You really need to tread carefully when analysing matches like this one, for the angle you take can reveal more about yourself than it does the match in question.
Do you focus on how Glasgow built their 20-point lead going into the break? Or do you lead with Leinster’s unanswered 27 points in the half hour after it? Or maybe you’d rather ask yourself how we let the visitors make their score-levelling try look so easy in the final minutes? Or is it possible to treat the match as more than the sum of it’s parts? It’s definitely a challenge.
Well, coming from a Leinster viewpoint as is our remit here at HarpinOnRugby, it’s hard not to dwell on our form leading into this key fixture, which was far below the standards we have come to expect at the RDS. The key series of matches during the Six Nations, where we have made a name for ourselves picking up handy points in the past, began with a dismal home defeat to the Dragons and never really got much better.
So taking that mindset into account it made for an extremely stark atmosphere in D4 as Glasgow’s Peter Horne knocked over a penalty to send the league leaders into the break with a whopping 27-7 cushion - what say we examine how that happened first.
The easy target would be our missed tackles, and it certainly doesn’t look good when the stats tell you all of your starters were “credited” with at least one bar Richardt Strauss. But I really don’t think it’s as simple as that - our problems seem to run much deeper.
First of all, you have to admire the style of rugby Glasgow are playing these days. Their focus has little to do with the man carrying the ball: it’s all about how those around him are honed in on their own job, whether it’s clearing out or receiving the offload. And as you are facing this level of accuracy coming towards you, you need to take the odd risk to disrupt it and our tacklers tended to go high.
So while you’d never say we could be “forgiven” for falling off onrushing Warriors, even when you factor in the “Te’o Experiment” (with yet another different centre partner I might add) I’m not so sure this was the principal cause for Gregor Townsend’s men amassing that early lead. Particularly in the early stages, they weren’t running that offloading style from even midfield, let alone their own half - with Peter Horne a late replacement in the 10 jersey for Finn Russell they were kicking for territory right from the start. Maybe we need to ask ourselves how they were getting into those attacking positions in and around our own 22.
And for this, we need to examine why we gave away silly penalties in midfield like Jordi Murphy grabbing a ball from a ruck that clearly wasn’t his to grab, or why Ian Madigan threw such a risky long pass which was nearly intercepted shortly after we finally got on the scoreboard, or why Eoin Reddan put the ball in crooked to a scrum not too long after his opposite number had been pinged for same.
Each of these basic errors led to Glasgow points. Of course the tackles should not have been missed but the way the visitors were set up we could certainly have at least contained them in that period had we not virtually invited them into our own 22.
But even the mistakes weren’t our biggest problem. What stood out most for me in that first half was just how our poor we were with the ball compared to our opponents. For while they had 15 men moving in unison for every bout of possession, I really don’t think I’m overstating it when I say for us it was more like one man with the ball and 14 team-mates watching him.
And having already shipped three tries virtually under our own posts, the final insult was to get caught in a “phase maze” inside our own half leading to a penalty as the clock hit 40 minutes allowing Horne to stretch his side’s lead to 20.
So....there we were at half time with nothing to do but lick our wounds. I wanted to be positive, I wanted to believe my team could find it’s way back, but as the half-time minis had their fifteen minutes of glory on the RDS turf I simply could not see a way back for us unless someone in our dressing-room could find a speech of “Sexton in Cardiff 2011” proportions.
And it wasn’t just motivation we needed coming out of the break...also required were a slice of luck and someone on the Glasgow side willing to made an error or two themselves. And for that last one we already had a taste in the first half in the form of Niko Matawalu.
I don’t watch Glasgow week in week out but it seems whenever I do the Fijian appears to be a human self-destruct button for them. For example, anyone who thought Yohann Huget’s tap and go at Twickenham last week was ill-advised should look back at the one Niko did close to his own line against us with the clock running down on opening day back in September.
Already in this match it was he who picked up a ball clearly knocked on by his own player which gave us the attacking ball in their 22 we had been craving and even when we fluffed our lines at the ensuing lineout, he managed to feed the ball crooked to the scrum and after a series of phases some quick hands from Shane Jennings put Fergus McFadden over in the corner.
