Monday, January 19, 2015

Leinster-50 Castres-8


CASTRES OFF

One minute left on the clock in the first half, scrum to Leinster just outside our own 22.

Reddan takes from the base and passes, to Gopperth, on to Madigan, back to Gopperth looping behind him.  On further wide to Rob Kearney who ships it to McFadden on the touchline to power forward and eventually recycle.

We have made it all the way to the halfway line so far.  Eoin Reddan is as keen as ever to make the most of the opposition being on the back foot so he takes it and is illegally challenged by Diarra.  Ref puts his arm out for a pen but McFadden's having none of that and ships it to Heaslip to keep things going.

"Wolverine" then moves forward but was always looking to offload, and eventually he does, to Rob Kearney.  He does likewise, this time passing it to Toner, who has his skipper back with him and promptly gives it to him before we finally opt for the recycle.  Now we're at their 22.

Time for Eoin Reddan again to find one of his forwards on a good line; he puts it into his path.  He's surely going to offload again isn't he?  Oh, wait...it's not just any forward, it's Sean Cronin - and it's not just a good line, it's a superb one.  There's no stopping him crashing over the line and producing the excellent photo you see above.  Bonus point try for Leinster and a 31-3 lead going into the break.

Yes, there were a host of knockons.  Yes, there's a lot of hard work to be done in Coventry next Saturday lunchtime.  And yes, Castres  had about as much interest in this fixture as Margaret Thatcher would have had in watching RTE's "Charlie" mini-series were she alive.

But after all the negativity that has been heaped on Leinster Rugby for our performances this season (much of it deserved), the way the 15 boys in blue clicked into gear when many would have forgiven them for taking their 21-point lead into the halftime dressing room cannot be ignored, and I for one am more than happy to harp on it first and foremost in my writeup.

Last week in summarizing the bonus-point triumph in Cardiff I began by showing off how I had predicted the winning margin.  So this time I guess it would only be fair to show how I got my preview wrong...
"The bookies have us as 22-point favourites.  We need to win by about 42.  I doubt we'll do that..."
You'd swear the rugby gods were sufficiently tempted by that to make Ian Madigan miss arguably his easiest conversion of the evening (he nailed the other 8 and is still the tournament's leading scorer) just to make sure Leinster actually hit that 42-point gap after all!

But while I am happy to have been wrong about that part, I am even happier to have been right about this one...
"For me, our task is relatively simple to define.  Win our own ball at set-pieces, and most importantly, be willing to offload in the tackle."
One scrum went against us but then again we only had five put-ins all evening so it wasn't so bad.  But when it came to lineouts we were a cracking 16 for 16, and that certainly isn't something you can put down to the quality or interest of the opposition.  For this, credit must not only go to Devin Toner who won the man of the match award, but also to Sean Cronin who, while ever excellent in the loose, has often been found wanting in his more traditional hooker roles this season.

We even got the scoreboard moving from a lineout with just a couple of minutes on the clock.  It didn't quite have the panache of BOD's try against Cardiff in the Aviva in 2012 but it was pretty damn close and it was a move that would have tested any defence in Europe, and it well finished by Dave Kearney.

Then, it has to be said, we contracted "knockonitis" and it was a stubborn dose.   Personally, I thought we were right to go for the corner on those early penalties.  I know all about the "take the three" argument but for Leinster this match wasn't simply about getting the win, it was about establishing a mindset and demonstrating a belief in our own ability to match the presence of three stars on our jersey.

Unfortunately, while the lineouts in the corner were sticking, the passes that followed weren't for a while and it has to be said, the 15 Castres players weren't exactly going to let us waltz over the line.  Whether by fair means or foul they were doing what they could to force us into mistakes but it was one of their own which eventually gave us the crucial extra man.

Reddan did another one of his quick taps after a penalty call and had been tackled well ahead of 10 metres but in the end it didn't matter...a couple of phases later Ibrahim Diarra, still scrambling back from the tap and go, stuck out his hand to prevent a pass and it was a yellow card all day long.

Again we kicked the penalty in the corner and for the second time in the match the Castres opted to lay off our jump so a forward could run around and cause mischief much as Jack McGrath had done for Ireland back in November.

There was only one problem with that plan on this occasion...not only was McGrath absent for discipline, but so was Diarra who had the role the first time Castres tried it and nobody seemed to remember to appoint a deputy.  Moments later our maul was able to cross the line for Marty Moore to get his first European five-pointer and probably not his last.

