Saturday, January 31, 2015

Front Five - 31.01.15

Start your day with five eye-catching egg-chasing quotes & links from around the ruggersphere.

Hang's the end of January already?

Like all auditions, last night's final trial contained a mixture of nerves, frayed performances and some individuals standing out from the crowd.

Disappointing Irish Wolfhounds fail to halt Saxons

Irish Independent

It has been mentioned in the letters page of this newspaper almost twice as often as Saipan. It made John Hayes cry.

Ireland’s Call: standing tall for 20 years

Malachy Clerkin - Irish Times

"We missed so many chances to kill that game off and it just wouldn't die"  

When it comes to the figures, even Wall Street might sit up and take notice of the Six Nations. 
Chris Hewett - (English) Independent

"There’s times when I’ve thought about going for a burger in Hillbillys after a game while I’m lining up a kick"

Ronan O’Gara Used To Think Of Some Quite Odd Things When Taking Kicks

Conor Neville -

Feel free to share any interesting links you spot yourself about t’internet by email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blog comment or carrier pigeon – whatever works for you. JLP
Note - views expressed in "Front Five" links do not necessarily reflect those of HarpinOnRugby

Friday, January 30, 2015

Preview : Wolfhounds v Saxons

Are we absolutely SURE the result of this match tonight has no bearing on the Six Nations table?  Because going by the two matchday 23s I'm not so sure just how "friendly" this fixture is going to be!

The one name that leaps off the teamsheets and bowls you over (ironically enough) is that of Sam Burgess.  His selection demonstrates just how keen the English are to fast-track him into their side ahead of the World Cup.  Maybe their injury list is a little longer than they'd like, but I have a feeling he was always in the frame for this fixture; in fact, it could have been promised back when he was being tempted away from the NRL.

There is absolutely no question that he has the ability to become a "smashing" 12 and this will certainly be a big test for him.  And no doubt the Saxons will be keen to get him running down our own 10/12 channel from the earliest opportunity for while Messrs Madigan & Darcy have no fear on the tackling front, they will be "sorely" tested tonight.

Clearly the selection of Madigan has been made with a view to giving him game time ahead of Ireland's Sexton-less Six Nations opener next weekend.  Of course there's no guarantee he'll start next week, but with the only other back in the 23 to play much outhalf being Noel Reid on the bench, it seems the "Mad-Dog" is down for a full 80 tonight.

It will be just the outing he needs after a disappointing return from the tee in Coventry, though again it needs to be said that he was impressive in other aspects of his game AND his overall kicking in the Euro pool phase made him leading scorer.  Add all that to the fact that he's a positive-thinking kind of guy anyway and you'd be confident that he can put in a good shift down in Cork tonight.

Another interesting selection for Joe Schmidt has been that of Keith Earls at 13.  Some may be surprised to learn that I'm a fan of his - while there have been times for Ireland where he should have passed but didn't, I believe every team needs at least one player who tends to back himself to score and I'd certainly have him well in the mix for World Cup selection...though for me, it would be on the wing.

Now to be fair...he has made no secret of the fact that he wants to play 13 and since he has been extremely unlucky with injury in recent years, this is a rare opportunity for him to make his own case and I certainly wish him well.  Might be a little disappointing for Luke Fitzgerald to find himself out on the wing having done so well for his province but there is certainly no harm in exploring all of our 13 options.

Another I'm looking forward to seeing is Kieran Marmion, and no offence to Isaac Boss but I hope the Connacht scrum half is also pegged to get a full 80-minute shift as I'd love to see him try that step of his in the latter stages against a tiring Saxons pack.

Speaking of the forwards, well, there's no sugar-coating it...this is virtually a Leinster tight 8.  But the name of Iain Henderson doesn't merely stand out because of his province.  He has all the makings of a marquee test player at Stephen Ferris levels and given all the time he has spent on the sidelines you can be sure he'll be keen to make his mark tonight.

Of course when it comes to returnees from injury, all the talk tonight will be about former European Player of the Year Sean O'Brien.  As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter a jot how he plays tonight, just that he gets a decent shift in and stays healthy.

