Monday, September 12, 2016

Glasgow-33 Leinster-25



logo post blueFirst order of business writing up this match has to be a hearty congrats to Tommy Seymour - four tries at any level deserves any kudos that are on offer.

Many say he’s now a shoo-in for the Lions...really?  I’m not so sure, though I mean that as no disrespect to the man himself.  He is certainly a contender to travel but I just don’t think this particular achievement should put him in the frame and don’t worry, I’ll explain why.  In fact, by simply describing his four tries and the match circumstances surrounding them you can also show how Glasgow deservedly won the day on their shiny new artificial turf at Scotstoun.

The first half was all Leinster when it came to territory and possession - over 60% in each case.  Yet when the home side had a sniff of a chance, they scored.  And you wouldn’t expect anything less from a side that finished 2nd, 1st and a very unlucky 3rd over the past three seasons, mostly due to a well-oiled machine of an attack which is nigh-on perfect at using the ball effectively in the opposition 22.

On their very first foray into our red zone they displayed “Gregorball” at its finest with 12 phases stretching our D and an exquisite ball from Sam Johnson had Zane Kirchner all at sea; this put Seymour in at the corner to open the scoring.

Then after the Warriors’ second attack they managed to cross yet again only this time it was Tim Swinson getting one for the forwards.  This came, however, in the midst of a strong fightback from Leinster but I’ll get to our scoring later.

Basically when we packed down for a scrum on our own put-in not far from halfway around the 50th minute mark, we had a deserved 10-point lead in a match we were “supposed to” lose by a similar margin.   It was a lead that was ours to throw away, and unfortunately, we did just that.

Our subsequent collapse put me in mind of a match against the Ospreys back in Joe Schmidt’s second season in charge.  Again we built a ten point cushion away from home though it was much earlier.  What I couldn’t understand was the way we approached the game when we had the ball once the lead was established.  When we won a penalty, for example, we took a quick tap which came to nothing and further poor game management gave “those pesky birds” more than enough chances to come back at us.

This time was no different.  I don’t want to be too hard on young Joey Carbery because up to that 50th minute he had been brilliant for us and he will definitely be brilliant again in the future. And there is no shortage of irony in that I feel that he should have kicked the ball more in that second half given I had said he went to his boot too often against Treviso the week before.

But this is top flight rugby we’re talking about here and it’s all part of the learning process.  Chasing four tries at home to a perennial bottom-two club is much different to bringing home a ten-point cushion in the backyard of one used to the upper end of the table.

After that scrum was reset twice there was only ever one thing that should have been done with the ball – kick it loooong.  Our linespeed had been excellent on the day...dangerous and all as Glasgow’s back three were they never looked like beating us from their own 22 - in fact, more often than not when they had it at midfield their passes ended up going to ground or into touch.

Now to be fair to Carbery, you can hardly blame him for having sky-high confidence levels given all that had gone before.  But here was needed a bit of guidance from those around him, but his halfback partner and captain had but one season more experience.  All of this combined to see us run a passing play which Seymour read like a cheap romance novel and he gratefully brought it to the line.

But we actually still had a lead at that stage, which makes it all the more baffling that on our very next possession, again at midfield, we again choose to pass it.  Glasgow, clearly sensing blood in the water, put us under pressure behind the gainline and forced a knockon from Noel Reid, which Seymour proceeded to pick up, spin around, and brilliantly make the most of the transition period to complete his hat-trick, though Mike McCarthy won’t be too pleased Monday morning watching back his attempt at a tackle.

So while it may seem natural to question our defence when looking how we shipped those fourteen points in five fateful  minutes, I’d be more inclined to look at our own choices when we had the ball, individual tackling notwithstanding.

Try number five for the Warriors came off an attacking scrum and was made look easy due to a combination of Pyrgos and that man Seymour straight down the middle so you could raise an eyebrow at our coverage here.  But in our defence’s defence, we were chasing the game at that stage and what’s more, that scrum came after what I felt was an odd call from referee John Lacey.

