Monday, December 01, 2014

Leinster-18 Ospreys-12


UP IN THE AIR


Ireland are ranked third in the world and deservedly so given recent results.

Three from four of the provinces are strongly poised to qualify from their European pools
Even with the change to the qualifying system, all four Irish provinces currently sit in the European slots in the Pro12.
Despite a lengthy injury list and poor performances by our standards, Leinster are just four points off the top spot in the Pro12 and are the league's top try-scorers.

Leinster still have a host of talent in the A setup who are, if not quite ready yet, then definitely willing & able to break through into the senior team & beyond, and they're in good hands right now with Girve the Swerve.


***
After what was an extremely sad week for sport (Jackie Kyle, Phil Hughes & Hillel Oscar RIP) I simply can't bring myself to harp on the trees without first describing the forest that is Leinster & Ireland rugby right now.  And overall, it has to be said things ARE in a good place.

I didn't even mention the fact that we actually won this game, against the league leaders (going into the weekend) no less!  OK - time to focus on the occasion itself...

The second biggest cheer of the night was when Darragh Fanning caught a ball and chose NOT to kick, and his charge into the onrushing defenders actually turned up some decent front foot ball for his team.  

The biggest cheer of the night was for some poor guy in Block K of the Grandstand who saw the match ball land right in his pint.

If viewed purely as a spectacle, this match wasn't one. At all.  There is no arguing with that.   

What said it all was the way Ospreys outhalf Sam Davies dealt with the kickoff after Gopperth put us ahead 18-12.  The clock was just about to turn red, but with a decent restart & chase by his team-mates, who knows - they could have won the ball back and pinched a 1-point victory...it's not like those pesky birds haven't done it before at this venue.

Instead he was happy for his team to get out of dodge with the losing bonus point so he hoofed it long allowing us to clear and put those of us who stuck out the 80 minutes out of our misery.

But here's what I feel I need to address...as much as Matt O'Connor's selections & tactics are baffling and as much as Jimmy Gopperth's form of late has been poor (I'm not disputing either and I have said both several times before on this site)...was that misery all their fault?

Absolutely not.  

First and foremost - the Ospreys came to thwart.  And why wouldn't they - although top of the table going into the weekend, the WRU in their wisdom (*cough* greed) made them do without any test players while we had the likes of Madigan, Darcy and Ruddock back.

This meant they chose to come to Dublin with a view to playing the game in our half with a combination of tactical kicking and fast line speed; and for the most part they were very successful with both, if not quite enough to (legally) cross our try line.

When the ball is continuously kicked at you with a decent chase and your opposition are more often than not in the face of your first receiver, trying to return it with interest is a reasonable option.  

For me, Leinster's problem wasn't THAT we kicked, it was more that for long stretches we were extremely poor at it, and on the occasions we did find the accuracy, we put enough on the board to earn the four match points.

I'd even go so far as to say we weren't totally responsible for letting the O's away with a point either.  Enter referee Marcus Mitrea.

Before I take off on my ref rant, I must first compliment him for stopping the play when he thought Ben Marshall had been seriously injured right at the end.  Sure, it really looked as though we were going to finally get across the whitewash, but because of this had the play continued, from the ref's point of view it wasn't safe for him.

But if credit must go where it's due, so must debit.  I think I need someone to explain to me exactly how the "yellow card warning" system works.

Twenty minutes into the match, we were awarded our SEVENTH penalty and our third in a kickable position...at this stage we ourselves had just shipped the one straight-armer.  The ref rightly gave Ospreys skipper Lloyd Peers a warning.  Next one sees yellow.  All good so far.

It then takes until the second half, 47th minute to be precise, for the Ospreys to concede another breakdown penalty.  Ref says nothing.  Four minutes later, Gordon D'Arcy is tackled without the ball.  Some may say that's a yellow on its own.  

Instead, Mitrea's explanation is that because "we have a big gap" between warnings then their slate got wiped clean.  Not long afterwards WE got warned after a penalty so basically the next to concede would see yellow (note - not saying we didn't do any no-nos but the overall pen count was 7-14).  A crazy situation.

When you say "next time means yellow", there can be no mitigation for time elapsed because then we'd need to legislate for just how long that time should be.  Was the half-hour Mitrea allowed for the minimum?  Or would 25 have been ok? 20?  Ridiculous IMO.

