Monday, February 01, 2016

NG Dragons-23 Leinster-13

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HALF EMPTY


“For me, securing those four/five points (against the Dragons) is far more important than anything we plan to get out of the Ricoh Arena….so if things not go our way in Coventry maybe we should reserve judgement for a few days”


“for my prediction I’m going to say we’ll sneak it by 1-3 points, with the BBC Wales commentary team no doubt seething with anger over a refereeing call that will probably involve Ben Te’o.”


logo post blueSince I generally draw attention to quotes from my Friday previews where I’m spot on about what’s going to happen, hopefully you’ll appreciate my decision this week to offer up pre-match opinions that have come back to haunt me.


The first quote was before the Wasps match in the Ricoh Arena, and I actually still stand by it.  That particular performance did not matter in our grand scheme of things even if the whole world was watching, whereas the Dragons one definitely did.  So don’t worry, I will have plenty to say in this writeup on our display (though it’s not ALL bad).


I also stand by both parts of the second quote...we definitely could have won this match, though if we had it would have been by the narrow margin I predicted (not sure the losing bonus we were denied at the death would have been much consolation).  And as for the referee, well in the irony of all ironies I felt the officials did play a part in the match - possibly not enough to affect the result, but a part nonetheless and it certainly wasn’t in our favour.


So to summarise, I reckon this outcome was the result of three factors coming together...the Dragons’ efficiency, the officials’ inconsistency, and Leinster’s indecisiveness.  These are listed not in order of significance, rather the order in which I will deal with them - obviously that which pertains to Leinster is what interests me most so I will save that until last.


First, congrats to the Dragons for a second home win over us in as many years.  Even if I was inclined to be bitter I couldn’t bring myself to say they didn’t deserve the spoils as they definitely did.  Having said that, they hardly played us off the park.  We gave them chances, they took them, and when we had the ball, they were well able to stop us.


It was pretty much a toss up for man of the match...in the end it went to Ashton Hewitt, though I wonder if this was because he was pretty much “credited” for two tries even though the second one was called back.  Personally I’d have given it to Jason Tovey for his 18-point haul out of the Men of Gwent’s 23, the most impressive action being his drop goal as it was showed an acute awareness that Leinster’s D was growing into the match.


Most of all the key to the home side’s win was their defence...if I’m going to harp on week in week out about Leinster’s standards in this area I have to appreciate it when I see it from others and it has to be said their general organization was excellent.  They might have rode their luck at times on the legality front, but I can’t hold this against them, rather I’ll put that in my next point.


Now, to the officials.  Two areas of Marius Mitrea’s handling of the match troubled me...his lack of consistency and his use of the TMO.


Both halves began with a penalty awarded for the tackler not rolling away, and the teams took turns benefitting from this.  You would think this would set the standard for the rest of the half when it comes to this particular infraction but it quite simply didn’t.  Once Leinster were awarded a scrum instead of a pen because the “player was held in”, yet when it was Richardt Strauss’ turn to be trapped in the second half, it led directly to a crucial 3 points for the home side.


Then we had the mauls.  Apologies for the nerdiness here, but I had to put a clock on two occasions when the ref told the scrum half to “use it”.  When it was Pretorius, he had 11.58 seconds after the call to get the ball free.  Later, when Leinster were applying immense pressure in the opposition 22, we had just 8.87 and as the referee blew his whistle Luke McGrath actually had the ball in his hands.  This ended our siege and was effectively as good as points on the board to the Dragons.  


Finally my understanding of the TMO is that he is meant to be there to advise the referee, not to instruct him.  On three separate occasions the off-field official took a ridiculous amount of time to go over the replays (again I was counting…5 looks for the Pretorius knockon, 8 for the McGrath touchdown and I actually lost count on the McFadden charge), and since each time it was to find benefit for the home side, the fact he came from the WRU didn’t look too good.  That said, he got all three calls right (even the yellow on McFadden though I have definitely seen that not given) but my actual beef is with Mitrea for not asserting his seniority.


