Friday, May 23, 2014

Leinster A-44 Leeds Carnegie-17

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ONE DIRECTION

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I wonder would Herbie pass an NCT?”

Oisín Langan, Setanta

You know a match was never really a contest when the commentator is saying sentences like that a few minutes into the second half.

Now I have to be fair to Leeds Carnegie...even though their kit looked like something the city's better-known soccer team may have worn back in the 80s, they had a lot of things going against them in this contest (five-day turnaround after a bruising Championship semifinal plus home advantage in the final being decided by a draw) yet they continued to compete right to the very end.

Still...while the visitors' offence went from coast to coast on each possession, Leinster's simply coasted.

In this week's lead photo you see the moment just before Girvan Dempsey's men took the lead for good, and the clock hasn't even reached one minute yet. But does this mean I would have been more entertained by a visit to Croke Park last Friday evening to watch a different crop of youngsters performing before a slightly bigger crowd? Eh, no.

The British & Irish Cup may not have been taken too seriously by the media (or indeed it's own organisers – no sponsorship or even a dedicated website?) but it has to be said the IRFU and Leinster Rugby in particular have used the competition to the max over the years of its existence, giving fringe and academy players the chance to get competitive action to show they are ready for the next level.

And having watched this particular batch play for all five of their home fixtures this season, I have to say there are definitely some stars ready to make that break.

But it's not just the players that this tournament has helped develop...let us not forget the coaches. Before I go through the starting lineup one by one (the only real way to write up a match like this IMO) credit must go to Girve the Swerve, John Fogarty and everyone else involved behind the scenes with the A team over the past couple of seasons.

Sure, many of the victories have been comfortable, but these back-to-back trophies have also included some away trips that were challenging to say the least...Pontypridd in the semifinal a few weeks ago and Newcastle, Munster A and even these same Leeds Carnegie last season.

And where you can see the evidence most of all in the quality of coaching in this group of players is in their defence. That doesn't mean all the coaches are involved in this aspect of the game of course, but it is one area where you need everyone to a man knowing their job and having the willingness to stay focused when it counts and all could be said for Leinster A on Friday.

Leeds may be in the second tier of English rugby but they definitely had players who could hurt us (wingers Doherty and Holmes impressing the most) but I very much doubt that they would ever have come across a defence this season as well-drilled as the one they met in Donnybrook...it was little surprise that they coughed up a couple of penalties for back-chat, such was their frustration.

Sure, the Leinster tackling wasn't so hot when the visitors sneaked in for a couple of quick tries in the final quarter, but only the hardest of hard-ass commentators would punish them for that given they had a 34-point lead at the time.

Here are some thoughts on the starting XV and what the future may hold for them...

DARREN HUDSON – Hopefully Bristol can put away London Welsh in the Championship final because if Darren is to get the full benefit from his stay over there it will need to be in the Premiership. He definitely has the talent to do well, he has been unlucky with injury plus he happens to be at a province which has been generally well-stocked with quality back-three performers. Don't remember him by his slip before the 2nd Leeds try in this match....he has shone in the B&I Cup and I wish him all the best – hopefully he will be back,

SAM COGHLAN MURRAY – If Ireland ever do put together a men's 7s team, stick this guy's name down first. Natural speed from a standing start that is hard to find in the modern game and when properly utilised, can be deadly. I'm not sure if he's a fit for the way the Leinster senior team are playing, mind you, but with another brace of tries he must surely be knocking on the door for some Pro12 time next season.

BRENDAN MACKEN – Brendan hasn't needed to knock on the Pro12 door, injuries & international call-ups have left it wide open for him. I'm definitely a fan of his style but I'm not so sure he has proven himself at the next level just yet. Let's just say I'd move someone into the much-discussed 13 jumper next season ahead of him until he was able to prove himself ready, particularly defensively (though to be fair his try was from an intercept).

NOEL REID – Noel has come on in leaps and bounds since that semifinal in this competition a few years bac where he played a big part in Leinster throwing away a decent lead against Munster. Very comfortable at 12 and more interestingly, seems to have a good understanding with Cathal Marsh so both could be used in Pro12 action next season. Always good for a try or two in any fixture, though he was unlucky to pick up a knock on this occasion.

