Monday, October 10, 2016

Leinster-25 Munster-14

that little bit higher

THAT LITTLE BIT HIGHER

logo post blueI’d love to be able to say that taking photos of rugby lineouts with your phone is some kind of artform, but it really is all about luck.

First, you need the set piece to take place right in front of where you’re sitting.  Then you need to be aware enough to take out your phone before the line is set.  THEN if you’re really lucky you’ll have enough juice on your phone having been giving your mates WhatsApp updates on your location throughout your bus journey to the Aviva.  After that you simply hover your thumb over the button until the hooker sets to throw, and hey presto...

It’s a crooked throw,  Or the pic gets taken too soon.  Or it gets taken too late.  Or the guy two seats away decided he wants another pint and bumps into you on his way past.  Or, on this very fortunate occasion at the Aviva on Saturday, you manage to get the ball just as it is plucked out of the air.

The reason I’m harping on this snap of mine is that, well ok, I’m a bit proud of it despite the good luck, but also I reckon it pretty much encapsulates how the match went.  Both sides were up for it but Leinster just seemed to have that bit of extra reach required to get the job done and ended up the worthy winners. 

Easily the key to our success on the day was our defence.  The amount of work Munster had to put in for their two tries was exhausting to look at so I can only imagine what was it was like for them.  Even when they managed to sneak a metre or two beyond the gainline, more often than not they were back where the started if not further as the next wave of tacklers was right in position.

I’ve always been something of an admirer of tightly organised “D” from any team  though I can see how it doesn’t exactly make the game a thrilling one for the “casual” viewer.  Still, right from the very kickoff we were holding the visitors at bay.  They went through 14 phases before Keith Earls had to resort to a grubber through which effectively became a turnover.

And while our 146 tackles on the day were pretty much spread throughout the squad, it was in the 9, 10, 12 and 13 positions where it seemed to matter most.  After Noel Reid showed in Cardiff we perhaps needn’t worry so much about his defensive prowess at 12, we finally got to see Robbie Henshaw tog out in blue and it was clear from the word go just what he can bring to our side.

When you add to this the tackling capabilities of those either side of him the Leinster line (a key choke tackle was won by Luke McGrath, Sexton and Henshaw) you have the perfect foundations for a defensive set up that will definitely help us in our upcoming European campaign.

Meanwhile down the other end it wasn’t so much that Munster’s defence was poor rather Leinster seemed to have the right approach ready to use for each situation in front of them.  We weren’t simply barreling forward on every carry hoping this would be time we broke through...whether it was carries, grubbers, territory kicks, box kicks, it usually seemed like the right option, if not always with the perfect execution.

Or as Sky’s Mark Robson put it : “There just seems to be a little more acceleration & energy about the Leinster carrying here”.

It was enough to give us an early 6-0 lead with little or no effort.  When the second Sexton penalty went over there was a degree of comfort in the fact that we had our noses in front after just 10 minutes and we even had a chance for an early try when Simon Zebo denied Isa with a last-gasp challenge at the line.

Eventually Erasmus’ men did get themselves a lead though only after a succession of penalties finally got them a decent attacking position on our tryline.  Then it took virtually the entire Munster team piling into a maul to get returned skipper Peter O’Mahony over the line. 

Based purely on territory and possession at that moment they deserved to be ahead though there was a sense that we had a least a try or two in it while you felt they might find it would take them at least another 25 minutes to trouble the scorers again.

Our response was almost instantaneous when a rugby league style grubber through from Sexton fell perfectly for Ringrose to take and score but the youngster just seemed to take his eye off it at the last moment and it got away from him.  However, when Munster tried to run the ball out of their own 22 from the resulting scrum they were undone by the choke tackle I mentioned earlier and we were back on the attack.

As we got to the tryline I thought Peter O’Mahony was unlucky not to be allowed a turnover but instead referee David Wilkinson awarded the scrum to Leinster for forward momentum.  Now it was our turn to put some short-range set-piece preparation into effect, but rather than sheer weight of numbers, Sexton instead went for guile.

The scrum was 5m out towards the West Stand touchline and we went for a blind side move which saw the ref get himself in a horrible position (not for the last time on the day as it turned out) which meant we had another scrum.  Not only did we cheekily go for another blind side play but we did nothing to hide it...Sexton lined up on that side, McGrath went straight to him, he shipped to his skipper who went over in the corner.  It was as if they knew a Nacewa/Sweetnam confrontation would have but one outcome.

