Monday, November 03, 2014

Leinster-33 Edinburgh-8


RYAN HEIR


I'm as superstitious as your average sports fan, probably much more so.  But injuries to rugby players involved with Ireland & the provinces have been so commonplace of late that I very much doubt anything I do or say will influence the almighty rugby gods.

For this reason I want to dedicate this particular writeup to the very deserving man of the match from this Halloween encounter, one Dominic "Dippy" Ryan.

Rugby is a sport where more than many others what happens in a particular match can be overlooked by the context of that particular stage of the season.  Take Leinster's demolition of Treviso in February 2013, for example.

Scoring a hat-trick of tries for Leinster would be the dream of many a youngster...yet when Dom did it at the RDS there was so much going on at the time it was pretty much forgotten.  We had just fallen short in our Heineken Cup pool plus what turned out to be a Six Nations campaign that was to end ther Declan Kidney era had begun to implode with a disappointing defeat to England.

But when we talk about injuries, Ryan has been unluckier than most, particularly when it comes to timing.  Of course there's never a good time to be away from the game, but given he is at a province with so much quality in the back row, any absence was going to be extra costly.

And on Friday night, context was in serious danger of winning out again.  First we had the debut of Ben Te'o.  Before the match kicked off I had my headline all ready for this writeup - "BT's New Sport".

Given that Edinburgh had a massive injury list themselves and the November internationals were looming, it seemed only the rugby league convert's introduction to the senior level of the 15-man code could provide a narrative for this match.

From the kickoff it was definitely a different way to watch rugby...a bit like a scouting mission where you're not so much following the action, rather trying to anticipate when one particular player will have a possession or make a tackle to see "what he can do".

Well, for 19 minutes, Ben did pretty well.  A good clear out, a decent couple of possessions, a very tough rugby-league-style hit along with Richardt Strauss which drove their man back a few yards.  None of it was what you'd call innovative play you could use in a YouTube video compilation, but he definitely seemed to be slotting in nicely to his new team.

Then the rugby gods intervened with yet another lightning bolt of injury, this time to his forearm in what seemed like a straightforward tackle on the Edinburgh skipper Andries Strauss.  Just like that, a fractured forearm for Te'o and a six-week layoff.

When he left the pitch we had a 12-0 lead which was helped in part by a porous Edinburgh defence but also involved a first-quarter offensive outlook which I have been looking for all season to no avail until Friday.  Width on the passes, offloads working thanks to support runners in tow, penalties being kicked to the corner.

And on the first attempt at a lineout maul it was that man Dominic Ryan who knew exactly when to spring forward and this time unlike his score against Wasps there was no doubt he was over the line.

Not long afterwards Te'o was involved in a move in their 22 which eventually led to Jack Conan sailing through a gap for try number 2.

All of which means I should give the former Rabbitoh a "so far so good" and wish him a speedy recovery before getting back to the business of harping on the actual match again.

His replacement at outside centre was Steve Crosbie, who has impressed at B&I Cup level this season.  I'm sure he was anxious to get on the park at some stage but I very much doubt he expected it to be so early.

It would be unfair to pin the slowing down of our offensive output squarely on his shoulders but when you have spent all week preparing a strategy, centre is one position where you don't want to be forced into an early change and getting a full 80 minutes from our starting 12/13 combo is an area where we have struggled this season.

So with a sudden departure there was always going to be a period of transition on the offensive front and for a long time we seemed to lapse back into our tendency to pick the wrong options here and spill the ball in contact there.

Thankfully our defence was holding up pretty well.  Edinburgh did grow into the match but they found it hard to progress when deep in our 22 and this wasn't helped by their outhalf Tom Heathcoate missing a couple of relatively easy first-half placekicks.  The halftime lead of 12-3 could easily have been 12-9 and would have made for a much more confident visiting dressing room at the interval.

The scrappiness to the overall play continued in the second half - worst of our errors was an overcooked kick to the corner by Jimmy Gopperth which brought play all the way back but thankfully our tackling was enough to keep the opposition at bay.

