Friday, September 06, 2013

Scarlets-19 Leinster-42

FEEDING FRENZY

Having success against Leinster hinges on how you handle their defence, and it would seem there are various ways that clubs decide to approach it.

Teams that managed it last season like Clérmont and Ulster operated legally by setting themselves up like a coiled spring ready to pounce whenever there was transition ball and the defensive structure was yet to be set.

JOHN ON FANNINGOthers, it seems, have chosen to go the “dark arts” route by simply grabbing pillar and/or post defenders and dragging them out of position altogether creating some space for the ball carriers to attack, as you can see Scarlet prop Phil John is doing to Daragh Fanning in the picture. This is the move that led to the home side's only “try” (more on that later) by skipper Rob McCusker and wasn't the only thing missed by referee John Lacey on the night, or even in this passage of play for that matter.

Of course the fact that Llanelli raced into an early 13-0 lead wasn't merely down to this tactic, though it certainly helped. Nor was it the fact that Lacey was having trouble understanding his new TMO powers.

Simon Easterby's Scarlets were also finding some genuine gaps (some aided by Dave Keanrey's unnecessary high tackle and binning) in the Leinster defence with flanker Aaron Shingler breaking the line more often than not and although the visitors had yet to have a decent opportunity with the ball themselves it looked to all intents and purposes that a repeat of last year's opening day drubbing was on the cards.

But you couldn't really say anything about the match as a contest until Leinster had some red zone possession, and as soon as they did, things really did look ominous for the Welsh region. Penalty kicked to the corner, lineout, maul, Martin Moore try. All way, way too easy for a first attempt and whatever about the way the Scarlets were dealing with Leinster's defence, it seemed they had many issues of their own to consider.

Plus there's the fact that Leinster's strength without the ball isn't just about setting a string of tacklers across the pitch either – it's a multi-faceted system that can thwart you in different ways, and the sparse Parc y Scarlets crowd was given a textbook demonstration of the choke tackle more than once in the first half and although it wasn't until the second that Leinster got themselves the lead, you could already see they were getting a stranglehold on the match.

Still, all was not perfect for the Pro12 champs and Matt O'Connor will have much to work on during the week, not least the scrum. I can't for the life of me understand what was going on between Eoin Reddan and Sean Cronin. Both have experience at the highest level of the game, and although that was gained in a era when crooked feeds and zero actual hooking were commonplace, you'd have thought that this would have all been sorted in the preseason, yet they proceeded as if somehow the laws didn't apply to them, and in turn subs Isaac Boss and Aaron Dundon did more or less the same when they came on.

I can have absolutely no complaints about the crooked feed calls that went against us on the night and we were lucky not to be punished more, both on the scoreboard and by yellow cards. I am firmly in favour of what these laws are trying to achieve, and perhaps the IRB can go a bit further by providing a more technical definition when it comes to the put-in.

Much the way the forward pass laws have been tweaked to give us something to look for as the pass is taking place (ie the hands going backwards) I reckon we could have a clearer definition of what constitutes the “channel” down which the ball must go in the scrum. Once the two front rows come together they form a line of six heads right above said channel and surely the ball must at least touch the ground immediately under it before it can move towards the back of the scrum. But even without this type of clarity we should have been better on the put-ins and hopefully this will be sorted out by next week.

But the scrum protocols were a doddle compared to the new use of the TMO. Rob McCusker did not ground the ball for his try. Sure, I didn't notice because I was too busy raging about Phil John's infraction, not to mention the blatant missed knock-on that came before the opening penalty kick. And it seems Lacey didn't notice it either as he only asked for the final pass to be looked at. Had he added a “try yes or no” to his query, McCusker's obvious fumble would have been spotted.

I guess we have to give everyone involved a few weeks of competitive action to get used to the new laws...hopefully it will all be sorted by the time the Heineken Cup kicks off.

As for positive individual displays for Leinster, Jimmy Gopperth was well deserving of his man-of-the-match award...some excellent strikes from the tee, great positioning, support play which led to his try, tackling, and strong accurate passing as well; all in all a superb 80-minute shift.

