...when you get past all the normal clichés like “no easy matches” and “take nothing for granted” and “we have all respect for our Italian counterparts”, all of which are valid, what’s left is a minimum satisfactory haul of 5 Pro12 points for Leinster tonight.
Yeesh. I really set a trap for myself with my preview last Friday didn’t I?
Given we failed to reach the “minimum” standard I set, I can hardly be positive even though we won, can I? Well if you think that you must be a first-time reader ha ha…
Seriously though, the failure to get four tries was definitely a disappointment, and one on which I must harp first, but don’t worry...there was much good as well and hopefully the headline and lead photo bear that out.
But even before I start on the match, a few words on the excellent effort from everyone involved in Leinster Rugby to help raise funds for Kurt McQuilkin - the “Shave or Dye” event was an inspired idea and it was great to see it attract so much attention and support. Hopefully those few who made disparaging remarks on social media about the hairstyles on show from the Leinster players were suitably humbled when they discovered the reason.
And one final time I’d like to thank Kurt for all he has done for Leinster Rugby over the years...most of all the impeccable standards he has set in the area of his remit. The very best of wishes for the future to him and his family at what must be a difficult time.
OK - to the performance. I have no doubt that we left at the very least one try behind on Friday. In fact going to put it into points and say twelve. But while last year we were often frustrated about not putting enough points on the board, this time around it’s actually hard to find too much fault with our approach when we had the ball, though I’ll elaborate more on that later.
What I think held us back was another bugbear from last season, namely an inability to convert attacking set pieces.
You win a penalty in midfield, you put it into touch, and you run a set play to get the final few yards to the line. All of that has the “win your own lineout ball” component baked right into it. It’s an afterthought - an assumption at this level. Yet over and over we have struggled with it in recent times. And it doesn’t seem to matter who the hooker is, nor where in the lineout the dart is going.
Now the stats tell us we only failed with two lineouts on the night but that doesn’t account for scrappy possession which had us scrambling and took the chosen set move out of the equation. Also one time we even failed to find touch altogether when Rob Kearney’s left boot was unable to negate the closeness of the mark to the right touchline.
Maybe our drawing attention to the problem will do nothing but compound it, asserting too much pressure on each attacking throw. That said, I doubt pretending it isn’t a problem will help much either. And just look who we play next week - Glasgow on their own patch. Points are guaranteed to be at a premium.
Now - you might think that even if we DO win our own lineout there was no guarantee we would score. Well the way we got our third try suggested otherwise, when a clean catch from Jordi Murphy led to a near-perfect maul which got us 20-odd metres to the line for James Tracy to get it over. I am pretty certain we could have done that at least one more time with a better success rate on our own throw.
Other little things played a role in our missing out. When we got that third try there were but 8 minutes left; since it gave us a 10-point lead and we didn’t care whether or not Treviso got a losing bonus, why not take a drop goal conversion to save time on the clock? And debutante or not, I would probably have brought on Rory O’Loughlin a lot sooner and he was very nearly involved in the try we needed right at the death.
But since this was a match we actually won on the night as we were excited to see Leinster Rugby back at the RDS, what say we move on to the display by young Joey Carbery.
Of course his two tries are going to be the stand-out contributions that led to his “man-of-the-match” award, but anyone who watched the entire 80 minutes will know that what impressed the most was his overall play controlling what was a very new Leinster approach to attacking rugby (at least in recent years).
It wasn’t just himself that was at it...all along the backline there were passes being fizzed towards spaces that were begging to be run into and more often than not, they were taken. But like I said, Carbery was always the one at the heart of it all and his teammates for the most part seemed to move well with him.
Three Ts impress me about Carbery in this half - the Tempo, the Trajectory of his passing, and of course, the Tries. #COYBIB— Harpin' On Rugby (@HarpinOnRugby) September 2, 2016
Can I find room for constructive criticism? Of course - they are tiny niggly things but worth mentioning in a lengthy writeup nonetheless. Maybe he went to the boot a bit more than he should - he usually found a good touch but IMO he was letting an average Treviso defence off the hook many times.
