Our season ticket at the RDS has us in the Grandstand right on the 22 at the South Stand end, very near the front.
The position has seen us witness first hand some iconic Leinster moments over the years, such as Shaggy’s cheeky offload to BOD against Brive and of course the man himself doing it all on his own v Wasps the season before.
But the realm of in-stadium positioning can be one of swings and roundabouts and on Saturday evening that end of the pitch from the 22 to the dead ball line saw nary a blade of grass being disturbed, save for a couple of good takes by Zane Kirchner in the first half and a shocking spill by Jared Payne in the second.
It’s true, that Payne blunder led to the scrum from which the home side won the penalty that provided the game’s final score, but all the action which defined this match happened down the other end, which must have made for an even more disappointing evening’s viewing for the bulk of the travelling support who were as usual in the North Stand.
I can only assume that Ulster’s poor display was part of a wider “Christmas two-match strategy” by Mark Anscombe which would have seen him targeting the visit of Munster to Ravenhill next Friday as his priority. But surely that strategy included getting at the very least a losing bonus from this fixture and if they played the first 78 minutes with a fraction of the intensity they showed in the last 2, they may have gotten it.
Leinster for their part could only deal with what was before them and although things were hardly rosy in our garden either, I was impressed by the way our defence held firm, by the way our offence was able to adapt to what the visitors were doing and most of all, by the display of so many of our “next generation” players.
Top of the list from this batch of up and coming stars was Jordi Murphy, who was an easy choice as man of the match as he got the only try of the night but despite conceding the game’s first pen early on, he impressed throughout both with and without the ball. With all the talk circulating about Jamie Heaslip’s future, it was definitely a timely display for the former Leinster Schools Senior Cup-winning skipper, but those who have followed the Blues closely for the past while will know it’s a standard he is well capable of.
Hopefully the contributions of others on the night won’t have gone unnoticed, such as Rhys Ruddock and Dominic Ryan, who had a good cameo after Sean O’Brien suffered another unfortunate injury dislocating his shoulder after a seemingly innocuous challenge by Luke Marshall and Andrew Trimble.
Props Jack O’Connell, Martin Moore and (right at the death) Jack McGrath were also involved in key turnovers to deny the Ulstermen, while special mention must go to both starting centres Noel Reid and Brendan Macken for holding firm in an area where I thought we may struggle.
Although he missed a couple of makeable placekicks and failed to find touch with a routine pen in the second half, Jimmy Gopperth outplayed his opposite number Paddy Jackson on the night and was much more adept at finding ways to crack what was a stubborn defence by the visitors.
Now, when I say “stubborn”, I mean not strictly legal, but not in a way as to suggest there was out and out cheating going on, more that they were willing to dip more than a toe in the grey areas of the breakdown laws. Thankfully for the home side ref John Lacey was willing to penalise them, perhaps not with as many cards as they may have earned (particularly Tuohy’s dropped shoulder on Leo Cullen), but at least enough to keep our scoreboard ticking over.
And as it happened it took a spell with an extra man to help provide the space for the Murphy try shortly before the interval, though Luke Fitzgerald’s opportunistic burst and almost Shaggy-esque offload played a large part as well.
All in all a good night at the office for Matt O’Connor’s Leinster, a much needed victory after the disappointments from the pervious two matches, and they end the calendar year second in the Pro12 and top of their Heineken Cup pool, which is a better position than that faced by Joe Schmidt at the same time last season.
With all the uncertainty around these days from the future of Leinster stars to the very makeup of European rugby itself, I’m not so sure I’m in the mood for much more of a writeup on this match, or indeed one of those “review of the year” posts we always see at this time of year.
Instead I’ll just raise a glass to my readers wishing you all a happy transition to 2014 and we can only hope the powers that be all across the continent can keep the game’s best interests at heart over the coming months. JLP
Click here for the post-match reaction on the HarpinOnRugby Facebook page
Also this weekend
Benetton Treviso 20 - 15 Zebre
stats on table are presented left to right from “PTS” in order of priority
Wed Jan 1
Cardiff Blues v Dragons, 2:05pm
Glasgow v Edinburgh, 6:05pm
Fri Jan 3
Ospreys v Scarlets, 7pm
Ulster v Munster, 7:05pm
Sat Jan 4
Zebre v Benetton Treviso, 2pm
Connacht v Leinster, 7:15pm