IT AIN’T (JUST) WHAT YOU DO…
First, the elephant in the room surrounding this game, meaning a debate both sides of which are best represented by these two comments on the HoR Facebook page shortly after the match…
Alison Moore : Why were we playing this team while the other provinces are playing premiership and Top 14 opposition?
Orla-marie Magan: Every game is worth something. It's about getting the young lads out there gelling with the older players and growing in confidence. It's all about gradual improvement next week we have Edinburgh that's another step up for us. I for one am glad to see the lads scoring that much and not giving anything away. Leinster of last season would have given them a few tries.
Valid points on both sides, though I have to say I’d lean more towards Alison’s.
When the Pro12 kicks off next weekend, nobody is going to remember that we beat Moseley the week before. And given the match has no actual competitive value, I doubt anyone would remember too well if we had beaten reigning champions from across Europe Glasgow, Sarries, Stade Francais or even Toulon.
But if nothing else, with of course all due respect to our visitors on this occasion, the decision to have Leo’s first home match against the club that finished 11th out of 12 in the second tier of English rugby last season has probably woken us up to the significance of this fixture on the calendar for Leinster fans.
Even though the tickets were free to those STHs who were on the ball responding to emails in time, as good and all as it is to see the boys in blue back in action again after the summer break it should put a serious dent in the public interest if the calibre of opposition isn’t a good bit higher when next year’s fixture is announced.
OK....enough harping on that - there was some “Leo-ball” to ponder, let’s have a look at how it went, putting aside the very obvious one-sided nature of the scoreline and 10-0 try tally.
First, as much as we may want to forget the trevails of last season, it’s hard not to draw comparisons as we get our first look at the 2015/16 vintage, and the differences were there for all to see.
Whereas last season no matter how much pace our wingers may have possessed, the other 13 players were hard wired to make sure the ball took an age to get to them and when it did, it wasn’t always in the wide channels. Now it would seem that “order” has been restored, and on this occasion Adam Byrne and particularly Mick McGrath were able to reap the rewards.
Now the first try wasn’t in the wide channel, but that wasn’t so much down to our strategy as it was the “swiss cheese” defence of the visitors...a pass of our own went astray and in the broken play it came to McGrath who had nothing on his mind but to plough forward and somehow went straight down the middle making the try look more like one from the sevens code.
The other McGrath on the park for Leinster was Luke at scrum half and he and Cathal Marsh were keeping a lively tempo going throughout the first half which was good to see. As you’d expect in a preseason encounter, penalties no matter where on the park were kicked to touch and it was Dan Leavy who had the ball at the bottom of the pile of bodies for our second try.
The third was made from a step by Marsh charging into the space before laying it off to Mick McGrath (my MotM even though it was a 40m shift) who this time had the presence of mind to lay off to some chap named Nacewa you may have heard of, who went in for the easy finish - Isa was taking the placekicks while on the park by the way and slotting them every time.
Set pieces worked well at some stages, not so well at others, but nothing less than you’d expect in preseason. Aaron Dundon did a lot of the heavy lifting around the park and no doubt will get a lot of game time in the weeks to come.
It was “just” 21-0 at halftime, and as the players returned to the 4G surface as I was doing my liveblog I thought the simplest way to check for substitutions (which are always a nightmare to follow at these matches) was to do a quick scan of the numbers on the players’ backs. 1 to 15 all there, I noticed. Huh, no changes, eh?
Eh, not quite. They only went and fielded a pretty much completely different XV in the second half while retaining the starting numbers. I probably should have noticed that Mick McGrath was now in fact Darragh Fanning and Collie O’Shea was now in fact Ben Te’o but hey - what can I say - liveblogging can be a fact paced world and if you snooze you lose ;-)
The announcer at Donnybrook Stadium didn’t bother announcing the changes and to be fair with so much swapping going on I can’t blame him. Anyway now we had Isaac Boss and Ross Byrne as the halfback pairing and the good thing to see was that the style of play didn’t really change all that much and we played at a pace which had to have its toll on the visitors for the final quarter which is where the score reached cricket proportions.
Two tries in the second half worth mentioning - the pick of the ten was when forwards such as Molony and Beirne combined with strong runs and neat offloads down the middle before the ball was shifted out wide quickly where a nice long pass from Reid was taken by Te’o and quickly gotten to McFadden who finished in the corner. Ferg took over the kicking duties and actually got the only miss of the night after that try but can be forgiven I reckon!
Later we had Ross Byrne launching a precision crossfield kick into the breadbasket of Darragh Fanning who still had a bit of work to do to get it to the line but managed to make it look easy.
The margin could have been even wider if Josh van der Flier hadn’t dropped it over the line at the final moment...my apologies to him for pointing that out but I had to find something negative from the night and besides, he more than made up for it with a five-pointer of his own as the clock was running down.
A quick word on the visitors…as the scoreline suggests they were never really at the races but having said that, Kevin Maggs’ outfit deserve some credit for at least trying to innovate their way through our well drilled D and even towards the end when they had a chance to placekick the “duckegg” off the scoreboard they went to the corner and while it was to no avail it was certainly to their credit in the kudos column.
So did we learn that much about Leo’s Leinster from this? I reckon we did, at least in what we’re planning to do with the ball as opposed to last year. The Pro12 opposition over the coming weeks will give us a better sense of how effective it will be and how well the new coaching staff and new (and returning) players to the squad have prepared.
Which leads me to what I consider to be a target for Leinster in the opening weeks of the campaign. In my preview for this friendly I suggested we treat our first four matches like a World Cup pool and forget about the visit of Glasgow in matchday 5. For me, we should be aiming to be in the the top four when Gregor Townsend’s men come to town.
Do I have a matchday 23 in mind based on what I’ve seen? Funny I should pretend that you asked….(in case certain players get called on by Joe I have put alternatives in brackets)
Nacewa, Mick McGrath, Te’o, Darcy (Reid), McFadden (Adam Byrne), Marsh, Luke McGrath.
Bent (Dooley), Dundon, Furlong, Denton, McCarthy, McLoughlin (c), Ryan, Conan.
Bench : Bryan Byrne, Burke-Flynn, Hagan, Molony, van der Flier, Boss, Ross Byrne, (Reid/A Byrne/Fanning).
The World Cup is of course going to be a major distraction from the early rounds of the Pro12 campaign but Leo and the boys have a job to do and the talent to do it. Come on you boys in blue. JLP