by Ciarán Duffy
Resilient Leinster get the win they need
Some games are won by defence, this was one of those games. It was an improvement, a big improvement, and a crucial win. After two significant losses a win here was key. 8-3 doesn’t portray the game as the exciting spectacle it was. It was a proper inter-pro derby on a freezing cold Friday night, and a fairly full RDS was demanding a big performance.
There were still plenty of handling errors, the lineout malfunctioned a few times, and a one-try return does not tell the story of how long Leinster spent in Ulster’s half. Having started well Sexton slotted a penalty to put Leinster ahead, but immediately from the restart, Leinster put themselves under huge pressure and conceded a penalty. For all the world you would expect that to be punished, Paddy Jackson missed a very kickable penalty, worrying signs for Irelands third choice fly-half. Jackson did get his second attempt to make it 3-3.
Once Ulster had drawn level, Leinster had all the attacking possession. But as the minutes ticked on, the parallels between this match and the Wasps game were becoming evident. The attack was far too narrow. Too many numbers behind the breakdown waiting to carry it into contact again. Zane Kirchner was a lonely man on the far side of the field as the point of attack remained the same. The failure to get the ball through the hands quickly made it easy for Ulster to defend. This has to change, less phases within 10 metres of the opponent’s try-line, get more numbers to the breakdown to get the ball out quickly, and then work the defence. One occasion the ball did go wide, a poor pass from Nacewa, not like him, made sure Zane Kirchner could not convert on his 50th appearance for Leinster.
A few wasted opportunities later Leinster got their try, a well worked lineout maul saw Sean Cronin touch down. It was a deserved lead, neither side were particularly good, but Leinster were better. Once again immediately after conceding Ulster but the pressure on, this time it was dealt with, half time, 5 points didn’t seem like it would be a big enough lead.
Ultimately it was, with neither team adding to the score line in the second half. That’s not to say there were no chances. Rory Best did well to hold up a try, which would have but the game out of reach. A large amount of the second half was played just on the Ulster side of the halfway line, with Leinster unable to find their way through. Ulster still looked threatening, with plenty of counter-attacking opportunities to worry a shaken Leinster side, nearly stealing the win at the end of the game. Leinsters defence held out, with Josh Van der Flier putting in an outstanding performance, a week after making a huge impact off the bench.
There were brief glimpses of a return to the quick passing play we’ve all come to love, but it was just that, glimpses. Luke Fitzgerald was constantly making things happen, he is crucial for Leinster getting back too winning ways on a more consistent basis. Plenty to be happy about, Ulster weren’t great but could have come away with more than just a losing bonus point. Leinster held out for the win, a win that will be pivotal for their season. Ulster still haven’t won back to back away games in the league since February, next week against Edinburgh is crucial for them with their European campaign taking a big blow last week. Injuries to Luke McGrath, Noel Reid and Johnny Sexton are a concern after the game, with Reids looking particularly serious. Leinster get what they needed, with further improvements needed again next time round.
Ciarán Duffy (@VoiceQuakeDuffy) 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.
Tune in to Post to Post Wednesdays from 12 on MarsFM.ie, myself and my Ulster-supporting co-host Mark Borland will be covering both of this weekends inter pro derbies, along with the heavyweight clashes in the top 14, and anything else the rugby world has to offer this week. Follow us on Facebook, Post to Post on MarsFM.
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