“A win is a win” doesn't apply against weaker opposition, says new HoR contributor Ciarán Duffy
As a game of rugby, this was the worst I’d seen in a long time. France – Italy in the Six Nations was bad, but it beats this one on points difference. But in truth, as a Leinster supporter, you don’t go to a Treviso game expecting a good open, competitive game of rugby, you go to see the score board tick over. Last season Leinster beat Benetton Treviso by a score of 62 points to 7 at the RDS. The two previous pro 12 meetings at the RDS saw Leinster win 40 points to 5, and 42 points to 8. This was no great achievement, but simply what was expected. Treviso are not a team that championship contenders take four points off at home and consider it a good days work. They are a team who’s visit needs to come with a bonus point and an increased points difference. Playing one of the bottom sides in the league at home is essentially an opportunity for champions-elect to show off. In this season’s fixture, Leinster showed they are far from the champions they were last season.
Keeping any team from scoring always looks impressive. However, it should be noted that fullback Jayden Hayward had two very kickable penalties to get Treviso on the board. Leinster were not that good defensively, Treviso were just extremely poor in attack. The odd occasion they did gain territory in Leinster's half they were far too narrow. It was simply carrier after carrier in the same direction. It was formulaic and Leinster were allowed to get away with it. However, for the majority of the game Leinster's lead was only seven points. Had Treviso been able to take advantage of a few overlaps outside and been less predictable, they could have come away with two, or even four, valuable points in their quest to secure the Italian champions cup spot. It could be argued that Treviso would have deserved a bonus point. Not because they were particularly good, they just were not more than seven points worse than Leinster on the day. They’re only three points ahead of Zebre and the Italian European cup place is still very much up for grabs ahead of their away clash with a Scarlets side looking to secure their ERC place next season. But in all honesty, they didn’t bring a whole lot to the game, they just stood between the opposition and their own try line.
As for the Leinster attack, it was dull. This would have been fine if it was effective, but one try against the second worst side in the league is hardly effective. It was reminiscent of the game against Ulster, a great ten minutes that was more like the Leinster of the last few seasons, followed by a largely unimaginative display, and a Sean O’Brien sin binning. That’s not to say there weren’t chances to extend the lead. Jamie Heaslip had a good game and deserved his man of the match award. His try was a combination of good vision and good timing, something there wasn’t enough of during the game. There was a severe lack of creative leadership throughout. The plan seemed to simply be keep keeping the ball. Leinster did manage to retain possession for lengthy periods of time, but no significant yardage was made. There was always a hint of a spark. Kirchner took a few high balls well, and the lineout maul looked threatening when utilised. The five minutes after Gordon Darcy came on were probably the best Leinster played outside of the opening ten. But every quick burst was immediately squashed, and we were back to a slow recycling game with a handling error eventually breaking up play.
In the end, Jimmy Gopperth knocked over a penalty to assure the win, and an Edinburgh loss was good enough to secure a Champions cup spot next season. Leinster win the game, and qualify, but that doesn’t make this a successful outing. The majority of players in Ireland's world cup squad will be taken from Leinster. In fact, injury permitting, all of the players eligible to play for Ireland who started for Leinster will be at the World Cup. That was not a weakened side, that starting 15 could have started any game this season. There’s no excuse for such a lacklustre performance against such a weak team, just an explanation that this team is very much in a transitional period, and the expectation that the performances will get much better.
Next week Leinster travel to Edinburgh, who still have to secure their European playoff place. Leinster have nothing to play for in terms of position, they are finishing in the top six regardless of what happens. But it’s time for a big performance. It’s time to let all the frustration of a poor season out. Leinster have already lost eight league games, their most losses in eleven seasons. That record shouldn’t be made harder to replicate next week. The season can end in two ways; a quiet whimper, the same way next season will likely begin with the world cup taking over, or with a statement, a statement that says the Leinster era is not over. It’s not a case of exceeding unreasonably high expectations, just a case of playing to the standards they have set themselves.
Ciarán Duffy is a Leinster supporter who would watch any game of rugby while undoubtedly taking it too seriously. He enjoys over analysing and taking a pessimistic look at the bright side while talking about Irish, European, and World Rugby issues on and off the field.
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