As is normally the case in our Monday writeups for matches with controversy, we will harp on that first to save you from scanning down the page for it. Aren’t we thoughtful? :-)
Leinster had just fluffed a great opportunity to restore their 15-point advantage when a crossfield kick from Cathal Marsh was taken by Fergus McFadden who proceed to ship a clever offload to Rob Kearney; unfortunately he couldn’t do likewise and a Noel Reid knockon gave Edinburgh a scrum before a penalty from that scrum allowed them to clear their lines altogether.
It was “last chance saloon” for the team from the Scottish capital if they were to return home with anything from this match. Though they had already crossed our line three times, finding space in the Leinster D hadn’t been easy but with a little shimmy & step their winger Damien Hoyland was able to dance around Ben Te’o and then pin his ears back into the Leinster cover tacklers.
Foremost among those tacklers was Fergus McFadden, who had Hoyland in his sights and a decision to make. A conventional tackle would stop the opponent but also facilitate an offload. To prevent the latter, a tackle around where the ball was being carried was needed, but that was very much a high risk option - if accurate it would be brilliant but if not, it would be extremely dangerous from a player welfare perspective.
In this day and age of professional rugby, I very much doubt any player would completely discount the second choice, even though the safety risk element makes it the wrong one. Not only do I believe Ferg went for it in that split second, I think he did it with a strong element of doubt in his mind, and that indecision took all possibility of accuracy off the table.
He hit Hoyland hard, he hit him high. (Or to put it less politely, he made a balls of it) Referee Marius Mitrea saw it differently after a few looks as his conversation with TMO Dermot Moloney reveals:
Ref : “What I’m seeing...the player has his arm out, trying to wrap his arm, but because of impact, he didn’t make it to wrap his arm around, so for me it’s not intentional no arms tackle.”
TMO : “Yes, it’s a no arms tackle. That’s correct.”
Ref : “So I’m just going to give a penalty for no arms and nothing more.”
I actually do appreciate what Mitrea is trying to say about the arm, but I also think he is focusing on this too much and should also be taking the height of the tackle into account (he later told the Edinburgh players it wasn’t high). For me the recklessness of the challenge makes it a guaranteed card of some colour, leaning more towards red and given that he has been subsequently cited, the commissioner agrees and wants to have a look.
Not surprisingly there was much consternation online after full time - the match itself was forgotten and the decision was the only thing most fans, especially the Scottish ones understandably, could talk about. Like I say, I can’t argue with the calls for a card. But what I CAN dispute is the talk of a penalty try.
Really? Penalty try? Now that is seriously clutching at straws. For it to be a certain try-scoring opportunity you’d have to think one or all of these things - (1) If McFadden hadn’t made his “tackle” that way, he wouldn’t have stopped him (2) If Hoyland had thrown an offload it would have been accurate, and (3) if the offload had been accurate it would have been finished.
The penalty try rule is one of those rare rugby Laws that really doesn’t have a whole lot of wiggle room...once you can demonstrate any doubt it’s pretty much off the table. On all three counts above there is doubt (especially number 2 because in the replay it is clear Hoyland had made the decision to go for the finish himself). It was too far from the tryline so can we kick those suggestions to touch please.
If there’s any line of injustice to be drawn from the incident to the match result, it’s one that says having taken the 3pts, Edinburgh should have been able to have a go at making up the remaining 7-point deficit against just 14 Leinster players. Would they have been successful? I personally don’t think so, but you could never rule it out.
OK, that’s our take, agree or disagree as needed. On to the rest of the match, where I believe the right team collected the four match points while each team can thank the other for the collection of their bonus.
In my twitter tagline for this post I describe this match as a “classic game of two halves that were like Jeckyll & Hyde, but which was which?”. To explain this I have to first focus on the general mood online at halftime, when the score was just 6-3 in favour of the home side.
OK on the surface, no tries and just three penalty goals on the scoreboard doesn’t exactly make for an interesting 40 minutes of action, but I thought the reactions were a bit harsh given Leinster had so many enforced changes and we were watching 2 of the 3 best defences in the league.
Leinster’s starting 10-12-13 combo of Madigan, Reid and Te’o certainly wasn’t a bad one on paper, especially from an attacking standpoint. Noel and Ben actually got a lot of pitch time together last season. But with the soon to be leaving out half low on confidence and the “Ben & Garry” show doing so much better this season, it was going to be a challenge for them to settle down and get on the same page in the early stages.
Then, like I said, we had the strength of the two defences, particularly in line speed and around the tackle area. This made the quest for space one which involved finding the most innovative ways of getting it into the widest channels, and when either side tried, the pass was either too hurried thus going straight into touch or not hurried enough and finding an isolated winger.
At other times when space was at a premium the only option was to plough forward and hope for a kickable penalty, and this did work a few times and with Leinster having much more in the way of territory, this accounted for the halftime lead though it definitely should have been more.
Thing is though, as my fellow keyboard warriors emptied the entire thesaurus of terms and clichés for “dull” on the ruggersphere at the interval, the phrase “careful what you wish for” sprang to mind, and with seven second half tries, all of which can be traced back to errors, it was one that rang true.
But before I harp on the plethora of post-break points, a few words on officiating in the first half. Edinburgh were being pinged more often for breakdown no-nos and Mitrea had a word with their skipper that the next one would result in yellow. And true to his word, flanker James Ritchie was put in the bin for the next infraction. No problems there.
Yet just a couple of minutes later, with Phil Burleigh knee-deep in a ruck and probably off his feet, he proceeds to pounce on our scrumhalf Luke McGrath who is in the act of playing it. Even without the warnings, that’s in yellow territory as we were well on the front foot, but with them, that had to be one. What does the ref do? Issue another warning.
