Friday, September 19, 2014

Connacht-10 Leinster-9


On the rare occasions the All Blacks don't win, like when the Wallabies held them to a draw to kick off this year's Rugby Championship, it's always interesting to browse around the Kiwi media, both mainstream and social, to see how they are analysing the result.

More often than not, the narrative is being pushed home that the only conceivable thing that could have happened was that New Zealand failed somehow.  Something was wrong in their game, mistakes were made, and this is why they didn't win.  No fear the other guys could have bettered (or in Australia's case equalled) them for once.  Amazing and all as the ABs may be, I always found this to be the height of arrogance.

Of course I'd never even attempt to compare Leinster to the World Cup holders, but what I will say is that no matter how one-eyed an observer you are, you can't simply say Leinster's display 100% caused this result.

Connacht lived up to their "Front Up, Rise Up" slogan, took their one decent attacking chance when they had it, and stood firm on defence when we threatened their line for the remainder of the 80 minutes.  So credit where credit is due and I have to highlight that first.

But having said that, there was plenty to scrutinise on the Leinster side of things and whether home or away, when a squad of our calibre has a 9-3 lead on 24 minutes and gets an extra man advantage, that is one that must be maximized to the full.  And we couldn't do it on this occasion, thus questions must be asked.

So taking the above points into account, I have my match summary broken up into three headings.


The future of the positions 12 & 13 may be unclear for both Leinster and Ireland these days, but let me tell you...Pat Lam has no such head-scratching problems there.  On Friday night in Galway Dave McSharry and Robbie Henshaw put in a kind of display that would make Bundee Aki wonder if he's going to be surplus to requirements at the Sportsground.

And I hate to say I told you so...ok, I won't get away with that, will I...fine - I'm not entirely happy about saying I told you so in my preview :
 if the Westerners are going to thwart their illustrious visitors tonight it will be mostly due to that tandem.
McSharry, who I feel could well have some full test caps by now were it not for injuries, made 13 tackles on the night including one cruncher which stopped Rob Kearney in full flow.   Henshaw made "just" the 4 but they were all key like one where he put Jimmy Gopperth on his backside.

Singling out those two on the tackling front may seem unfair to the Connacht pack, who did most of the heavy lifting in that area.  But that was partly on account of Leinster's strategy which I'll get to next.  For me, it was the water-tight nature of the home side's centre channel which kept the "illustrious visitors" out more often than not.

And of course any defensive effort must rely on a team dynamic and particularly in the area of line speed they were impressive from start to finish.

Was everything rosy on the Connacht side?  Not at all.  Bar the one try (amazing though it was - don't worry, I'll get back to it), their offence was going nowhere.

And brave though that final stand may have been as we tried to get ourselves the three points we needed from somewhere, when Jimmy Gopperth ducked out of his drop-goal attempt I don't think the onrushing defenders were any less offside than Denton & McFadden were charging down Hogg in the dying stages against Glasgow two weeks ago.

But more often than not the home side gets the nod in these situations and I'm not suggesting for a minute that the result was not deserved.


Sorry for harping on about my preview again but I was given a definitive answer to this question :
...are we playing one way at home and another away from Ballsbridge?
I think we can safely say it's yes.  And you know what, in a way I can see where our coaching staff are coming from.

When we play at home, we have control over our surroundings, so we can be a lot more creative due to that familiarity.  But our typical strategy at the RDS can't simply be put in a kitbag and taken around Europe with us as when travelling, the control I mention above is lost.

So it seems that we have landed on a more basic phase-building dominated play for away matches, especially for the opening half an hour or so, just to see where we're at.  And you know what, it was actually reaping rewards in Galway as we got ourselves a six-point cushion going into the break.

But where I do have a problem is that when things go a bit pear-shaped, as they so often can do, we don't seem to be able to adapt, and if this continues then I'll be wondering if we learned any lessons at all when we played Toulon back in April.

When we went one point down in Galway, sure - we tried a few different options to mix things up, but none of it looked as though it was part of a general strategy, rather individuals trying things on the fly and more often than not they got us nowhere.

I hope I'm wrong but we have scored just two tries in two away matches and both of those came from opposition mistakes -  counting on that won't get us far in the bigger trips down the road outside the Pale.


I'm just going to come right out and say it - I do not like the way we approach this set-piece at all.