Then LITERALLY from the kickoff to the second half he made extremely heavy weather of a routine clearance and of all the Leinster players to provide the block it was Isaac Boss (on for Reddan who was going through the concussion protocols) and he was rewarded with a bit of luck in the way it stopped for him over the line for him to fall on it. (clarification : it was Bryce who had his kick blocked but Niko delayed getting the pass to him)
So that definitely got the home crowd’s attention...though personally I was still seeing our glass as half empty because such blocks don’t happen all the time. Any chance Niko could do something else?
Actually, yes. Of course Cian Healy was looking for a reaction from him. But that doesn’t mean the Glasgow scrum half had to provide it! A raised elbow meant a yellow card and just like that we had a man advantage. This on top of the Boss try gave a us a clear path beyond a losing bonus point and towards what would have been an incredible victory...the question was, could we take it?
Now here’s where we show our true colours as analysts. We could be cynical and say we only ran in two more tries because we had the extra man. But then again, over this poor run of form we’re on we have even struggled 15 on 14 more than once. So it has to be said that in the opening half an hour of the second period we were able to find our mojo, bring it to our opposition (the introduction of Luuuuuke certainly helped here), find some decent running lines & even a few offloads, and we were duly rewarded with quality scores from both Jordi Murphy and Isaac Boss (with his second).
You had to rub your eyes to read the scoreboard on 70 minutes. Does that REALLY say 34-27 to Leinster now??? And have we REALLY secured the try bonus??? No, we weren’t dreaming. But the lead still had to be brought home, and unfortunately, there was to be another twist in the tale.
Right from the kickoff after Madigan opened the 7-point lead, Glasgow won it back and after winning another niggly penalty, put the ball back into our 22, a place they hadn’t been since the first half. And once more, having gotten themselves that deep in our territory, they were able to convert and this was made look the easiest try of the lot - after just a couple of phases they had not one but two men out wide waiting for the service which was duly supplied for Bryce to get the touchdown.
It was left to Peter Horne to bring the scores level with the conversion. Though Ian Madigan had struck over a few beauties earlier, this was easily the most difficult shot of the night given it was near enough to the touchline on the wrong side of the pitch for a left-footer. But nail it he did making for a combined 12 from 12 by the placekickers.
As Nigel Owens blew the full time whistle, the RDS crowd were left in something of a stunned silence. Had they been transported in time from the interval they would have been happy but the actual journey to that point was like a Funderland rollercoaster.
Looking back on it now, given that Munster, Ulster & the Ospreys all took maximum points as expected over the weekend, it’s hard not to see the result as two points dropped all things considered; and the five points we now need to make the playoff positions seem a near impossible target.
By the way - that’s not a typo when I say it’s a five-point gap, even though it’s four on the Pro12 table. Since “matches won” is the first tie-breaker and we are at least 3 wins behind all of those above us, we’ll need to get beyond them to finish any higher than we are. It’s these pesky 3 drawn matches which are hurting us, and it hurts even more when you realise we were in winning positions each time.
Finally...before I put Friday’s match to bed for good it does need to be said just what a great game it must have been for the “neutral”. If the previous weekend’s Six Nations trilogy was the epic advert for the competition everyone (myself included) said it was, then surely a league as oft-maligned as the Pro12 should feel good about itself after what we saw at the RDS.
But returning to matters Leinster...difficult though it may be, all the negative has to be evacuated from our minds before next Saturday. Bath are coming to the Aviva (ironic sidenote - they have signed Matawalu for next season), and while I’m sure they’ll play the media game during the week bigging us up, they’re bound to be confident of turning us over based on our recent form.
And speaking of the media game...this quote from our head coach on Off The Ball last Saturday about his task ahead has me wondering if we need to re-name him “Moot” O’Connor…
"...if we can bring a little bit of the intensity that we had in the second half and cut out a little bit of the inaccuracies from the first half from last night, then we give ourselves every chance (against Bath)"
Here’s to a solid week’s work at our UCD drawing board for the lads - it will be great to have the Heaslips, O’Briens and Toners back in Leinster blue and one way we can help them have “every chance” is to make sure that Aviva Stadium is rocking next Saturday.