Saturday, January 04, 2014

Connacht-8 Leinster-16

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UNCLEAR AND OBLIVIOUS

In his book “Becoming A Lion” Jonny Sexton talks of how Leinster (and no doubt most Heineken Cup teams these days) would hold back the bulk of their signature backline moves the week before crunch European battles.

Lord, I hope that was the case with Matt O’Connor and his coaching staff for this dire encounter in Galway!

First of all, I feel the need to provide a few pointers for anyone with an anti-Leinster or more particularly an anti-Heaslip agenda (I hear rumours there may be one or two like that out there but can’t be sure) reading this post.

Yes, I think Jamie knocked on from the base of the scrum before we were awarded the penalty that put us in front for good.  Yes, I think he should have been yellow-carded for his no-arms tackle on Dan Parks.  And yes, I think the Gopperth-to-D’Arcy pass that led to the try near the end was forward.

Sorry if none of that gives you something to get into a fit of pique about ;-) But read on, there’s plenty more for me to harp on so you may yet find something!

On the balance of play for the full 80 minutes, a more suitable full time score for this match would be 3-3 I reckon.  Neither side really deserved a try - it’s true Connacht’s courtesy of Fionn Carr was well made & finished, but the fact that they offered absolutely nothing for the remainder of the match took the shine off it.

Meanwhile for Leinster going forward, it was 80 minutes of (a) if in your own half, kick and (b) if in opponent’s half, pass, pass, run against the grain into tackles, repeat.  And although more often than not we would break the gainline on phase play, we could only turn that advantage into 16 points on the scoreboard, more than half of them disputable.

Basically, both sides approached the game with a view to forcing their opposition into mistakes, which is always a risky strategy because what if they don’t make any? 

Flair and creativity were nowhere to be seen save for the move where a Jack Carty pass evaded the (probably premature) tackling line run  by O’Driscoll allowing Robbie Henshaw the space to surge into the Leinster backfield before a perfect pass on the run gave Carr the chance to stick it to his former team-mates…he had a lot to do but got it done well.

Once Leinster replaced Tom Denton with Mike McCarthy at half-time the door was well and truly shut on Connacht’s men as they fell three times to the choke tackle (fool me once, etc…) and it remained a question of whether or not the reigning Pro12 champs were going to get over the try line down the other end.

Luckily for us there were mistakes, but not from the Connacht defence which deserved something for the home fans.  Like I said earlier, it was George Clancy and his entire officiating staff who got some key calls wrong, with the TMO the principal culprit.

To put it simply, if Jude Quinn followed the TMO laws correctly, then the TMO laws are a monumental ass.  “There’s no clear and obvious forward pass?”  The only way he can make a perfectly clear and obvious call on a forward pass is if the camera angle is favourable - he had two and neither were.  But if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck….

Of course it goes without saying I’m not complaining about the try being given from a blue-goggle standpoint, but the way things stand a call as bad as that could easily go against us next week.  I’m wondering if these TMO problems stem from the fact that the laws grant decision-making powers to the match referee?

Look at other sports that use replay tech like tennis, American football and cricket.  It’s the players/teams who have the power to ask for a replay - the official on the pitch just needs to call what he sees before him.  Maybe if the two captains had one “use it or lose it” challenge each per half?

This means that if a referee makes a call when he shouldn’t, it has a chance of being challenged; if he doesn’t make one when he should, then players will know to play on until the ball goes dead and it can be reviewed.  Of course there would be flaws, but with laws like this there always will be. 

I’m digressing from the match, I know.  It was a pretty awful match, to be fair, but still the TMO thing is a debate for another day.

Performance-wise, there were further good outings from Messrs Ruddock and Murphy, who could well find themselves both starting in Castres next weekend.  Elsewhere in the pack I don’t wish to be cruel but I don’t see Tom Denton as the right fit for the Leinster side even at Pro12 level, and if you’re only in the squad to flesh out the B&I Cup squad then you need to think about your options IMO.

In the backs, things didn’t go well for Ian Madigan and not for the first time it was made look as though Gopperth came on and saved the day but I’m not so sure that was the case.  Mads’ first missed place kick was bad I know but in open play if the team is going to keep the cork on the champagne rugby it seriously neuters his game.  If the plan is to open things out in France, I’d start him.  One things for sure, we can’t afford to play like we did in Galway.

It was a fairly non-descript evening for BOD, a shame given it was probably his last-ever appearance at the Sportsgrounds - I know we can say that everywhere he plays this season, but it surely means something more at Irish stadia.

As for Connacht, there is no doubt they have quite a few promising players coming through.  We knew about Kieran Marmion and Robbie Henshaw and neither disappointed - plus there’s further graduates of the U20s like Jack Carty, Matt Healy and Darragh “what say I move the kicking tee again” Leader.

When you add those prospects to the experience brought by the Clarkes, Muldoons and Parks, you definitely have the makings of a quality outfit.  Yet despite all of this, and despite their heroics in Toulouse, they lie bottom of the Pro12.  I don’t think anyone quite expected silverware in Pat Lam’s first season but he at least needs to dodge that wooden spoon.

Meanwhile at the top of the table, it now seems to be a straight fight between five clubs for the four playoff spots.  Despite iffy performances & results, Leinster find ourselves right in the mix, just 3 points off the leaders, with both Munster & Glasgow still to come to our place, though to be fair we still must go to Belfast & Swansea.  Still - all to look forward to as the Heineken Cup & Six Nations loom large.

I see no clear and obvious reason why Leinster shouldn’t feel reasonably confident going further into the new year.  I’d be worried if I heard Jude Quinn saying that, mind. JLP

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Also this weekend

Cardiff Blues 21 - 13 Dragons

Glasgow P v P Edinburgh

Ulster 29 - 19 Munster

Ospreys 17 - 12 Scarlets

Zebre 14 - 12 Benetton Treviso

TEAM PLD PTS W PD T PF TD
1 MUNSTER 12 43 10 81 25 269 13
2 LEINSTER 12 40 8 68 24 263 7
3 OSPREYS 12 39 8 77 27 293 12
4 ULSTER 12 37 8 74 22 244 8
5 GLASGOW 10 33 8 27 15 169 8
6 NG DRAGONS 12 24 5 -1 15 209 0
7 SCARLETS 12 23 4 -27 16 199 -6
8 EDINBURGH 11 22 5 -53 18 202 -9
9 CARDIFF BLUES 12 22 4 -34 14 240 -10
10 TREVISO 11 19 3 -19 15 198 -8
11 ZEBRE 12 14 2 -86 18 196 -6
12 CONNACHT 12 12 2 -107 18 165 -9
stats on table are presented left to right from “PTS” in order of priority
 
Next Pro12 matches
 
Fri Feb 7   Ulster v Ospreys
Sat Feb 8   Treviso v Scarlets
Sat Feb 8   Munster v Cardiff
Sun Feb 9  NG Dragons v Edinburgh
Sun Feb 9   Glasgow v Connacht
Sun Feb 9   Zebre v Leinster

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