When it comes to our bench, the name Nathan White interests me the most.  He could well be the most important figure in our World Cup plans.  Yes, we have brought through players like Marty Moore to the test team but in White we have a player who was pretty much ready for Test rugby the second he set foot on Irish soil, so clearly he's good to go now and as much as I'd be a fan of Ross & Moore I think White is a valuable string to our bow and hopefully he'll get at least half an hour tonight.

Of course the English side has more to worry us than just Sam Burgess.  There's plenty of try-scoring ability in their wing pairing of Ashton & Yarde, with Christian Wade on the bench.  You can always expect a physical battle from any English pack, and particularly when one is thrown together as this one has from four different Premiership clubs.  Our back row will certainly have their hands full.

But when it comes to picking the side that's more likely to come together and play well from the get-go, I'd have to plump for the Wolfhounds, and by a few more points than the 5 the bookies are offering. I said, the most important thing is that the players get a good run and that all goes according to Joe Schmidt's World Cup masterplan.  #ShoulderToShoulder JLP

P.S.  If you can't make it to Cork tonight for the match and want some rugby this weekend, why not check out the Ulster Bank League fixture list and see if there's a match in your area.  This is a rare weekend in the rugby season when neither the full Irish team nor any of the provinces are playing so it's a good opportunity to get out and see your local side.

SAXONS : 15 Chris Pennell (Worcester Warriors) 14 Chris Ashton (Saracens) 13 Elliot Daly (Wasps) 12 Sam Burgess (Bath Rugby) 11 Marland Yarde (Harlequins) 10 Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs) 9 Lee Dickson, captain (Northampton Saints) 
1 Matt Mullan (Wasps) 2 Rob Webber (Bath Rugby) 3 Henry Thomas (Bath Rugby) 4 Matt Garvey (Bath Rugby) 5 James Gaskell (Wasps) 6 Dave Ewers (Exeter Chiefs) 7 Matt Kvesic (Gloucester Rugby) 8 Thomas Waldrom (Exeter Chiefs)
Replacements - 16 Luke Cowan Dickie (Exeter Chiefs) 17 Alex Waller (Northampton Saints) 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley (Wasps) 19 Maro Itoje (Saracens) 20 Carl Fearns (Bath) 21 Joe Simpson (Wasps) 22 Ollie Devoto (Bath Rugby) 23 Christian Wade (Wasps)

Friday, January 30, 2015
Irish Independent Park, kickoff, 7:45pm
Live on Sky Sports
Referee: Neil Hennessy (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Simon Rees, Stuart Kibble (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)

Front Five - 30.01.15

Start your day with five eye-catching egg-chasing quotes & links from around the ruggersphere.

Later today on HarpinOnRugby...
our Wolfhounds v Saxons preview

So the Super Bowl isn't the only game between two teams with silly names packed with superstars this weekend after all.

Opportunity knocks as Wolfhounds get chance to bare teeth

Ruaidhri O'Connor - Irish Independent

"I’m not saying I would have been selected, but watching the November series, watching Munster playing the Champions Cup and stuff like that, it’s been really tough this year"

Keith Earls eager to grab opportunity to stake Ireland claim

Simon Lewis - Irish Examiner

Rugby Onslaught

(Sene Naoupu) qualified to play for Ireland on residency last year and Briggs says: “She’s a very good player and brings a bit of flair, something different to the squad.” 
Sarah Mockford - Rugby World

...what’s absolutely certain is that the former Counties Manukau and Samoa under-20s tight-head is a whole lot of prop.

Heavyweight France prop Uini Atonio is the biggest bopper in world rugby

Feel free to share any interesting links you spot yourself about t’internet by email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blog comment or carrier pigeon – whatever works for you. JLP
Note - views expressed in "Front Five" links do not necessarily reflect those of HarpinOnRugby

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Will Money & Power Affect The National Teams?

Now the pool rounds of the European competitions have been completed and a fantastic, exciting, taken to the wire affair it has been and we move towards the 6 Nations, I  find myself reflecting once again on the effect that the money-men are having and will continue to have on the club game and ergo the knock-on effect to the National game?


1. Is it correct to assume only those clubs with huge financial backers will ultimately achieve top success? e.g. RC Toulon, or the French Baa Baas as I have seen an apt description of recently or Racing Metro or Sarries, Bath etc.