Of course you have to bend the rules to suit you now and again, especially in the scrum, and nobody gets anywhere by following the Laws of the Game to the letter, that's a given.

But it seems to me that we somehow think we can just flagrantly do illegal stuff that won't get noticed...why?  Because we're Leinster?  I'm baffled.

Top of my list is Sean Cronin, who can't seem to balance the responsibilities of shoving and actual hooking.  I have harped on this many times before but it really cost us at the end of the first half when we needed to press home our advantage.  A try at that point, which seemed likely, probably would have killed the game off.

Still though, the problems are not just at the number 2 position.  Most scrum-halves around the pro game play silly-beggars with the feed, but ours tend to be particularly crooked more often than not, with the Reddan-to-Cronin exchange worst of all.  I was surprised ref John Lacey didn't call us on it.

Then there were other things like Rhys Ruddock busted for driving in and though we won a couple of early scrum penalties ourselves, we assumed that this was going to happen all night and instead Connacht adjusted and we didn't seem able to respond ourselves.

I know we rely heavily on front foot ball but approaching this key set piece in such a way as to risk shipping free-kicks & penalties too often seems to me to be counter-productive.


So to summarize - both defences were pretty solid, but when the chances came, Connacht took their one while we often got into their 22 only to be thwarted every time.  Most certainly an extremely frustrating night to be a Leinster fan.

But we cannot ignore the match-winning try, and it was certainly deserving of that honour.

Ireland has an embarrassment of riches at scrum-half at the moment.  In fact, so does Leinster - I think Luke McGrath should have been brought on well before the 74th minute, truth be told.  But no discussion over back up to Conor Murray would be complete without the name of Kieran Marmion.

It wasn't even a half-chance that he took, it was closer to a quarter.  But his presence of mind to first sell Ian Madigan down the river and then put Rob Kearney on his back with a faint here and a step there was astounding.

Basically he was able to provide the spark that we couldn't find all evening bar one chance where Reddan's final pass to Madigan was deemed forward.  (To be clear, I'm saying "deemed" not because I doubt it was forward rather because of the whole "where were the hands going" thing we all know and hate.  Reddan's hands were going sideways at worst.  But the pass was forward.)

On a side note, no offence to TG4 but I had the GalwayBayFM commentary playing along with the pictures and I have to say I enjoyed their extremely-Connacht-biased commentary immensely.    And that's not bitter sarcasm on my part either.

I have been saying for years that Leinster could do with radio coverage for every match to be streamed online and picked up by whatever mainstream station that wished to broadcast.  Tough and all as the result was to take it was great to hear the excitement in the commentators' voices on the night.

So...all this must mean I have fully gone over into the "Anti-Matter" camp, right?  Two defeats from three matches - I couldn't possibly go down the whole "we don't do September" road again, could I?  After I finish typing this I surely I will be painting my "MOC OUT!" placard to bring with me to the RDS this Friday?

Well, it's like this.  I feel some fans were harsh on Matt O'Connor last season as our highest-profile defeats were to two teams who went on to win a pair of major trophies each.

So far this season we have lost two out of three it's true, but they have been away from home, with a combined losing margin of just three points, to clubs both of which have won their other two matches as well.  That, for me, is not a crisis.

Sure, we will have to raise our game back to that which hammered the Scarlets when the Cardiff Blues come to town, and it's Munster the following weekend.

If we can neither front up nor rise up for those matches, then yes, I will definitely have my reservations about the coaching set up.  But for now, I believe we can do it and if we do, then the doubters will have to take a step back.

Meanwhile, I can't do much more than congratulate Pat Lam, his players and of course their fans for this famous victory.  Well deserved, and best of luck for the rest of the campaign, which starts in Glasgow this Friday.  The Warriors will pose their defence a lot more questions I'd wager. JLP

Also in Round 3
10NG DRAGONS30-27239-62

Round 4

Friday, September 26
Edinburgh v Scarlets, Murrayfield, 7:35pm
Glasgow Warriors v Connacht, Scotstoun, 7:35pm
Leinster v Cardiff Blues, RDS, 7:35pm

Saturday, September 27
Zebre v Ulster, Stadio XXV Aprile, 4pm

Sunday, September 28
NG Dragons v Benetton Treviso, Rodney Parade, 4pm


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019