Finally on the officials...I had to laugh at the exchange between the ref and TMO Alan Rogan of the IRFU after watching the pass from Roberts to Natoga for the try which was called back.   It was clearly forward yet they looked at it several times before this...
TMO : "Eh, that's all the angles" (translation - I'm Irish so I'd rather not call it so I can't be accused of bias)
REF: "Looks like a forward pass" (translation - don't worry, I've got this!)
TMO : "OK" (translation - phew!)
OK.  Rant over.  Enough about the ref and the Ospreys.  How did we do?

Like I say, had our kicking been done with more accuracy, the winning margin could have been wider.  Case in point, Zane Kirchner's display.

There was plenty of bad boot-work to go around the Leinster team with Gopperth, Dave Kearney, Reddan and Fanning all in on the act.  But Kirchner, being full-back, would be taking many of them and, being a Test full-back, he should be on target with most of them yet for the first 70 minutes, nothing went right for him off the boot.

Still - maybe what makes him a Test full-back is his ability to recover because in the final 10, when the scores were tied at 12 and the victory still was there for the taking, he launched two beauties from his own 22 into touch deep inside the Ospreys half and they effectively won us the match.  

The first brought a lineout steal by Ben Marshall and the second was mishandled by a Daffyd Howells howler giving us the ball again.  Both led to penalties which we converted.  Though neither led to yellows (sorry, finding it hard to let go of that!).

And for all I have said about the Ospreys' ability to thwart us, I now have to mention our own defence, which was even better.  

Murphy-17, Conan-16, Byrne-14, Douglas & Ryan-13 each, Bent-12, McFadden (very impressive in that 13 jumper given the lack of supply I must say)-11.  It may not be "sexy rugby" but you just can't let those kinds of tackle numbers go unpraised.

Plus we had their lineout/maul in our pocket, forcing turnovers three times.  Bit silly of them to keep trying it after we were successful the first time (even if the ref was wrong, it wasn't worth trying again anyway because he'd make the same call), but we still got the job done and shut that threat down.

Last but not least on the positive front, when we did pass & run more (believe it or not we did from quite early in the second half) we got some decent ball-carrying from Jordi, Dave Kearney and in particular Jack Conan, who was rightly awarded man of the match honours.

Now, to Mr Ian Madigan.  Seriously...the guy seems to have no luck whatsoever!  He'd be a marquee player at pretty much any other club in Europe by now but time and time again it's as though events conspire against him.

Classic example of this...having seemingly hurt his ankle badly, he had it strapped up and popped over our opening score in his next action.  His reward?  Getting called Jimmy Gopperth by the stadium announcer!  

Hopefully his removal from the contest at half time was merely a precaution, because we'll definitely need him for the double header with Harlequins, whether he starts at 10 or not.  

And here we come to the biggest question arising from this Ospreys encounter...can we feel confident for the next two weeks of Europe? 

Given everything that is holding us back these days, much like the match ball from the RDS on Saturday, the answer to that question is very much up in the air.  All we can do between now and next Sunday is count our blessings and get behind the lads in every way we can.  #COYBIB JLP


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Also this weekend

POSTEAMGPGWPDTPFTDPTS
1MUNSTER9784222171332
2OSPREYS9799222371231
3GLASGOW9760232211231
4ULSTER96105242241531
5LEINSTER957825226928
6CONNACHT962317162427
7SCARLETS943420194423
8EDINBURGH93-8312130-1515
9CARDIFF92-5620197-413
10ZEBRE92-11910108-149
11NG DRAGONS91-838128-158
12TREVISO90-14213125-214

Next round

Friday, December 19

Cardiff Blues v Scarlets, Cardiff Arms Park, 7:35pm
Edinburgh v Benetton Treviso, Murrayfield, 7:35pm
Leinster v Connacht, RDS, 7:35pm

Saturday, December 20

Glasgow v Munster, Scotstoun, 2:40pm
Ospreys v Ulster, Liberty Stadium, 5:15pm

Sunday, December 21

NG Dragons v Zebre, Rodney Parade, 4pm

BRITISH & IRISH CUP

Jersey-14 Plymouth Albion-23

POSB&I CUP POOL 5GPFAPTS
1LEINSTER 'A'41486814
2JERSEY479829
3CARM QUINS4841448
4PLYMOUTH479967

Saturday, December 6

Jersey v Leinster A, 3pm
Plymouth Albion v Carmarthen Quins, 3pm
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