2. The disproportionate and divisive monetary allocation within the leagues e.g. The current complaint from London Welsh as to their payments within the English Premiership

3. The disproportionate money from TV deals. e.g French Top 14 = Circa €60M, English Premiership = Circa €24M and Pro 12 = Circa €12.

4. The uber control that some of these money-men have. The likes of Premiership Chief Executive, Mark McCafferty; Sarries chairman Nigel Wray and Baths Bruce Craig, then of course our old friends in La Belle France, millionaire owners of Racing Metro (Jacky Lorenzetti), Toulon (Mourad Boudjellal) and Clermont Auvergne (Eric De Cromieres). Their financial and power control over the game, how it’s played, when it’s played, forcing changes through that have NOT been ratified by IRB / World Rugby e.g. setting the losing BP from 7pts gap to 4 this season in the French Top 14, all show that it is a handful of select individuals who ultimately will stop at nothing to get what THEY want.  

Even within the Irish setup there is a pecking order and I recently questioned whether Connacht Rugby had a fair opportunity to continue their current successes without sufficient, adequate and equal support in all areas within an IRFU setup that both historically and geographically may deal with other Provinces with more favourably?

It would be easy to say that that European Rugby is going or for some clubs has gone the same way as European Football with a handful of clubs in each country having both a controlling influence in monetary, player acquisition and control through what in reality is a non-footballing management organisation of their own making with the actual Football Association, charged with overseeing professional football in England some may say an almost bystander “Allowed” to oversee the lower leagues. There have also been several attempts to set up a European League but to date that hasn’t been successful. Will this ultimately become the same for Rugby? I see it happening with the English Premiership & the English RFU already?


Well the knock on effect of this separating of Tier clubs within each of the 3 leagues into effectively Haves & Have Nots, means that the focus of these money-men is their individual clubs and nothing else…..certainly they don’t appear to give a care for the National teams?

In recent years we saw Wales as the ascending National team from the British & Irish Isles yet their Regional club form didn’t match that? It even allowed good old Mr Gatland to have such a controlling influence on the touring Lions team that he could bring in a WELSH player, out of the Welsh National team for 2 years, currently playing in Japan into the Lions side at short notice when there were PLENTY of available talent back home in UK & Ireland?……………Oh yeah, and he left BOD out of the final winning match!!! (Been wanting to write those two bits in since they happened!). Anyhow at Regional level, Welsh Rugby has imploded and I don’t see it changing soon!!

The English team indeed has promised so much but come up short at both National and European Club levels. Scotland and it’s 2 Regional clubs have all failed to deliver on both stages despite Glasgow Warriors getting closer by the year in Pro 12. Unless significant monetary and akin support is ploughed into a long term venture in Scotland, I cannot see them developing at either level despite having Vern Cotter as their new National Coach?

As for the Irish? Well despite the best efforts of certain English & French rugby Nouveau Aristocrats using Irish success in both Heineken & Amlin Cups as an excuse to setup their new overarching body in a clear attempt to sway the balance of power, money & ultimately success their way, the 4 Irish Provinces are all doing ok albeit there appears to be in irreverence towards the standards of the Pro 12 in comparison with their French & English counterparts by those outside of the Celtic nations? 

This season unfortunately both Ulster and Munster have fallen short of their usual levels but this is more owing to player availability and coaching changes than any longer term effect I suspect. Connacht have been a real surprise and appear to have secured both players and coach to continue that rise. Time will tell. I don’t believe we will ever stop some class players going to England or France to dare I say it, improve their game in the widest sense. Yes money is a key but for many, it’s the opportunity to play against world class players week in and week out.

Certainly the English Premiership & Top 14 bring a difference in certain levels. Plus of course merely experiencing new horizons will develop a player. 

What therefore of the Irish National team? Well is it down to the fact that the IRFU has in place procedures to ensure that only a few Non Irish Qualified players play for our Provinces? Is it merely that fact that “Saint Joe” Schmidt has taken over at the helm? Is it indeed a mix of all? Will we be able to compete at both European and National levels and achieve the ultimate successes in both with the IRFUs setup and limitations in place?