And my other query actually doesn’t concern him personally, rather his handling by the coaches. I can’t say I’m wild about this idea of letting someone else (McFadden in this case) take the place kicks when an young out half makes his debut. If you’re considered good enough to wear the 10 jersey you should be ready for all that goes with it and I have seen Carbery slot many a kick at Donnybrook. Having said that, being trusted with the full 80 minutes was a clear confidence booster for the lad.
While we’re on spot kicks - here is where I can mention the pair of shockers from starting Treviso 10 Tommaso Allan. I say we left 12 points behind but so did our opposition who could have added a second try with more clinical execution on top of Allan’s blunders.
But going back to Carbery - overall, this was just the display Leinster needed from just the right position. After Madigan wasn’t replaced from outside it was always between himself, Ross Byrne and Cathal Marsh for what is a crucial “backup role” to Sexton this season and if he continues in this vein he can certainly make it his own. Having been born in Auckland and gone to school in Blackrock College there is definitely a lot of successful rugby culture in his background...great to have him on board.
Of course his wasn’t the only key contribution...serious kudos must go to our back row. Treviso had some talent here with Zanni starting and even though he went off early his replacement Barbini was good for a turnover or two so our trio needed to be competitive and they definitely were.
Shortly before that second Carbery try where he made the Treviso D look like it wasn’t there, they were pressing deep in our own 22 before a strip by van der Flier gave us a chance to clear and as they ran it back, Dan Leavy caused more breakdown mayhem for them and we won it again before our outhalf went on his scything run.
Maybe this is a bit over the top but I don’t really care...playing van der Flier and Leavy together reminded me a lot of Messrs Hooper & Pocock for the Wallabies and I reckon we reaped a similar amount of reward here. Dominic Ryan showed a lot of aggression as well and when you consider that we’ve the likes of Heaslip, O’Brien, Ruddock and Conan to add into this mix you have to say things are still looking bright for us in this area.
Someone I criticised a bit against Bath was Mike McCarthy - he dropped a couple of passes he really should have taken but he more than made up for it in his 60-minute shift on Friday...gave 110% for every carry and every tackle. I hate to say it but I’m wondering if this energy would be more useful to us off the bench though? With Toner and perhaps Molony/Kearney regular starters for now? Just a thought as I was tweeting my reaction to Mike’s display on his leaving the field.
Our scrums were a decent 7 for 7...Treviso won a couple of penalties on their own put in but seemed to be conning the ref into them - I reckon it was just our lineout that needs some work. Also it was a decent shift for Cian Healy in the loose and good to see young Porter get a cap off the bench.
Finally there was Garry Ringrose...after starting on the wing last week he was back to outside centre this...though now and again he seemed to swap places with Kirchner. This kind of change I have to say I like...nothing wrong at all in showing a few different looks to your opposition. But I still prefer the youngster in the centre - e showed a good step or two and made some decent tackles. Noel Reid did ok beside him but you can’t help but look forward to a Henshaw/Ringrose axis.
All in all, we got a try after just a few minutes and our visitors really didn’t do much to stop us from getting the three more we needed for the remainder (good opportunity here to mention the warm reception received by Ian McKinley on his introduction). Had we gotten that extra point I probably wouldn’t feel so badly should we come away from Scotstoun empty handed next weekend but now that’s not the case.
On the evidence of the opening weekend it seems that Glasgow are hungry for a second title while the other usual suspects of Ulster, Ospreys and Munster look to be on the way up. Of course whatever about Saturday you can’t rule out Connacht from bouncing right back and then there’s Scarlets and Cardiff more than capable of challenging.
This promises to be another very competitive season of Pro12 rugby, one in which Leinster are definitely very much in the mix. That bonus point is gone...let’s move on and make the most of our upcoming talent pool of which I’m sure Joey Carbery is just the start. JLP
PS : this was written Sunday evening well before the Lancaster news broke - we posted our preliminary thoughts earlier this morning.