Monday, September 15, 2014

Leinster-42 Scarlets-12


ONE FOR THE FANS

WARNING - the following match writeup may contain shameless one-eyed gushing about Leinster rugby; if such things make you queasy, I suggest you look away now.

As I strolled down Morehampton Road clutching my box of free Leinster season-ticket stash, a couple of thoughts occurred to me.

First of all, I was glad I had brought my car.  If I hadn't, I would have a few pints on me at that stage, and I was on such a buzz from what had just transpired at the RDS that I could well have done something random like clutch the box as if it were a rugby ball and charge down the path trying to fend off passers by in my way.  I'm no stranger to cringe-worthy stuff like that after a few jars (but then again, who is?).

Then I considered exactly why I was on such a high in the first place.  And although the performance & result were factors, they most certainly weren't the only ones.

For one thing there was the very box I was carrying.  Not only did it contain the usual goodies like a scarf, keychain/trolley token, pen and mug (supping coffee from it as I type), but even the container itself had a purpose.  Call me a sell-out if you want, but few can have complaints about quality free stuff.

Then there were the numerous components making up the enjoyable occasion itself, of which these are but a sample...
  • Walking through Donnybrook past the old HQ.  
  • Turning before the church and heading down first Anglesea then Simmonscourt Road along with the ever-increasing stream of fellow supporters.  
  • Meeting the others at the South Stand bar before kickoff - what that? Pint?  Ah no thanks, I'm driving today.  
  • Chatting away about this and that, straining to hear the Leinster lineup being read out in case there were any last-minute changes.
  • Making our way to the usual seats, acknowledging the familiar faces around us back again for yet another campaign.
  • Standing up and cheering as the "Welcome To The Jungle" riff begins and the boys in blue take the field, passing of course the now famous "Laighin Pit" banner on the way.
  • Enjoying the half-time minis as they get their 15 minutes of fame.
  • Debating about where to go for post-match pints - always good for a lively discussion even if I'm not joining in this time!
Oh, and I seem to recall there was a rugby match somewhere in there as well.  Something tells me I'm meant to be writing about it now!  Don't worry, I'll get there.

But before I do, I want to ask...when you look back on any Leinster rugby season gone by, how often do you remember the home opener?

When I thought about it, I had to check to see how even last year's went - and then I went back as far as the first one I wrote up for this site 6 years ago (when incidentally Kearney the Elder, Jennings & Heaslip all started), which, by the way, was also the last time Leinster's first RDS encounter wasn't with a Welsh region.

My point is that for all the debating and analysing we love to do about our beloved sport, we can never forget the context, and it definitely needs applying to this particular fixture.

When you take all of the above comforts from rugby occasions at the RDS and add the fact that on a cracking afternoon weather-wise, my favourite club came out all guns blazing with six tries to just two in reply, I reckon that makes for an afternoon of nigh-on perfect Leinstertainment.

This is all of course without even considering the doom and gloom surrounding last week's display in Scotstoun.  In my preview I made it pretty clear what I was looking for...
...basically everything we did not see last time around, like first-up tackles being made and offensive strategy being more adventurous
I think we can safely say I got what I wanted.  On the defensive front, the Scarlets' tries both came from our own mistakes when we had the ball and our total "tackles missed" count was more than halved from the week before.

And although it took around seven minutes to get decent possession in their territory, once we did there was quite literally no stopping us.

The phases were clinical, the passes were crisp, the support lines were accurate.  On top of this, returnees to the side like Rob Kearney were determined to make every touch count to put on a show for the RDS crowd.

When it came to the part when the announcer said something like "and today's Bank of Ireland MVP award goes to..." all around us we were saying things like "HAS to be Mads".  Why is it whenever I disagree with the man of the match decision it always seems to go to Jamie Heaslip?

It's not like the skipper had a bad game and he did steal a key lineout on their throw when the match was very much still a contest...but while it's not always as simple as awarding the honour to the game's highest scorer, Ian Madigan's overall contribution certainly deserved it.

He was shipping on key passes to set up tries.  He was beating defenders.  He was making 80+ yards overall on the day.  He was even selling dummies just as occupiers of the 12 jumper should.

All this on top of two tries when he could have made his own conversion attempts easier with a different line but I guess he knew he was in the zone to make 6 out of 6 from the tee, more often than not from the more difficult side for a right-footer.