Well a brief look at Italy where their club teams are not even at the correct levels to be playing in the Pro 12 owing to lack of financial and other support, let alone their overall player capabilities. Oh and NO they shouldn’t be automatically guaranteed a European place for their highest placed Pro 12 team. 

With the French focusing more on their top clubs and the power / money situation and the self centred approach to club success meaning the National side has failed to achieve what one would expect of them in the last few years, you may agree that yes, the money & power issues within European Club rugby IS affecting the National game. 


I believe that everything comes in waves, periods of success and periods of austerity, in title aspects anyhow. Scotland, Wales and Italy have huge Organisational Development, Structural and Financial issues to be addressed before they will achieve at either Club or National level.

France will never exploit the capabilities they have unless they cap the number of external players playing in the Top 14 leagues top 6 or so teams. The French Rugby Union like the English RFU need to put in place via their governments if required measures to combat multi-billionaires taking a controlling stake either through money or power of the clubs which in turn places “Expectations” on National coaches on who to pick and who is available and when they play and when the players are released because the billionaires in “Control” pay their huge wage bills and they’ll want  compensation if “Their” player gets injured on National duty etc etc etc…………...?

Certainly I would once again state the question, “What is the role of World Rugby (Previously IRB) in policing all this?”
It has oftentimes been said that you never know which French team will turn up on the bus on match day, well unless they change what’s happening with the influx of world players coming in, it’ll be a team mainly from their Pro D2!

I suspect that if England fail to either win or have an extremely good showing in RWC 15 this year, there’ll be a huge introspective re-appraisal at how the Premiership is being run.

As for Ireland, I suspect the IRFU have got it right or at least are attempting to get a happy medium by playing the long term game, developing home grown talent and minimising the numbers of NIQ players within our Provincial setup. Their Irish Development Plan & Vision is worth a read to understand where we are aiming for. 

Will we still be able to regain the European successes that Ulster, Munster & Leinster have previously enjoyed with this approach? Yes, I believe we can and it will be the example for many developing countries to aspire to.…..That said, the IRFU may need to relax their stance on NIQ players within our Provincial setup to keep both the standard of playing and the interest for fans at the right level? Likewise, we still need to find enough funds either corporately or privately to keep the current and developing world class Irish players at home. 

As for the playing levels of teams in the Pro 12….I refer to Wales, Scotland & Italy above and how they need to internally sort their own issues otherwise, it will remain the dominance of our Provinces with the odd non-irish team being a threat. 

There ARE however, still four Pro 12 teams in the Challenge Cup ¼ finals along with 4 English and not a Frenchie to be seen…………… Perhaps a happy medium between money and home grown talent with a mix of non-national qualified players would be better for rugby all round?

Oh as for players whose ancestry is from a certain country………..or who become qualified by years spent in that country………….well that’s another debate!

@bigjoeshep is the Owner and Head of Information & Knowledge Management atDigital Knowledge Zone.   An avid Leinster & Ireland Rugby fan, he came to rugby at the late age of 24, was a tight head prop, had at least 2 good runs in every game and retired at only 36 after 3 operations on his legs and now forms the 4th "virtual" person in a front row each time his beloved teams are playing (much to the annoyance of his suffering girlfriend who has to put up with being "embraced" by the Big Fella at each scrum!!!)


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Rugby on TV : Jan 29-Feb 5


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Check local listings for repeat showings
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Front Five - 29.01.15

Start your day with five eye-catching egg-chasing quotes & links from around the ruggersphere.

“Imagine me going to speak to Guy Noves or Bernard Laporte and saying ‘I want these guys off for two weeks before the Six Nations; they would laugh at me."

Ireland players better protected by IRFU - Philippe Saint Andre

John O'Sullivan - Irish Times

"I guess part of the equation is how well Ian Madigan or Ian Keatley go in Italy."

Joe Schmidt calls on back-up boys to put the squeeze on Johnny Sexton

Ruaidhri O'Connor - Irish Independent

BT Sport’s emergence as a sports broadcaster and deep-pocketed rival to Sky Sport, however, has since seen the value of rugby’s broadcasting rights soar. 
Gavin Mairs - The Telegraph

It would certainly appear that Joseph is back to his best, rediscovering that ability to kick-start his acceleration with an almost goose-step-like motion and ghost on an outside arc around the defender. 
Jamie Hosie - The Rugby Blog

An Italian back? Are you OK, Ian?

