Dave Kearney had a great Six Nations and it was unfortunate for him to have to miss this game on Saturday. But hand on heart I honestly believe that if Keith Earls was able to start ahead of him, the Irish team would have been even better.
Yes, you read that first paragraph right, April 1st hasn’t come early.
I had many thoughts after watching this match over for the second time, and that Earls point was just one, and a minor one at that. But it is also an honest one, and unfortunately I feel I have to lead with it to set the tone for this piece.
This website exists because I love rugby and I love writing. I’d love to be able to cover all aspects of the game - the four provinces, club rugby, schoolboy rugby, Premiership, Top 14, Super Rugby, hey I’d write up a game from the Georgian 4th division if you could get me the footage.
I would, that is, if I had time. But I don’t. None of us has. But I still want to write, so I focus on the team I see week in week out and to whom I pay good money every year for a season ticket. And that’s Leinster Rugby. Of course when it comes to international time, I’m all about the boys in green.
But what has made the website worthwhile has been the fact that I have met so many fellow rugby fans who share my love of the sport, and the best thing about THAT is that it doesn’t matter which team they follow.
In the lead photo you can see myself with several of these fans in the Sandymount Hotel after the game on Saturday. It was an impromptu “event” arranged by RaboDirect as a way of saying thanks to some of the game’s supporters before they end their sponsorship of the Celtic League.
The smiles are all genuine - we had a laugh, a few beers, some pub grub and it was all good. It didn’t matter to anyone who won or lost the game, but if we had our opinions on what may or may not have happened, we were all able to share them respectfully.
For the good of the game, let us not only hold on to that, but also welcome others who feel the same.
Sure, there are eejits who are determined to go the tribal route. And they are not just from Leinster, nor just from Munster, nor just from Ireland.
And sure enough they were out in force after this match, whether it was on my Facebook page, Journal.ie, and all the usual messageboards.
Well we know they’re there, we know how sad they can be, we know how much they can stir our emotions especially after big derby matches like this one. We also know that even with my bubble-bursting opening paragraph, there will still be those scanning this page word by word looking for some kind slight to pounce on.
But please, for the good of the game, don’t ever let them stop us harping on rugby.
This match came in three distinct segments - Munster won the first 30 minutes, Leinster the next 30, Munster the final 20. But throughout the entire 80, it really did look as though only one side was going to score a try, and that was the team that eventually did, and that was the team which won the match.
Although I think Munster were mistaken to take the three points when awarded a penalty on 73 minutes, I reckon they made that choice because they agreed that the Leinster defence was at its best and that they were more likely to get another score by a penalty. As it turned out, that didn’t happen either.
Had they instead gone for the corner, with a lineout and patient phases even if the Leinster tackling was to keep them out, some good recycling could have at least won another penalty and Alain Rolland would have to show a yellow as he did earlier to Dave Kilcoyne.
Ah, yes, Alain Rolland. He went to Blackrock College, didn’t he? So therefore he must have been determined to make calls that favoured Leinster on the night, right?
Look…he wasn’t the scheduled ref. Pascal Gauzere was injured and with all the other refs assigned and travel arrangements made, if AR was the best available option it was surely a testament to his career (which included involvement a World Cup Final, more than any other Irishman can say) that he be handed this gig.
As I have said before on this site, thinking a ref just gives bad calls against your team is like thinking lemon juice only squirts into your eyeball…just because that’s the only time you notice something doesn’t mean that’s the only time it happens.
He got calls wrong on Saturday it’s true. But the same can be said for any given official on any given day.
The one thing you can be sure of with Rolland is that you’ll generally get a detailed explanation of why he made a particular decision, and sometimes, although he lacks the wit of Nigel Owens, he’ll even add a little colour, like when he said to Brian O’Driscoll at one stage “all I’m saying is that it’s for the good of the game”.
He is perfectly within his rights to say something like “because I said so” but he goes that extra mile of quoting chapter and verse what he saw and it’s a shame more refs can’t be like him.
[Funny little sidenote…at one stage as a scrum was forming Rolland said “Everybody is giving out about everyone else” after which Setanta commentator Oisin Langan quipped, “Welcome to Ireland!”]
Of course it was clear the ref had his hands full with the scrums on the night, and at the centre of this was David Kilcoyne v Mike Ross. We need not worry ourselves about the particulars of what goes on between props at scrum-setting time but needless to say they caught Rolland’s attention and it set the tone for the first half.
He seemed to take turns awarding penalties against the two of them, though only the Munster ones tended to be in kickable positions which helped them to their early 9-0 lead. As he threatened to show both of them yellow I was reminded of Nigel Owens doing similar in the same fixture 2 years ago only then it was Marcus Horan wearing red 1. Looking at the two benches for this match I’d say a double yellow would have favoured the visitors.
But they stayed on the park and things improved in the second half on that front. It was around the 30-minute mark when Leinster’s offence finally seemed to find its spark. That has been a pattern this season in that our style going forward needs to work its way up through the gears before it gets to a point where the passes start sticking and the scoreboard starts moving.
When the score got to 3-12 Ian Madigan (who along with his opposite number Keatley nailed some superb placekicks on the night) did a short restart which paid off with Fergus McFadden taking it and from there it really did look as though a try was inevitable, though it was still a long time coming, the 56th minute to be precise, albeit with the help of the extra man.
Man of the Match was given to Jamie Heaslip - not for the first time this season I disagree, but again it’s nothing against the man himself. Since he got the try there was a case to be made for BOD but in my book it should have gone to Shane Jennings. Made some good breaks, forced turnovers, hit his tackles and of course had two key involvements in the try including the final pop pass.
On the Munster side as I have already suggested I thought Keith Earls was their biggest threat and is having a fine season when fit. I have nothing against Simon Zebo but I really do feel he still has a way to go before he can move up the Irish pecking order. For one thing, although he is an “x-factor” type of winger, he doesn’t play for a club that will base their style of play around him the way London Wasps would do for Christian Wade, for example.
But while he had a few good bursts and chased down some kicks, he really was all at sea for the decisive try and for a solid 80 minutes I’d have Earls in my side any day ahead of him if I were Joe Schmidt.
I could go back over the match in more detail and single out more individuals, but I really think it’s more important that we put this one to bed and focus on next weekend.
The 2013/14 season is well poised to become the best-ever for Irish rugby. After winning the Six Nations (all of us!) we are on the brink of having three Irish provinces in the final four of both the Heineken Cup and the RaboDirectPRO12, and into the bargain we have Connacht playing some amazing rugby as well.
I say we put our full support behind them and make sure that all further derbies this season are enjoyed in the proper fashion for the good of the game. Once Leinster win, of course ;-) JLP
Also this weekend
Thu Apr 3
NG Dragons v Edinburgh, 6:30pm
Fri Apr 4
Glasgow v Benetton Treviso, 7:35pm
Fri Apr 11
Ospreys v Leinster, 7:05pm
Ulster v Connacht, 7:05pm
Edinburgh v Cardiff Blues, 7:45pm
Sat Apr 12
Benetton Treviso v NG Dragons, 6pm
Munster v Glasgow, 6:30pm
Scarlets v Zebre, 6:30pm