Plus, look who his opposite number was - none other than Grand-Slam-winning 12 Scott Williams.  Definitely no slouch, but definitely the second best inside centre on the day.  Say what you like about where the "Mad Dog" should play in future, but on this day he was exactly where Leinster needed him to be.

And then we have Dominic Ryan...in my book Leinster's best player of this young season.  The stattos credit him with 24 tackles and none missed over the two matches, he won the penalty that sent us on the way to a losing bonus in Glasgow, and he even got himself on the scoresheet at the RDS into the bargain.  Just the start to the campaign he needed.

But despite class individual performances (honourable mention must go to debutant Mike McGrath who seamlessly slotted into our offensive setup after replacing Kirchner), the job could not have been done without a vast improvement in the way the team as a unit approached the contest and this is a credit to everyone involved.

What's that?  Way, way too much gushing you say?  Hmmm.  Well it's not like I do that every week.  The most-hit post in this site's history was one where I tore into Leinster after defeat to the Ospreys.  And nobody has been safe from criticism over the years...Joe, BOD, Jamie, Sexton, Isa, you name it...when I felt they deserved it on the day.

And it's not like I think this match was all about Leinster being brilliant either.

Sure, the Scarlets' defensive line offered little or no resistance, especially when we had the ball in their 22.  The way Madigan both created and expoited a dog leg for the bonus point try was particularly embarrassing, but overall the coverage was shocking.

Sure, we butchered more than one chance in the closing stages and a "fifty-burger" was definitely on the cards.  This particular point leads me to talk about Brendan Macken as he was among the culprits.  Here is what I said about him in the preview...
...if he does manage to find a bit of space there could be a try in it for him once he backs himself.
He had some good carries, he didn't miss a tackle, he even gave an assist on the opening try from Rob Kearney.  But I reckon his Achilles heel lies in the area of "backing himself".  He has a decent step, a good turn of pace (would have prevented the Scott Williams try but for a bounce of the ball), and seems to be more adept at retaining the ball after the tackle than he was last season.  

Perhaps suggesting the blue 13 jumper weighs a bit heavy for his back is being too simplistic, but what I will say is that the lad needs some belief in his own ability before the tries start to come.

Overall though on the subject of playing at full tilt for the 80 minutes whatever the scoreline, I'm normally all for it; but the way the try bonus works (awarding it once the fourth try is in regardless of what happens afterwards) makes it very tempting to ease the foot up off the pedal late on, especially when there's a six-day turnaround before our next encounter.

For example, although I know Jamie rarely gets injured, I wasn't exactly heartbroken to see him put in the sin-bin for the final few minutes, even if it was right after being announced as MVP!

Another negative you could point out was the amount of times referee Marius Mitrea had to go to the TMO; though to be fair a few of the tries were absolute stinkers to call on first sight.  Still, I reckon he's another who could do with a bit more faith in his own abilities.

But while there were a few negatives, the positives far, far outweighed them.  

Look - as I have already said, this match will be long forgotten as we get deeper into the season.  In fact, it will probably be long forgotten by this Friday evening, when we travel to play Connacht who have been known to do a number on us before, even when they didn't  have a 100% start to the season.

Naturally, it remains to be seen how the Leinster side shapes up in Galway (hopefully Zane Kirchner leaving the field under his own steam was a good sign) as well as whether or not this kind of form can be replicated away from Ballsbridge.

But while this performance and result may not directly bring us silverware, as you can probably tell, it certainly brought me satisfaction walking back to my car on a sunny Saturday evening in September.

This triumph was one for the fans in my book, and bravo to all who made it happen.  JLP




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Also in Round 2
Benetton Treviso 10 - 21 Munster
Dragons 15 - 17 Ospreys
Edinburgh 13 - 14 Connacht
Ulster 33 - 13 Zebre
Cardiff Blues 12 - 33 Glasgow


Round 3

Friday, September 19
Munster v Zebre, Thomond Park, 7:30pm
Cardiff Blues v Ulster, Cardiff Arms Park, 7:35pm
Connacht v Leinster, Sportsgrounds, 7:35pm

Saturday, September 20
NG Dragons v Glasgow, Rodney Parade, 2:40pm
Scarlets v Benetton Treviso, Parc y Scarlets, 6pm

Sunday, September 21
Ospreys v Edinburgh, Liberty Stadium, 4pm

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