Only Two Irish Players Made Ian Madigan’s Fantasy 6 Nations Team

Mikey Traynor -

Feel free to share any interesting links you spot yourself about t’internet by email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blog comment or carrier pigeon – whatever works for you. JLP
Note - views expressed in "Front Five" links do not necessarily reflect those of HarpinOnRugby

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sugar Daddies, Mad-Dog & Englishmen

As the Six Nations goes through the media launch motions, some thoughts on the first pool phase of HCup 2.0…

Maybe BT Sport’s coverage of the “We Can’t Call It The Heineken Cup Even Though They’re The Only Sponsors” competition so far has been frightfully over-biased towards the English clubs, but to be fair to the network, it’s not as though they have ever hidden where their allegiances lie.

I mean let’s face it...the whole reason we saw changes to the competition in the first place is that they muscled their way into the TV market and it was only ever with a view to focusing on the PRL members.  

So now that the dust has settled on the first pool phase of the revamped tournament, just how much has it been revolutionised?

First, a very simple look at the numbers.  In the 2013/14 Heineken Cup, England had 6 teams in the overall total of 24 competitors, ie 25%.  This time around, they have one extra team while each of the other five unions has lost one (France 7>6, Ireland 4>3, Wales 3>2, Scotland & Italy 2>1), giving England 7 out of 20, ie 35%.

Given the improved situation, it is hardly surprising that they have also increased their presence in the quarterfinals from the previous season - in fact, they have doubled it.  But does that represent a good thing?

One thing BT Sport’s over-hype-a-thon denies us is a chance to be realistic over how their clubs are doing.  And I don’t know about you, but on what was meant to be a critical weekend of decisive European action, none of the four Premiership clubs which actually got out of their pools (Northampton, Saracens, Bath & Wasps) impressed me at all on the pitch.  And as a result, while all qualified, none of them got home quarterfinals.

Another thing we have to ignore in the hype is that everything that was previously wrong with the competition was fixed.  As Irish fans we must never let it be forgotten that the changes came amid a barrage of negative press about the crooked playing field on which the former Heineken Cup was played.

Now it’s true, that playing field was crooked.  But that was always going to be the case when each individual union was allowed to put forward their teams in a manner of their own choosing.  And the way I see it, while restricting qualifiers from the Pro12 may go a long way to making THAT more competitive, it does little to fix the ills of the European tournament.

The dogs in the street knew that the changes were all about tilting the playing field at a different angle so that the money would flow in a different direction.  So while you’ll hear the Craig Doyles and the Austin Healys try to spin the whole “lose your first two matches and you can still qualify” as a good thing, though there were of course some cracking ties in the pool phase, despite some window dressing the tournament itself is more or less stuck with the same problems.

I’m really not sure how any competition can be considered fair when blocks of teams are allowed to set (and often ignore) their own salary caps.  Yes, this is a bit of a pop at Toulon.  And yes, I know all about how it’s not a simple case of mercenaries coming together and not caring about the locals...I have both heard and understood all the stories about how much they give back to their community and how much the people of the town loved Jonny Wilkinson.

That’s all well and good, and more power to Mourad Boudjellal if he can use seemingly unlimited resources to assemble rugby’s answer to The Avengers at the Stade Mayol.

But while all this goes on, we as fans need to make it clear that we can clearly see through all the smoke and mirrors, and that the makeup of this year’s quarterfinals, with Top 14 sides seeded 1-3, Premiership clubs 5-8 and stuck right between them, thankfully this season, Leinster Rugby with Ian “Mad-Dog” Madigan as the pool phase’s leading scorer, is merely a taste of what is to come.  

Meanwhile for those clubs who dare not even wish to come by those kind of resources to compete for the big prize, simply qualifying for the pool phase in the first place would seem to be enough, which in turn means they would probably have to prioritize their domestic league over Europe.

And as the stream of players out of the Pro12 and into the Premiership gets closer to being a flood (JJ - Munster > Northampton, Priestland - Scarlets > Bath, Maitland - Glasgow > London Irish...who could be next?) that playing field is going to keep on tilting.