All told, it came across a classic case of “homer-ism” by the officials.  Yes, I’m sure that will benefit Leinster on a different week but it doesn’t make it right and it certainly won’t stop me calling it out.


But as I have said, the officials did not cause the result.  This, for me anyway, came mostly from what we were doing with the ball.  The Dragons had three scoring plays in the first half and a direct line can be drawn from each to errors on our part. 


The two tries came from blocked kicks...first it was Zane Kirchner trying a grubber that clearly wasn’t on - this kept the ball down at our end of the field and when Jordi was eventually pinged for not rolling away, the kick was put to the corner and the Dragons did well to create space for Hewitt to go over though Fergus McFadden possibly should have known the tackle was his to make not Michael Bent’s.


Then later it was Cathal Marsh trying what should have been a routine enough territory kick, yet once more a Dragon got a piece of it.  This time, our resistance was much better and it took them 14 minutes in and around our 22 before Tovey crossed the line, though not without our tacklers shipping penalties and a yellow for Dan Leavy (not to mention a couple of very near misses) along the way.


In between those two scores we had a try of our own - after a good spell for Ross Molony who poached yet another lineout then pounced on a loose ball, skipper for the night Luke McGrath spotted a clear path around a tight head prop and made full use of it.


The final first half insult came from a poor error of judgement by Zane Kirchner turned what should have been a Leinster lineout around our own 22 (and we were excellent all night in these “exit” situations when we had them) it instead became an attacking lineout for the Dragons which led to the drop goal before the break.


Sadly Luke’s was to be our only try and I have to say that of all that is worrisome about our performances this season, an inability to score late in the game when required has to be at or near the top of the list. 


In the second half it is true we made a lot more use of the ball (including much superb handling in atrocious conditions) but there was precious little end product to go with it.  Perhaps we could have gotten a similar amount of penalties to that which the Dragons had enjoyed when they were pressing us in the first half, but I won’t go any further down that road.  The fact remains 3 points in the last 65 minutes of play isn’t good enough against any opposition and it tends to indicate that your attacking strategy has been “sussed”.


Many have questioned our repeated decisions to spurn chances to kick at goal.  While I would have problems with our decision making, I wouldn’t be too quick to harp on the placekick choices as the conditions appeared to get steadily worse as the night wore on, with the wind more favourable in the opposite direction.  Where we seemed to be indecisive was in the area of getting he ball that final five metres to the try line.


Arguably our best chance for a try came when Dragons fullback Carl Meyer kicked the ball straight to Kirchner at midfield and all of a sudden it looked like we had a four-on-one going the other way.  Unfortunately when he shipped it to his winger Adam Byrne the youngster couldn’t hold it...to be fair to him, he hadn’t seen much of the ball all night.


So all in all another disappointing performance and outcome for Leinster, and despite all the changes to the lineup it’s hard not to associate this more with the Wasps hiding than with the 7-game Pro12 win streak and the convincing win over Bath that came before it.


Does this mean the remainder of our season is a writeoff?  Well I presume you know my answer to that ;-)


Here’s the remainder of our schedule throughout the Six Nations period… Zebre (h), Cardiff (a), Zebre (a), Ospreys (h), Glasgow (a).  All of those games are winnable for Leinster (yes, even the last one) and all of the problems I saw in this display against the Dragons are fixable.


For me, the most important thing we need right now is consistency of selection.  OK, when the Isas and the Mick Kearneys become available we’ll need them in the side but I would definitely like to see us at least aim to have as much continuity as is humanly possible, particularly in the 12 and 13 positions.


Look - the bookies not only have Leinster as favourites for the title, but they also have all four provinces earning Champions Cup berths with top six finishes.  Europe is gone for us this season and it won’t be back until October...I know Leo & co will be focusing on the positives in the meantime and if they can, so can we.  What say keep that glass half full for now.  JLP

 

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Our colour scheme switches from blue to green tomorrow and we’ll have a look at Ireland’s Six Nations chances.

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