Monday, May 18, 2015

Edinburgh-23 Leinster-36

So the clock is winding down and Leinster have a 6-point lead as Nigel Owens awards us a penalty in an extremely kickable position.

Given we have made a bit a name for ourselves blowing leads this season (not to mention earlier in this very match), you’d think the safe option would be to take the three and secure the win.  The fact that the 4-try bonus point was already in the bag supports this option.

But the decision was made on the field to go for the fifth try to finish our 2014/15 season with, maybe not quite a bang, but at very least a pop, and ironically it was Jimmy Gopperth who put the ball into touch, and shortly afterwards it was Luke McGrath darting over to provide justification.

In many ways it was fitting that our season ended at was of course where the first of our three stars was earned, but also it is an arena clearly designed for a bumper occasion yet when Pro12 is played there it falls way, way below capacity.  Many would say that is exactly how Leinster’s 2014/15 campaign has gone.

Still...while it would be impossible to avoid comparing this display to others throughout the season given how different was the makeup of our backline, I would rather leave the overall navel-gazing to later posts and do the bulk of my harping on this performance in particular, which I thought was very impressive overall from Leinster.

And central to the display was Ian Madigan, finally chosen to start in the 10 jumper after dozens of long sighs by yours truly throughout the season at team-naming time.  The argument over his selection at out-half has been a circular one...some say he has shown deficits in key aspects of his game when he has been given the chance but others point out he needs a regular run of starts to work on them.  

I would definitely be in the latter category and I’d go as far as to say two full years of his career have been wasted in his development - although he was leading scorer in the Champions Cup and Golden Boot winner in the Pro12 this season, we will never know what kind of outhalf he’d be now, and by extension how much more successful Leinster would be, had he been our presumptive starting first receiver in that time.

Given this was his final appearance for us I must also mention Jimmy Gopperth,since by harping on Madigan so much I know I run the risk of incurring the wrath of the Tony Wards and Gavin Cummiskeys by suggesting anything negative about him.  But while I do of course wish him all the best with Wasps and I have never suggested Leinster’s woes have been entirely his fault (nor the coach’s either though I’m deliberately keeping that topic on the down-low for this writeup), I won’t hide my opinion that his time here would have been better served as a backup 10.

Just in case you think I’m going to be completely throwing bouquets at Madigan for this writeup, that is not the case...this was far from an error-free display, particularly in the third quarter when it has to be said we let the home side come back at us when we really should have put them away.

But my point about Madigan is that while he did make some errors, not only were they outdone by the good things not least of which was a direct involvement in the four tries that secured the bonus, but also the mistakes tended to at least come from an attempt to do the right thing in the right situation, a flaw which definitely could be corrected with a regular spell at 10.

The two first half tries were straight off the training paddock and definitely a delight for the Leinster fans who have cried out for this type of rugby all season.  Early in the contest we seemed to be reverting to the “new norm” in that we’d go through the phases before either getting bundled into touch or knocking on, but a neat cutting move at midfield involving clever pop passes, first from Mads to O’Brien and then from O'Brien to Noel Reid, provided the platform for the Clontarf centre to show his keen eye for the try-line in this competition.

Next up it was a neat shimmy from “Mad-Dog” making us think he was to pass it on but instead shipping it inside to make the most of a superb line from Kearney The Younger who had Jack Conan in support to provide another 5-pointer from a plan hatched at half-way.

Of course things weren’t exactly ideal down the other end, but I take a bizarre type of comfort from the fact that the two Edinburgh tries can be traced directly to Leinster mistakes.  The first came after not one but two Leinster darts went awry in our own 22 and the second from Tim Visser, on what turned out to be his last appearance for the Scottish capital, was the result of a poor kick from the hand by our out half.

Thankfully though those errors weren’t to cost us because we still had more scores in the tank.  Our first two tries came from halfway as I said but one area where we have fallen short this season has been providing finishing touches to possession in the opposition 22.  That little spark of x-factor required to break open a stubborn D was provided by Madigan for try number 3 with a long arcing miss pass to Zane Kirchner on the wing for the South African to touch down.

Our fourth was down to our scrum...the set piece hadn’t had the best of afternoons for us up to that point but we did turn one over against the head and it was Madigan taking full advantage with a strong surge into their 22 before the pack caught up with him to provide the dot down thanks to Jordi Murphy.

Another who could have benefited with more game time this season has been Luke McGrath, and he fully deserved to be the one to get our final score of the season after showing a determination to make himself known after taking to the field on the 65-minute mark.

His will need to be a name to feature for us in the early part of next season, as will those of our starting centres at Murrayfield Noel Reid and Collie O’Shea who’s confidence will have been done the world of good by this 80-minute shift.  Remember - this wasn’t an Edinburgh side looking to see out the clock before breaking out the golf clubs for the summer...they had a Champions Cup playoff in their sights and but for Connacht’s fight-back in Galway could still have pinched it were it not for our 5th try.

So while more significant things were happening elsewhere on the final day of the Pro12 regular season and it’s a shame we weren’t in the thick of it, for this 80 minutes of rugby I have to say fair play to Leinster for making the trip worthwhile for amazing set of travelling fans who were there yet again doing us proud.

Of course that is far from it when it comes to top flight rugby this season; it’s just for once, Leinster play no part in it.  You can certainly make a strong case for that being a good thing for the Pro12 league in general, and you also couldn’t argue that each of the four semifinalists deserve to be there.

When it comes to my feeling about how the playoffs will pan out, well my heart has the four teams in this order 1 Ulster 2 Munster 3 Glasgow 4 Ospreys while my head has them like this 1 Glasgow 2 Munster 3 Ulster 4 Ospreys.  I guess I’m not really rating the the Welsh region’s chances despite the fact they have as many titles as the other three put together, but I reckon the two away wins are beyond them.

And that’s not all the rugby we have to look forward to...the Premiership has its playoffs, the Top14 has one more round left before theirs (I doubt Joe Schmidt will shed a tear if Racing don’t make the Top 6), the Wolfpuppies are in JWC action, Emerging Ireland will be in Tblisi, the Baa-Baas are visiting Limerick, and finally Super Rugby will reaching it’s climax before the warmups for some kind of big deal that is taking place in the autumn.

Needless to say I’ll be harping on all of the above and more in the weeks to come - hopefully you’ll be up for joining me.

Another significant rugby event will take place over the summer, that being the draw for the pool stages of the 2015/16 Champions Cup.  This win over Embra locked down a place for us in the third pot - hardly the kind of positive outcome to a season we’re used to, but certainly not nothing.

Besides, whatever our seeding and whatever way we as Leinster fans may perceive our team right now, I can assure you of this - no team in that draw, not even Toulon, will be happy about seeing our name in their pool.  And that is DEFINITELY not nothing.  

As Big Joe Shep said in his latest column here, there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful right now and while I may be putting away my blue jersey for now in favour of the green, I can’t help feeling that when it’s time to take it out again, there will be good times ahead.  JLP

#COYBIB #WeWillBeBack

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