We'll just have to see if the fans are going to keep on watching.  Because don't forget...not only has the Premiership's quarterfinal representation doubled, so has the cost of watching all the action unfold on TV.  JLP

Front Five - 28.01.15

Start your day with five eye-catching egg-chasing quotes & links from around the ruggersphere.

Schmidt is also hoping to have his two leading scrum-halves, Conor Murray and Eoin Reddan, available for Italy

Sean O'Brien fired up for Saxons clash but Healy return must wait

David Kelly - Irish Independent

...the young Ulsterman’s grizzled look is completed by a beard, giving him the appearance of a 18th century corsair

Iain Henderson plotting a late run into Six Nations contention

John O'Sullivan - Irish Times

"To follow in the footsteps of an unbelievable leader in Fiona Coghlan is a fantastic honour and I look forward to captaining this great squad." 
Alison Donnelly -

(The list is) selected by a panel of rugby experts including European Cup winner Alan Quinlan and Challenge Cup winner Dimitri Yachvili, 
RTE Sport

Sexton revealed that his Racing Metro teammates now call him ‘Johnny Vacances’

Johnny Sexton’s Racing Metro Teammates Have Given Him A Harsh New Nickname

Conor O'Leary -

Feel free to share any interesting links you spot yourself about t’internet by email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blog comment or carrier pigeon – whatever works for you. JLP
Note - views expressed in "Front Five" links do not necessarily reflect those of HarpinOnRugby

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Front Five - 27.01.15

Start your day with five eye-catching egg-chasing quotes & links from around the ruggersphere.

BT have first choice on their two quarter-finals, as all of them feature English teams, and the expectation is that they would pick Leinster v Bath

Leinster opposed to idea of Good Friday quarter-final

Gerry Thornley - Irish Times

While Glasgow would have seen their financial outlay fully been written off by the Kilmarnock County Council, Kingspan Stadium’s bid was backed by the Belfast City Council

Ulster’s added incentive as Belfast hosts final

Jim Stokes - Irish Examiner

...pride is a key element of the Munster ethos and after losing to Clermont in round 3 another home defeat was not an option. 
Gayl - WestTerraceView

Mauls originally belonged to an older style of why have they become a modern attacking weapon? 
The Gain Line

‘Right, my name’s Cazzer not Cathal and I’ll fight the biggest lad here.’

Cathal Pendred Challenged Cian Healy To A Fight On His First Day Of School

Mikey Traynor -

Feel free to share any interesting links you spot yourself about t’internet by email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blog comment or carrier pigeon – whatever works for you. JLP
Note - views expressed in "Front Five" links do not necessarily reflect those of HarpinOnRugby

Monday, January 26, 2015

Wasps-20 Leinster-20


Ian Madigan’s first placekick of the day was a thing of beauty.

Given Dave Kearney had to leave the game so early, it wouldn’t be right to say Leinster had the “perfect start”. get not only get an extra man at the earliest opportunity but also to capitalise on it with a try after just 3 minutes isn’t the worst way to settle the nerves in a “winner-take-all” encounter away from home.

At the time, my personal judgement on Ashley Johnson’s “challenge” was that it was a yellow and nothing more.  On further review I reckon that judgement was clouded by the fact that it happened before the ball hit the turf, not to mention the similarities with the Jared Payne incident last season.

Thing is though, rulings shouldn’t really be clouded by any of the above.  Sure, we all want to see our players pumped up for the big occasion, but Johnson had no idea where the ball was and clearly had no regard where the player was.  A “stonewall” red but I fear Jerome Garces’ judgement was clouded by the same factors as mine was (it didn’t help that he himself had sent off Payne).

But enough harping on that...we still had ten minutes to exploit the extra man and we went right at our opposition with an excellent mix of crash ball getting us on the front foot and slick passing through the hands exploiting space out wide, which is pretty much what we have been asking for from Leinster this season.  And when Fergus McFadden dotted down in the corner there was actually a penalty advantage coming, which would have been the third in just 3 minutes, so there was little doubt another card was far away.