That’s near the top of list of Law-bugbears here at Harpin Manor. Having a yellow shouldn’t give you immunity from a second one, yet we see it again and again...and just you wait, when I do see it actually happen it will go against Leinster! But don’t worry...I know I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. Getting back to this match, we had a strong case for seeing out the half against 13 men - nowhere near as controversial as the McFadden thing I know, but that’s why I dealt with it first.
OK, now to the second half...let’s look at the tries one by one. It wasn’t ALL about the errors by the way, there was actually some good rugby in there as well, to be fair.
At the very start of the half it looked like it was to be “more of the same” when Edinburgh shipped it wide and were forced into touch. But Leinster went for that extremely rare option in Irish professional rugby...the sneaky lineout, and it was a call both well-timed and well-executed.
The exchange got us up the line and straight onto the front foot in good field position before a head fake from Madigan threw the coverage enough for a perfect Luke Fitzgerald line to run onto his inside pass and succeed in a break before he floated one perfectly into the arms of another Luke, this time McGrath, to finally get the RDS crowd to its feet.
Were either of those “Yes-Luke” passes forward? Of course some Scots thought they were... I’d say maybe on the first, no way on the second. There should probably more of an inquest as to how a normally strong defensive set up parted like a red and black sea, but the fact remains, the try was called good.
Full credit to Alan Solomons’ side however; while they could have dropped their heads, they instead came roaring back at us and this time our D was offering much space on both flanks...first Jordi Murphy gets drawn infield leaving Hoyland free to run up one flank, and when they consolidate at the Leinster 22, they quickly got it over to the other side where McFadden made a horrible read allowing the other winger Tom Brown to collect and finish.
The second Leinster try came after some Keystone Cops rugby by the visitors, but still had a Hollywood ending. Jason Tovey, starting as the visiting 10 at the RDS in the Pro12 for the second time this season, made a complete mess of a routine kick to touch giving it to Fitzgerald who punted it back with interest. On the runback by Hoyland he proceeded to throw a shocker of a pass which led to the next pass being hastily dropped into the grateful arms of Noel Reid, who ships it on to Josh van der Flier in support.
What happens next is the reason Leinster deserved to win this match. It is also what we need in abundance if our season is to end with silverware.
Let’s just say that if van der Flier was tackled when he got the ball in the same manner as Ferg did later, I wouldn’t be looking for a penalty try. He was miles from the line with two Edinburgh players on his tail. To all intents and purposes, he had “no right” to get the ball the rest of the way.
But just look on the expression on his face as the first tackler approaches. Nothing but steely-eyed determination. “You think you can stop me? Go on then...have a go.” There was probably enough momentum for him to get to the 5m line at best. Yet somehow he found enough to fend off the tackler, get it over the line and with a team-leading 17 tackles also under his belt, it’s no surprise that he won the man of the match gong.
The third Leinster try was much more conventional, but still I must admit when we had phases on their line over in one corner, although Ferg was all on his own over the other side I didn’t have much faith in our going for the simple option of shipping it quickly out to him. Yet we did, and he scored. Now the lead was 17, and surely that was that. Er, maybe not.
Not once but twice so far Ian Madigan saw a pass interecepted and run back. First time it was called back for a scrum advantage. The second time Hoyland was a mile offside and this was another call that could have been a yellow. But while we didn’t learn our lessons, Edinburgh surely had when it came to that inside pass from Madigan to Fitzgerald as Mike Allen pounced to snatch and score; lead back down to 10.
But not to be outdone on the “costly error” front, Edinburgh knocked on the restart and soon we were almost replicating the third try as McFadden secured the bonus point we’d never have expected in pretty much the same spot.
The 15-point lead looked comfortable but again, credit to the visitors who need every point they can get to stay in European contention. Sub Sean Kennedy found a rare gap around the fringes to dart over and Sam Hidalgo-Cline will be very disappointed to have missed the extra two that time.
Now we’re back where the writeup started, the McFadden tackle, so it’s time to look at individual performances other than that of VDF. It was good to see Rob and Luke back and both looked primed and ready for the end of season push, I just hope they can both stay fit. Set-pieces were 100% which is always a plus and we made reasonable hay on the opposition lineouts thanks to the likes of Molony and Mick Kearney.
But once more, I’m afraid we have to talk about Cian Healy. I’m definitely a fan of his, but I really think he needs time to take a step back and maybe even look towards next season to play his way back to his best. It looked as though the first half plays were designed to bring him into the action and while he wasn’t exactly a failure, the argument that we don’t have time left in the campaign to facitilitate him was compounded by Peter Dooley coming on and forcing a vital turnover within minutes of arriving on the park.
Whether or not Healy plays for Leinster between now and the end of the season is up for debate, but personally, I think it would be better in the long run for him, his province AND Ireland if he doesn’t go to South Africa, and we instead bring a bang-on-form Denis Buckley. How’s that for Leinster bias ;-)
Back to provincial matters….I’m of course delighted with the bonus point victory, but with both Glasgow and Connacht doing likewise and in far more convincing fashion, having done really well to win 15 out of 20 to top the table, we’ll need to bottle some of that van der Flier grit I described to get those final few metres and lift the trophy.
As I said on Saturday and many appear to agree, this promises to be a fascinating battle for the 2015/16 Guinness Pro12 title. But as fond as I am of Connacht, I’m certainly not ashamed to say that as long as we’re still in it I hope their fairytale ending doesn’t happen! JLP
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