17 - 24 Glasgow

Ulster 32 - 13 Benetton Treviso

Edinburgh 9 - 22 Scarlets

Connacht 26 - 43 Ospreys

Munster 23 - 9 Dragons

 

TEAM

PLD

PTS

W

PD

T

PF

TD

1

GLASGOW

4

16

4

21

7

71

5

2

OSPREYS

4

16

3

56

16

140

9

3

MUNSTER

4

14

3

37

14

119

4

4

LEINSTER

4

13

2

31

12

111

5

5

ULSTER

4

11

2

22

8

70

5

6

SCARLETS

4

9

2

-1

7

83

-1

7

NG DRAGONS

4

9

2

-3

3

60

-2

8

CARDIFF BLUES

4

6

1

-15

3

81

-6

9

TREVISO

4

5

1

-30

5

71

-7

10

CONNACHT

4

4

1

-30

7

68

-2

11

ZEBRE

4

4

1

-33

8

84

-3

12

EDINBURGH

4

4

1

-55

4

58

-11

Next matches - Round 5

Fri 4 Ospreys v Ulster, Liberty Stadium, Swansea, 19:05

Fri 4 Dragons v Zebre, Rodney Parade, Newport, 19:15

Fri 4 Benetton Treviso v Connacht, Stadio Comunale di Monigo, Treviso, 19:30

Sat 5 Scarlets v Glasgow, Parc Y Scarlets, Llanelli, 18:30

Sat 5 Munster v Leinster, Thomond Park, Limerick, 18:45

Sun 6 Cardiff Blues v Edinburgh, Cardiff Arms Park, 13:05

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