Sexton pushed his conversion attempt wide but while 11-7 became the halftime score you had a feeling the try-scoring was far from done for the day.  The second half began in a similar fashion to the first as Munster went on a 20-phase series which again threatened once or twice before a brace of Leinster tacklers would send them back from whence they came, eventually a knockon thwarted them again.

Then after Keith Earls pinched the ball off Rory O’Loughlin at midfield they had another opportunity to strike.  When we play Castres and Montpellier in the coming weeks I feel they will use these situations to put the ball in behind us to make the most hay from our lack of defensive structure but instead Munster hopped on the phase train again and to their credit got it all the way to the line.

I actually thought this was every bit as much a try as was Rhys Ruddock’s effort in Cardiff last week but on this occasion it was judged a double movement.  A try at that point really could have put a different complexion on the remaining half hour but instead we were able to clear with a penalty.

When the expected substitutions were made around the 50-minute mark, the first touch for two in particular off the bench demonstrated just how much it was to be Leinster’s day.

tracy lineout First we had James Tracy, who has had some issues with lineout darts this season yet after we put a speculative ball to touch in their 22, their own throw went awry straight into the grateful arms of the young hooker and just like that we were on the front foot again.

In the phases that followed Sexton tried his patented “wraparound” move though it was quickly shut down which is probably why he has used it so sparingly.  Still we were able to recover and having worked an overlap on the opposite side Rob Kearney was able to find an, ahem, “flat” pass for his skipper to go over for his second.  To be fair I thought it was certainly worth a look by the TMO.

Shortly after the restart following Sexton’s conversion which made it 18-7, as Munster tried to respond we had substitute Jacob Taute’s first touch, which came after a knuckleball of a pass from Ronan O’Mahony forcing the South African to knock on at his bootlaces thus ending yet another chance with the ball.

From that scrum we were able to exert yet more pressure on their tryline...first it looked like Isa was in for another but again he was kept out by Zebo.  Eventually there was a comedy of errors after Ronan O’Mahony struggled to control a ball put in behind the Munster defence - in the end he pushed it out of the way of a grasping Henshaw before it fell to Jamison Gibson-Park who had a simple dot down.

This was another job for the TMO and thankfully the officials eventually reached the right decision though in taking as many as fifteen looks at Henshaw’s involvement it really looked as though they didn’t want to award the try.

A bit of good fortune for Leinster although Gordon Darcy in the Sky commentary box was quick to point out the role played by Jamie Heaslip earlier in the move because his slight of hand kept O’Mahony high in his line before the number 8’s pass instead to Henshaw who grubbered through and forced the mistake. 

So 25-7 to Leinster and the match points were all but in the bag.  To Munster’s credit they didn’t give up and we certainly did a bit on the defensive front after some strong mauling and a way-too-easy overlap let Taute in for a consolation score with about six minutes left. 

This set up what could have been an interesting finale with both sides needing a try for a bonus point but with the Champions Cup next on the list the match just fizzled out to a conclusion.  There is talk of a potential citing for Munster prop James Cronin but I’d be surprised if anything actually came of it given the time of year that’s in it.

All round it was a great occasion as always, with a more than decent turnout.  There can be no doubt the right team won and while we weren’t perfect, we definitely seem to be in better nick for the challenges ahead. 

I don’t watch Munster week in week out but based on what I have seen this season it would appear they have found it hard to replace their retired legends, one of whom had his book signing in Dublin that day and another who coaches Munster’s first European opposition next week, while Leinster seem to have a steady supply of new talent coming through the ranks ready for the highest level.

That’s not to say I’m ruling them out of contention altogether of course...in Bleyendaal they appear to have a steady hand in the 10 jumper and once they can keep key players fit they will definitely have much better showings than this one.

For Leinster’s part while Sexton won man of the match I was impressed as well by our starting centres but personally I was ready to give the gong to Luke McGrath...not the first time this season I went into a match with doubts over a player only to have them dispelled by a quality display.

Having been watching our European opponents in recent weeks I saw nothing which led me to believe that Leinster definitely have a chance to compete in our pool.  I was going to use the phrase “show an improvement on last year” but hopefully that won’t be difficult!

In fact to be honest I can say I’ve seen enough from all four provinces to suggest we can mount a decent assault on the continental prize this time around, though looking at the squads in England and France we may have to reach that bit higher still.  JLP

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