Then to add icing to the cake we had Madigan getting a perfect strike on the ball to see it sail over - he started it between the sticks and it held its line superbly. 7-0 to Leinster had to be a monumental blow to the “home” side.  So far, it was all good.

In my match preview I pointed out that while this was never going to be an easy fixture for Leinster, I strongly believed that if we could keep our mistakes to a minimum, victory could be ours.  So after establishing such an early lead when Sean Cronin shipped a pen right from the restart (to be fair, it was one of those offsides where anyone would have instinctively grabbed at the ball) I had a feeling it could be a long 80 minutes, one that got stronger as Goode slotted a tricky kick of his own to make it 7-3.

At the ten minute mark, we won yet another penalty, this time at the scrum.  Before I go on about the match I have to point out the state of the Ricoh Arena pitch, which was an absolute disgrace.

There’s a reason Leinster don’t kickoff the Pro12 season with a home fixture...the RDS turf needs recovery time after the Dublin Horse Show.  Yet after every scrum on Saturday the pitch looked like the Grand National had been run over it.  Not exactly what I’d call the proper standard for such an important match in an elite tournament?  This match was only 10 minutes old and I already had two big reasons to moan about our hosts!

Anyway...from that penalty, Madigan lined up what would have been an extremely handy three points to restore the 7-point advantage.  It was a lot more central than the first attempt but it was probably near the end of his range.  Again he started it between the sticks but this time it caught a big draw to the left and wide.  Disappointing.

Yet we managed to get our way back and on the 14 minute mark Wasps weren’t rolling away at the breakdown so we have yet another penalty...including the advantage for the try it’s their fifth before the first quarter is up.  Well past the stage of warning if you ask me, even given the Johnson decision.

So another chance for Madigan to get three but although it’s closer than before the ball takes more or less the same trajectory and draws wide.  Tack on a kick straight into touch with his next possession moments later and you probably have his worst 7-minute spell in professional rugby.

He was to get yet another reprieve, however, when yet another penalty (this did come with a warning) gave him yet another chance and while he took this one to make it 3-10, the ball was still taking that worrying draw to the left.  Our seven-point lead wasn’t giving me any sort of comfort given the creeping error count I had been dreading - and it would have been extremely naive to assume Wasps weren’t going to come back at us.

Then, to add more injury to insult, we were forced to make a second first-half call to the bench as Eoin Reddan went off.  Personally I wouldn’t have minded so much if it were Luke McGrath coming on but he was in Rotherham captaining the A side to the British & Irish Cup semis.  While I reckon Isaac Boss could have done a job closing out in the final quarter, this seemed to be a shade early for his introduction.

But then we caught another break as Wasps got pinged again and sorry Mr Dallaglio in the BT commentary box, but it had to be a yellow card for their prop Cittadini what with the prior warning.  Though it was kickable, Madigan was getting treatment and Gopperth took the kick...strangely the draw to the left was there for him as well but it somehow got over the bar and it was now 3-13.

Once more Sean Cronin found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time moments after our score and Goode was given the chance to bring his side back within seven, which he gladly accepted.

But credit to Leinster, we stuck to our plan to bring the game to our opposition and having gotten the ball to their line we could have had a try from either Boss or Gopperth in the same series...TMO gave it to the former.  Madigan took the conversion, again with the drawing to the left, but again it went over.  6-20.  A winning position in anyone’s mind.  Just no more mistakes, right?

Yeah, right.  I’m sure as Ashley Johnson sat out the opening 10 minutes he had to assume there would be some kind of retribution on the pitch, particularly given Dave Kearney’s injury.  Sadly for us, Kane Douglas saw an opportunity to give the Wasps back rower a clatter at the worst possible moment and right in front of the referee, who had no option but to bin him right before the break and give Wasps a lot more hope than their first half display deserved.

In the meantime, Goode had a chance to claw back a handy 3 points of his own but guess what….even though it was down the other end of the park, he too got a nasty draw to the left and it missed!

As it turned out, Wasps weren’t to score at all while we were a man down.  If anything, from the restart we picked up where we left off and all we had to do was get a score, any score, to push the margin above the magical two-score figure and we would have been fine.  And it’s not like we didn’t have chances.