While that did ease the pressure somewhat, the visitors weren't yet for throwing in the towel and they were unlucky not to pull a try back through Garvey.  Though I feel the officials made a complete horlicks of the TMO decision, they probably got the no-try call right.  On first look he seemed to legally get it over the line but on further review Cronin's intervention got it up in the air before it got to the whitewash.  Wasn't a double-movement (as called) for me rather a knockon and 5m scrum to Leinster, but there you go.

Not long afterwards we were down the other end once more and after some great carries from Mike McCarthy and some improbable side-stepping by Luke Fitzgerald, it was this time Reddan's try going to the TMO and this one also went our way.

The Cronin try took us into the break and while the bonus point was in the bag, we definitely needed more tries to pad that points difference column which could prove crucial when the home quarterfinals are being decided.

First there was a sweet offload from McFadden around the back of his tackler which got us into their 22 before an excellent read by Madigan put Strauss through and he had Tadhg Furlong in support to make the try look way easier than it was.

A few minutes later we had a Darragh Fanning line which you'd swear actually started from the bench as he dotted down with his first touch of the ball.  Again I'll say he has had his critics but while I wouldn't have him ahead of the many test wingers in our squad, you certainly can't fault him for being in the right place at the right time AND finishing as often as he has done.

The icing on the cake was provided by Luke McGrath who had nothing else on his mind from the base of an attacking scrum other than to charge over the line - he was rewarded with a score which eventually rang up the 50.

In the midst of those seven tries Castres did pull one back when Gordon D'Arcy was on a slightly different frequency to his fellow backs after joining the fray and put a pass in behind the support runners before the visitors pounced for Martial to go over.

We could have a good moan about that, or about the knockons, or about something else no doubt if we look hard enough, but when it comes to Leinster's campaign in Europe this season, we need to think of it like the moment in this match when Rob Kearney nabbed a crossfield kick in his own 22 and sprinted down to the other end of the pitch.

Sure, he was eventually caught by Marcel Garvey and denied a RugbyDump-worthy try.  And likewise, it is very conceivable that even if we do get ourselves a home quarterfinal next week, a team like Toulon or Northampton is going to emerge from the pack and stop us short of the prize.

But before we worry about that, we need to think about where we were.  Castres were on the verge of scoring a try themselves when that crossfield kick was put in the air.  To hear some commentators, when Leinster lost at Munster on Stephens' Day, our season was on the verge of total implosion.

I really don't think we have any other option than to be positive about our squad's chances going to Coventry next week.  We have shown the rest of the competition what we can do, and for this Leinster fan anyway, it was both a joy to watch and a load off my mind.

And to those who are keen to point out that we have a relatively easy pool compared to other teams I say this...that may be true, but let us also remember that there is a reason we're not facing the likes of Northampton, Saracens or Toulon just yet ...the draw was made based on league finish alone and we are the reigning Pro12 champions, so the pool composition wasn't entirely down to luck.

Thankfully, on Saturday evening at the RDS we played like champions for the first time this season, and if nothing else it has provided an excellent foundation for Matt O'Connor's men.

All we have to do now is build on it next week and turn the phrase "getting sent to Coventry" into a good thing for Leinster rugby.  #COYBIB JLP


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Also this weekend

Leicester Tigers 40 - 23 Scarlets
Saracens 33 - 10 Munster
Toulon 60 - 22 Ulster
Sale Sharks 13 - 22 Clermont Auvergne
Harlequins 3 - 23 Wasps
Glasgow 21 - 10 Montpellier
Toulouse 18 - 35 Bath Rugby
Ospreys 9 - 20 Northampton Saints
Racing Metro 53 - 7 Benetton Treviso

screengrab above taken from Ultimate Rugby app

Next weekend

Saturday, January 24

Castres v Harlequins, Stade Pierre-Antoine, 1pm
Wasps v Leinster, Ricoh Arena, 1pm

Benetton Treviso v Ospreys, Stadio di Monigo, 3:15pm
Northampton Saints v Racing Métro, Franklins Gardens, 3:15pm

Scarlets v Toulon, Parc y Scarlets, 5:30pm
Ulster v Leicester Tigers, Kingspan Stadium, 5:30pm

Sunday, January 25

Bath v Glasgow Warriors, Recreation Ground, 1pm
Montpellier v Toulouse, Stade Yves-du-Manoir, 1pm

Clérmont v Saracens, Stade Marcel Michelin, 3:15pm
Munster v Sale Sharks, Thomond Park, 3:15pm
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