Saturday, November 30, 2013

Leinster-36 Scarlets-19

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Christmas In The Aviva

Leinster v Scarlets Nov 2013

BACK INTO FOCUS

“Well, what did you make of last Sunday?”

How many times were you asked that last week?  I lost count by Monday afternoon.  It does show just how many people watched that epic contest as most of those who posed the question wouldn’t normally follow the rugby.

But hey…it’s time to put all that behind us and thankfully we had rugby back at the RDS to help take our minds off of things, and with a monumental back-to-back Heineken Cup series around the corner, we needed to get back into focus quickly.

We could have scarcely picked a better time to face the Scarlets - it was our sixth meeting with the Llanelli outfit in just fifteen months, and between injuries and outside-test-window call-ups they were bound to be there for the taking, and sure enough Leinster took them pretty handily.

After all that went on last week I’m not going to harp on how we let our opposition in for three second half tries … well - I may use the last one to help make one particular point later on in the writeup, but overall when we had a thoroughly-deserved 22-0 cushion going into the break surely the lads can be forgiven for having physical-damage-limitation on their minds to see it home.

That lead was built on a solid foundation of rugged red zone defence in the opening minutes as the visitors, who to their credit played to the fullest from start to finish, pummelled our line for 27 phases before we forced a knock-on.

Then the gulf between the two sides was shown when we started making our way into their 22 - a Jennings break led to a penalty to give us the lead, then the first sign of gaps out wide led to Brendan Macken making one of his characteristic bursts for the tryline to make it 8-0.

I watched this match back with the red-button English-language commentary provided by S4C (any fear TG4 doing that?) and from the moment our first try went over both Welshmen in the box began spelling out all the reasons why this Leinster matchday 23 was bound to be miles better than their opposition…the test in Cardiff, the quality of our Academy, our glut of trophies in recent seasons…I think they even compared us to the All Blacks at one point!  Clearly they felt a storm of tries was a-comin.

Well we may not have quite made it to the landmark “fifty-burger” as we have with other Welsh regions in the past, but then again we didn’t really need to on the night so I certainly won’t have many complaints on that score.

The second try came from sheer domination in the scrum, but first we had a taste of exactly what Zane Kirchner can bring to our lineup.  We put in a commanding performance throughout, and his little dummy-pop-pass was my highlight of the match, even if it didn’t directly lead to a try as he himself was held up as he got it over the line.

But courtesy of Martin Moore’s owning his opposite prop and Jordi Murphy’s skill at holding the ball in at the base, we forced a penalty try and given our opponents were clad in scarlet not black, I reckon the three-score cushion at the end of the first quarter was safe enough.

The forwards weren’t done quite yet however and a series of pick and goes on 25m got us over for try number 3 courtesy of Jack McGrath, who during the week was linked with a move to Ulster (shame if it happens but definitely a good move for him, the northerners AND Ireland).  Credit to Eoin Reddan in that move as well for stealing back the ball after we almost lost it in the series of phases.

I wonder if Leo Cullen’s yellow for three successive penalties were him just wanting an early half-time breather on his first outing of the season?  We’ll probably never know, though if repeated penalties were considered card-able I’m wondering why the Scarlets scrum didn’t get an early warning or two.

Ironically it was a scrum on our line which finally got the visitors on the board, but Shane Jennings had actually pinched it from them only to hand it back via a knockon and the Scarlets’ scrum-half best player on the night IMO Gareth Davies who did well to finish.

The game rather fizzled out from there…and to be honest our biggest worry was always going to be in the injury department, and on that score there was plenty for us to worry about for today’s squad update.  Moore went off early on, D’Arcy was set to go off with what looked like a wrist injury just as the Scarlets made an impressive break down the field for Maule to go over and reduce the gap to 10 points, and Jennings needed to go off towards the end.  Hopefully there’s nothing too serious in that lot. [EDIT 2:30pm - very happy to see the words “no major injury concerns” in the squad update!]

Thankfully Leinster were still able to go back up a gear and it was the introduction of Sean Cronin’s pace which helped us go straight back into their 22 for eventually man-of-the-match Eoin Reddan to go over for the bonus point try.

Darcy going off meant Jimmy Gopperth was brought on to out-half and Ian Madigan put to 12.  The “Mad-Dog’s” body-language didn’t suggest he was happy with the move as the Kiwi jogged into position but when the two are on the park it is probably the best alignment to have them in.

The fifth try was finished by Kirchner after good quick runs & passes by both Tuqiri and Gopperth put him through.  In that final five minutes on Saturday I reckon we got a good taste of the best and the worst of Lote - he was as impressive going forward as he had been the previous week in Treviso, but I feared his chasing & tackling aren’t up to scratch, at least for the standard Matt O’Connor is trying to set at Leinster.  The way Scarlets centre Adam Warren bounced off of him for the try to end the match makes me feel his contract, which was up on Sunday, wasn’t really worth renewing.

On Madigan’s display, the out-of-hand kicking still wasn’t ideal overall, but then again Gopperth has had issues on that score as well.  We certainly can’t fault his boot off the tee, however as he nailed two second-half beauties from the touchline.  I’d be inclined to start with Ian against the Saints though I wouldn’t bat an eyelid nor be overly concerned for the result if O’Connor goes with Jimmy.

Overall it was a good night to be a Leinster fan, and an even better one to be a Leinster blogger, as us online-types were kindly invited for a tour behind the scenes before the match as well as a spot up in the press box - many thanks again to Peter Breen, Pearce Corcoran and all who were involved in making that happen.  It was also great to finally meet the people behind such awesome sites as Whiff of Cordite, Action81, TNT24.ie and many others.

Now Matt & the lads must get to work and with the help of the returning internationals, come up with a plan to get the maximum return possible from two massive clashes with the Northampton Saints.  It will be by no means an easy task, but with them sitting first in the pool and second on the Pro12 table, there is every reason to feel like they can maintain their focus over there.  JLP

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Also this weekend

Ospreys 16 - 28 Glasgow

Dragons 14 - 18 Munster

Edinburgh 43 - 10 Connacht

Zebre 11 - 19 Ulster

Benetton Treviso 26 - 26 Cardiff Blues

TEAM PLD PTS W PD T PF TD
1 MUNSTER 9 35 8 79 20 212 12
2 LEINSTER 9 31 6 52 22 222 7
3 GLASGOW 9 29 7 23 14 149 8
4 ULSTER 9 29 6 70 19 196 9
5 OSPREYS 9 27 5 77 22 228 11
6 SCARLETS 9 20 4 -12 15 171 -3
7 NG DRAGONS 9 19 4 4 12 163 -1
8 EDINBURGH 9 17 4 -54 16 175 -10
9 CARDIFF BLUES 9 16 3 -33 12 184 -9
10 TREVISO 9 14 2 -22 -7 166 -7
11 ZEBRE 9 8 1 -76 15 161 -6
12 CONNACHT 9 7 1 -96 11 127 -9

NB - after “matches played”, stats on the table are listed from left to right in order of priority

Next Pro12 matches

Fri 20, Cardiff Blues v Ospreys, Cardiff Arms Park, 19:05

Fri 20, Ulster v Zebre, Ravenhill, Belfast, 19:05

Fri 20, Edinburgh v Leinster, Murrayfield, Edinburgh, 19:35

Fri 20, Glasgow v Benetton Treviso, Scotstoun Stadium, 19:35

Sat 21, Connacht v Dragons, Galway Sportsground, 17:00

Sat 21, Munster v Scarlets, Musgrave Park, Cork, 19:15

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