Even with the man down we were able to get our crash ball/passing game into gear and got it all the way to the try line before a mix-up between Michael Bent and Dominic Ryan led to a crossing call from Garces, for which the BT Sport commentators had no complaints, I might add.

The reason I mention the punditry is because the ref’s decision there had to be an influence on his awarding of a similar call for Tom Varndell when he brushed against Nathan Hughes before dotting down at the other end moments later.  Maybe Wasps had more of a case, but you can hardly fault a ref for at least trying to be fair to both sides.

On the 51st minute, with Douglas back on the park, Wasps skipper James Haskell was pinged for not rolling be fair, Heaslip and Moore weren’t exactly making it easy for him to do so and he was pretty riled up as Madigan lined up his kick.  This one would have sealed the match.

But while the presumptive Ireland outhalf starter against Italy clearly took into account the earlier draws by starting this kick right, on this occasion it actually held its line and we had missed yet another opportunity to put Wasps out of sight.

The most frustrating thing about the way we let Wasps back into this fixture was that for the most part, we were very good on both offence (where I felt McFadden in particular stood out) and defence (Luke Fitzgerald was most impressive here).  To close the 14-point gap which we held for so long they needed a lot of help from us, and we gave it to them.

Both of their tries came from lineouts deep in our 22 which were the result of penalties...first for tackling a man without the ball and second for not rolling away.  Each time, once on our line they pummelled us into submission and definitely deserved at least one of the scores but I still contend that they should have been dead and buried by then.

So first Matt Mullan and then Nathan Hughes got the tries (in between Heaslip went off - fingers, eyes and toes crossed the Wolverine blood still runs strong) be fair, both were heavily involved in Wasps’s ground game which steadily improved as the match wore on, along with support from the likes of Davies, Gaskell and from the bench, Jake Cooper-Whalley (whenever I hear his name said out loud I hear “Groundskeeper Willie”!).

But whatever about how we got there, with 10 minutes to go we had an entirely new ball game, one that seemed destined to be decided by an ability to boot the ball through the sticks.  Unfortunately for both sides, at this stage nobody had the ability to kick the ball at all.

For Leinster's part, our tactical kicking was poor in that final quarter, Gopperth went for a drop goal that wasn't on, and for our last chance Madigan's radar was still wonky as for the second time in this half he started it right and the draw was nowhere to be seen.

Ultimately it was down to Andy Goode to slot the winning 3-points, but as you can see be the lead photo, he couldn't manage it, thanks in part to a decent distracting line run by Jack Conan.

The final whistle left everyone watching in limbo.  This was the first pool to finish so with a lot of rugby left to be played, while Leinster were definitely through to the last eight with the draw, the home quarterfinal we badly desired was by no means certain.  So we can definitely be forgiven for feeling frustrated post-match.

But then again, there have been several occasions this season where we have felt frustrated.  If you only look at things from within the "Leinster bubble", we can find several reasons to be critical.

Still though...the game of rugby is not played within the Leinster bubble.  When we look outside, there is a much different picture.

Bath won't by any means be an easy opposition come April, but you can be sure of one thing...we would have taken a home quarterfinal against them before the competition kicked off.

And as for Ian, definitely not his finest outing with the boot and had he made even one of those four missed placekicks the tone of this writeup would be much, different.  However...let the record show that on offence he brought the ball into contact very strong, and on D he even led the Leinster team in tackles with 12.

On top of that, after the pool phases he is still the competition's leading scorer with 80 points.

So I guess what I'm trying to say we gear up for Ireland's Six Nations title defence, as Leinster fans we can focus on the negative if we really want to, but if we do, it will have to be done while ignoring a heap of positive.

A home quarterfinal in Europe, 3 points off the top of the Pro12, Church and Seanie due back.  Nothing's won yet, but so far, believe it or not, things are good from where I'm standing.

Congrats to Wasps for reaching the last 8 having had to qualify for the pool phase via a playoff last May.

But most of all, congrats to Matt O'Connor & everyone involved with Leinster Rugby...I'm very much looking forward to seeing how much further we can go.


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Also this weekend

British & Irish Cup Quarterfinal


(Weekend of April 4/5)

Racing Métro v Saracens
Toulon v Wasps
Clérmont v Northampton
Leinster v Bath


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