Unbelievably I saw queries from Glasgow fans on twitter after full time about whether or not he favoured Leinster, probably on account of his being Irish.  Maybe he missed a transgression or two of ours and the sin-binning of Sarto could have been downgraded to a team warning as a first offence in that area of the pitch, but the home side got away with a lot as well, not least of which was tendency of their jacklers to put their wrists on the ground beyond the ball again and again without being pinged.

What led to this scrum was a penalty call for collapsing a maul in our 22.  Twice before Lacey’s arm went out he told Pyrgos to “use it”.  Now the Glasgow scrum-half & captain had been squeezing every available drop out of his 5 seconds all afternoon and it is certainly his right to do so...only this time, he clearly went over the allotted time, yet the ref rewarded him with a penalty for something that happened after the time was up.  A curious call at best, though it doesn’t excuse the ease with which Seymour went over afterwards.

So my argument on the winger’s Lions hopes isn’t so much based on his own display, rather the events that led to the four tries on this particular day.  The scores were either handed to him on a plate (something I undertsand the All Blacks don’t often do) or brought about by a style of play that Warren Gatland wouldn’t contemplate employing in five tours let alone two.

Glasgow probably deserved the win, but the “5-0” spread of the match points definitely flattered them.  In fact this was a result that proves the try bonus system used in the Top 14 (also this year for the first time in Super Rugby and one we have preferred here in Harpin Manor for a couple of years now) to be a much better reward.  Instead of just getting four tries you must actually score three more than your opponent so it’s a point you can not only gain but also go on to lose.

But that’s about enough of the negative, though I must also add that our lineout problems are still very much there.  When you take our own three tries and how they were scored into consideration, I reckon as a Leinster supporter you should feel a decent level of hope that we are on an “upward curve” form-wise.

Like I said, Glasgow were at their clinical best when they had the ball in attacking areas.  Or to put it another way, they were a template of what we aspire to be.  It is clear that the days of our slowly inching the ball towards the try line with a seemingly infinite amount of carries against the grain are in our rearview mirror, and now we are committed to a playbook that involves offloads, pop passes, strong support running and effective clearing out, all of which get “thumbs up” from me.

Carbery (whose name I always misspell at first as “Carvery” which in turn makes me hungry) was at the centre of everything that was working in that first half.  It was the ease at which he got into position to call the plays that impressed me most, and more often than not we were actually using Glasgow’s linespeed against them to get in behind.

To do this he needed effective runners and he had them in spades with his entire back row making serious yardage and his entire back three in a position to finish, although van der Flier only needed the help of an absent Glasgow pillar to get our second try.  The scores either side of it were a strong finish from Rob Kearney in one corner and an easy take of the outhalf’s pinpoint crossfield kick by Zane Kirchner in the other.  Garry Ringrose was another who had some good carries I thought.

I have already harped on our failure to make the right adjustments but it must also be said that while were found lacking in game management, Glasgow were well in control of their own  and their tweaks at the break proved very effective in shutting us down, restricting us to just the three points in the second half.

But while Leinster’s long history of silverware would normally demand a harsh judgement on these failings, you really can’t ignore two key factors - Glasgow’s settled coaching team as opposed to our big midweek appointment, plus the fact that the home side were virtually at Champions’ Cup strength-wise while the availability of Sexton, Heaslip, Henshaw, O’Brien, Ross, Cronin, Strauss etc would certainly makeup for at least a portion of the eight points we were short at the final whistle.

So all in all, while I was hoping for at least ten league points from our first three matches which now cannot be done, I can point to several areas where Leinster have shown steady improvement in the 160 minutes of Pro12 rugby we have had in this young campaign, and that is definitely a good thing.  Roll on Edinburgh next week and another chance to bed this exciting new brand of rugby (or dare I say “culture”?) throughout the squad.  JLP


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019