Eventually a turnover penalty forced by tight-head Tadhg Furlong gave Gopps another chance to set up a lineout maul and this time we made no mistake with yes, that man Dippy again getting the touch-down.  All three of his tries in that win over Treviso I mentioned were from the same situation and it is clearly one in which he excels...surely new national forwards coach Simon Easterby will be taking serious note.

When Gopperth stroked over an impressive conversion from wide the margin was now 19-3 and the match was won, though of course there was still a bonus point to play for.

To Edinburgh's credit they never really threw in the towel, it's just that for the most part our defence was too strong for the side they were able to cobble together.  Camped on our line for about a dozen phases they were eventually thwarted by first a hit by Fanning, a drive by Conan and finally a jackle by Dom Ryan which all but secured his MVP award.

I have made many calls for Luke McGrath (side note - somebody get this guy a nickname please!  We can't call him just  "Luke" but we can't call him just "McGrath" either!) to be given a start and he has deserved them, but on this occasion I felt he wasn't at his sharpest.  I'd still want to see him get a few more starts in the blue jersey to give him a run in the side to iron out the errors.

Still - it must be noted that four of our five tries came from lineouts, and the crucial bonus-point score was off a very interesting call which saw Strauss catching the Edinburgh D off guard (surely they were gearing up for another maul) before a series of pop passes from the deck by Ed Byrne and Tom Denton saw Ben Marshall get the fourth try.

It was that kind of night at the RDS where unless you were a rugby purist beyond George Hook standards, with the five points in the bag you wouldn't begrudge the visitors giving the scoreline a tiny bit more respectability.  A sweet pop pass from the deck by George Turner was finished by Tomas Leonardi was fitting for the Embra backrow which included David Denton and was probably their strongest area.

But what gave me most satisfaction from Leinster's display the was  reaction to that lone Edinburgh try.   Those not joining international camps now have three weeks off and few would have blamed them for seeing out the last couple of minutes, but I have to assume skipper for the night Kevin McLaughlin (another with bad luck on the injury front) put a rocket under them as the conversion was being taken because they came out all guns blazing from the kickoff.

Their efforts were rewarded, as were those of the Leinster fans who chose to stay to the final whistle, when Mick McGrath made sure the bookies' 21-point spread was beaten with a last-minute try that included good work from Gopperth and Luke Fitzgerald (our injury poster child!).

So...an easy win it was, an expected win it was, but I still have to congratulate the boys in blue on their attitude right to the end.  We still don't have it right at half-back.  We still need to find a settled centre pairing.  There is much to work on over the coming weeks, though four wins from four including two in Europe isn't a bad way to go into a break.

But if we remember this match for anything, let it not be for the brief "cam-te'o" (sorry!) by our new signing - rather let it be for the night when Dominic Ryan capped an excellent season so far (8 starts, 4 tries, 76mins per match, 11 tackles per 80mins) by announcing himself ready to step up and challenge Chris Henry and Tommy O'Donnell for that Ireland 7 jumper.

If and when Joe Schmidt hands it to him at any stage this November it certainly won't have anything to do with the province he plays for.

#COYBIB JLP

PS - From Tuesday the blue goggles go back in the case and out comes the green...stay tuned for daily posts looking at Ireland's hopes for November & beyond.



HarpinOnRugby match writeups are brought to you by the Irish Rugby Store

Other results from Round 7

POSTEAMGPGWPDTPFTDPTS
1OSPREYS77114212091430
2GLASGOW7666221931227
3ULSTER7597201791426
4MUNSTER755715158723
5LEINSTER747221184921
6CONNACHT74-2311105-118
7SCARLETS733018167318
8EDINBURGH72-90892-1611
9CARDIFF71-5214148-48
10NG DRAGONS71-538101-97
11ZEBRE71-87887-105
12TREVISO70-131676-101

Next up in the Guinness Pro12

Friday, November 21
Connacht v Zebre, Sportsground, 7:35pm
Scarlets v Glasgow, Parc y Scarlets, 7:35pm
Ulster v Ospreys, Kingspan Stadium, 7:35pm

Saturday, November 22
NG Dragons v Munster, Rodney Parade, 7:30pm

Sunday, November 23
Benetton Treviso v Leinster, Stadio di Monigo, 2:30pm
Edinburgh v Cardiff Blues, Murrayfield, 4pm
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