DARRAGH FANNING – Very much a fairytale story for Brody from Homeland, er, I mean, Darragh. Solid performer off his wing and suits the senior provincial team's current style perfectly. Played a massive role in making Lote Tuqiri's early season cameo look like a wasted venture, though some may say the man did that himself! Took his try well after a fortunate buildup.

CATHAL MARSH – Definitely needs a string of games at the next level; I'm not sure what much more he can show us at this one. Showed his full array of talents on the first try on Friday – bringing the ball to the gainline, throwing a no look pass to Reid crossing behind him, then after a few phases spotting the overlap out wide which was eventually exploited by Coghlan-Murray. And to cap it all, he made the conversion from the touchline look effortless even though he had to rush it as the ball had already fallen over. Another season in the A team would be a waste for this lad.

LUKE McGRATH – Back in his familiar role of 9 after a brief spell on the wing against Ulster last weekend (when he did extremely well I might add). Saw a gap well for his try and was solid throughout. Finds himself in a position where Leinster are well stocked, let alone Ireland, but much like Marsh he has provided more than enough evidence that he needs to move up.

JACK O'CONNELL – Much like Hudson, you can hardly blame him for being tempted to go abroad as his chances may well be limited. Stuck to his task on the night and was part of a front row which grew back into the game after Leeds clearly targeted success in that area from the start.

JAMES TRACY – A couple of crooked lineout throws but a decent shift from Tracy. Not sure if he's ready to challenge Dundon for the 3rd hooker role at the province just yet but matches like this one will help him get there.

TADHG FURLONG – Yet another tight head coming down the assembly line. Has had a few opportunties in the Pro12 this season, should have more next.

BEN MARSHALL – Very unlucky to come off worst in a clash of heads with his fellow lock Roux in the early stages...I have liked what I've seen from Ben in this competition and what's more he can play a decent 6 as well when required.

QUINN ROUX – I thought he looked lazy & disinterested the first few times I saw him after his much-vaunted arrival at the province but I did make allowances since he's a youngster who is far from home and deserved time to adjust. His game has much improved since the turn of the year and did well in his 50-minute Pro12 playoff shift, and despite a knock on the head held out for a decent outing on Friday.

JACK CONAN – I have always said it and I always will...if this guy ever plays for the Barbarians the headline will write itself. He's a fair ways off it, of course, but he has progressed well in this comp over the past couple of seasons

DOMINIC RYAN (CAPT) – He, Rhys Ruddock and Jordi Murphy are Leinster's answer to the “three amigos” but “Dippy” has had terrible luck with injuries and fell behind the other two somewhat. Still an awesome talent, however, and hopefully will get more opportunities at senior level next season. With Shane Jennings as mentor, I can only see good things down the line if he stays fit.

LEO AUVA'A – Not sure what the future holds for Leo. He's the sort of player you want when you are looking for crash ball from 5 meters out yet Leinster A didn't need it on the night despite the multitude of tries. He has scored a lot of 5-pointers in this competition but personally I wouldn't look to use him in the senior side at any time of year unless I absolutely had to.

BENCH – Ross Molony put in a solid display despite being called upon much earlier than expected, while of the Byrne twins, they may be tough to tell apart but I do know that hooker Bryan has had some great cameos in this competition throughout the season. Both seem to play with a very “Healy-esque” approach which certainly isn't a bad thing. Elsewhere on the bench there were limited opportunities on the night, though it's worth pointing out that it was Andrew Boyle's try which rescued the semifinal at Sardis Road in Pontypridd.

So there we have it...yet another trophy for Leinster's cabinet, and things looking well for the future. But with the new European format at senior level leading to greater resources for the Premiership & Top 14 clubs, I wonder if Messrs Hudson & O'Connell are the last who will be tempted away from the province.

Next weekend may see a League title up for grabs at the RDS, but of course the sub-plot of the final bow for two massive legends of the game in the province will also take centre stage. At least there is some consolation in that there's a more than decent crop of talent ready to step up – here's hoping they can taste a similar amount of success in Leinster blue down the line. JLP

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Also this weekend

Heineken Cup Final: Toulon 23 - 6 Saracens

Amlin Challenge Cup Final: Bath Rugby 16 - 30 Northampton Saints

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