This was a match that had something for each kind Leinster rugby observer…
(a) The “Glass Half Full” Leinster fan - Whatever way they are gotten, you cannot do better than five points on the Pro12 table, so these will be happy, especially given the five-day turnaround from the Zebre trip.
(b) The “Glass Half Empty” Leinster fan - six points down at home to the presumptive “worst” Welsh region going into the final quarter is bound to draw many a “harrumph” from this lot whatever way the match turns out. It must be noted that they are no less fans than category (a), they just want the excuse to use fancy rugby-nerd phrases like “soft shoulders” and “hard yards”.
(c) The “Anyone But Leinster” rugby fan - No doubt they held some kind of dread that the reigning Pro12 champs were going to claw their way back somehow in the closing stages, but there’s nothing like a couple of quickly-awarded penalty tries plus a sending off thanks to an Irish TMO to give them cause for begrudgery!
Which am I you ask? Ah sure that’d be tellin…but safe to say it isn’t (c)!
Despite all of the above, and not to mention the 50 total points and 6 tries, it was hardly the most thrilling of contests. I felt the need to think outside the box with the writeup this week so I set myself a unique challenge.
Normally I scoff at articles on the internet which lead with headlines like “Seven Reasons You Shouldn’t Put Salt On Your Chips” or “Eight Reasons You Absolutely Should Put Salt On Your Chips” or even “Twelve Things We Learned From #Frannogate Other Than He’s An Eejit”.
But this time, I’m going to be all “If ya can’t beat em…”
Here’s fourteen ways I found the number 14 played a part in this fixture. Hopefully it will also give a decent account of the way it transpired.
- The year - 2014 (duh)
- The date - Valentine’s day Feb 14 (double duh)
- The round - Leinster’s 14th match in the Pro12 regular season
- The first score of the match came in the 14th minute as Ian Madigan’s penalty broke the deadlock.
- 14 was the amount of phases Leinster seemed to go through before being stopped by the Dragons (by fair means or foul) in the first half, that is until (worthy man of the match) Jack McGrath bulldozed his way over the line from 5 metres out to help the halftime score of 10-3 reflect the possession and territory.
- 14 was worn by Fergus McFadden, who led Leinster’s stats in metres gained but who’s most significant contribution came when forced to run towards his own line to recover a fly hack early in the second half. He did well in recovery but shortly afterwards Madigan turned it over and the Dragons were well poised to seize the moment and put Ashley Smith over in the corner to make it 10-8 to the home side.
- 14 seemed to be the amount of seconds Isaac Boss was on the pitch before the ball trickled out of a ruck through his legs and in almost a carbon copy of the first try the visitors pounced, only this time it was nippy scrum half Richie Rees who touched down. 14 could also be the amount of times TMO Kevin Beggs looked at replays to find a reason not to give the score, but there was none to be found and it was 10-13.
- The vast majority of the penalties on the night went to Leinster, but 14 minutes into the second half Jason Tovey kicked one over to give the Dragons their biggest lead of the night (10-16) and make an upset appear a very real possibility.
- Like I said, the vast majority of penalties on the night went to Leinster, and the vast majority of those came at scrum time, which led to the home side racking up a quick 14 points to restore their lead thanks to two pen tries. Oddly enough in the lead up to the first one, the Dragons changed their hooker after the first reset…it was odd because in the first bind they seemed to have a rare upper hand. In the second one they very much did not.
- There were 14 minutes left on the clock when we got our second penalty try and all of a sudden it seemed like the bonus point try was going to be a piece of cake. As it turned out we needed every one of those minutes.
- This one may be a bit harsh, but I’d estimate the IQ of sub Dragons prop Francisco Chaparro was around the 14 mark when he chose to lift Isaac Boss and drill him shoulders-first into the ground, with the ball nowhere near. Hopefully Boss is ok; it was every bit a red-card offence and thanks to the TMO it was brandished.
- And so with the extra man Leinster pushed right to the very end and thanks to a innovative long scoop pass by makeshift scrum-half Ian Madigan from under the posts, Darren Hudson (on for Boss) was able to collect and go over the line for his second bonus-point clinching try in as many weeks, with Madigan providing a cracking touchline conversion. That point brought Leinster’s Pro12 total for this calendar year to yes, you guessed it, 14. Still very much in the hunt for a home semi.
- Very hard to take too much out of this game for Leinster, at least not for the Toulon game in April. The fact that the Dragons had to have 14 men on the park for all four of our tries is something of a concern I suppose, in that teams may feel they can make some hay from bullying us at the breakdown area and with a more favourable ref, perhaps get something from the game, as the Welsh region may feel they could have.
- Finally, the real context to this match was the 14 days between Ireland’s victory over Wales and the Triple Crown decider at Twickenham. Although the Dragons were far from pushovers, I can’t really see how Joe Schmidt could have gleaned any info on the form of those like Madigan, McFadden and Reddan who would have been out to impress him on the night, at least not enough to move anyone up the pecking order.
So there you have it. Sorry if some of the associations were a tad sketchy, but at least I tried something different! Back to the more conventional rugby blogging next week - or is that a contradiction in terms? JLP
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Also this weekend
Ospreys 75 - 7 Benetton Treviso