There were also good outings from other Leinster new-boys, particularly Darragh Fanning on the wing who must surely retain his place for a home debut next Saturday. Every involvement had a positive outcome for us, and he was particularly strong in the choke-tackle situations.

But the real key to our success, especially in the second half, was our back row. The Scarlets fell foul of the “knock-on gremlins” that we have been all too familiar with ourselves in Septembers past, and this was mostly down to the efforts of Rhys Ruddock, Shane Jennings and most of all Jordi Murphy.

Jenno hasn't impressed me as a captain before this season but over the past couple of matches he really seems to be getting stuck into his role as a leader by motivation as well as example.

Jordi may not thank me for saying this, but on the evidence of his second half display, although he was at number 8 on the night, he seems to approach the breakdown area with an intelligence that reminds me of a certain well known All Black number 7. The ability of a back rower to turn the wrong place into the right one is a priceless skill in this sport and if he continues to play like this he'll be banging on the door of the HCup starting XV for sure.

We weren't without our full-on brainfarts...Kearney's early high tackle was “bettered” by Darren Hudson who's jump into Kevin Bacon Liam Williams was inexplicable. Still though, both repaid their debts with five-pointers towards the end. And Eoin Reddan didn't just have me roaring at the telly at scrum-time...taking a quick tap pen at halfway when the lead was still just the one point belied his position as the province's presumptive started and there is plenty of number 9 talent waiting in the wings whould he fail to improve.

Then there's Luke's departure on 42 minutes. I almost don't know what to say.

We were always mindful of his picking up an injury, but I'm sure all of us thought it would at least come from some form of contact. After a good first half, all he was doing was running a support line for a break by Dave Kearney before he pulled up and had to be substituted. All we can do now is cross our fingers, eyes and toes and wait for the Monday update, which I will post at the end of this report once it appears.

Perhaps O'Connor & his staff had a word with John Lacey at halftime about the Scarlets' attempts to thwart our defensive setup because McCusker himself was pinged for it as his side threatened our line towards the end. But either way, despite the bright start it just wasn't to be for the home side and fair play to the BBC Wales commentary team (including Jonathan “Numbaz!” Davies) who were full of praise for the visitors throughout the second half especially.

So it has only been 80 minutes and already Matt has done better with the Leinster reigns than Joe did at the same stage in 2010. We'll just see now how those pesky Ospreys plan to deal with our defence next Saturday at the RDS; should be a cracking encounter between the league's biggest cross-nation rivals.

As for the Scarlets, they will improve.  They certainly couldn’t have expected such a smooth overall start even from team just off a treble, and when they get the likes of Jonathan Davies back and get more from young starlets like Jordan Williams they will no doubt be challenging for top four honours once more this season despite the high-profile departures.

On a weekend where the soccer team's fortunes have fallen through the Trap door and the all-Ireland hype needlessly (in my opinion anyway – it was a great match but at LEAST have some extra time!!!) ended in stalemate, there can be no doubt that it was the rugby season's official kick-off that provided the most positive highlight of Ireland's sporting weekend. JLP

FOLLOW THIS LINK FOR THE SQUAD UPDATE, DOESN’T SEEM SO BAD…

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ALSO THIS WEEKEND

Dragons 15 - 8 Ulster

Glasgow 22 - 15 Cardiff Blues

Connacht 25 - 16 Zebre

Benetton Treviso 19 - 24 Ospreys

Munster 34 - 23 Edinburgh


TEAM PLD PTS W PD T PF TD
1 LEINSTER 1 5 1 23 5 42 4
2 MUNSTER 1 5 1 11 5 34 3
3 CONNACHT 1 4 1 9 3 25 2
4 GLASGOW 1 4 1 7 1 22 1
5 NG DRAGONS 1 4 1 7 0 15 -1
6 OSPREYS 1 4 1 5 2 24 1
7 TREVISO 1 1 0 -5 1 19 -1
8 ULSTER 1 1 0 -7 1 8 1
9 CARDIFF BLUES 1 1 0 -7 0 15 -1
10 ZEBRE 1 0 0 -9 1 16 -2
11 EDINBURGH 1 0 0 -11 2 23 -3
12 SCARLETS 1 0 0 -23 1 19 -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

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