Monday, March 06, 2017

Leinster-45 Scarlets-9



Did you see this match?  Was I crazy for posting the above tweet at half time?  I didn’t imagine that the match was evenly poised at the time, did I???

I mean...Leinster did lead the match at that point, and we had two tries in the bank to the visitors’ zero, but that in no way told the true story of the half.  The 12-9 scoreline would have been very different if Dan Jones and Tom Williams hadn’t taken their eyes off of Luke McGrath and the ball respectively at different stages.

And despite those mistakes, the match was very much a contest at that point.  Fired up by their win at Thomond a week earlier, the Scarlets clearly came in search of a lot more than a losing bonus point, and in the likes of Aaron Shingler and James Davies they had fierce competitors at the breakdown to make life very difficult for us.

Here’s the thing though...we had our own fierce competitors to match them in the likes of Rhys Ruddock, Dan Leavy and Jack Conan; the opening forty minutes was like a masterclass for anyone interested in the art of counter-rucking...nobody could bring the ball into contact with any degree of certainty.

And when Leinster had a scrum in a strong attacking position in the Scarlets 22 with the clock ticking down before the break, I felt we really needed points from this visit to act as kind of cushion...the Welsh regions’ defence was solid however and that sequence must have been a massive boost to them at the break.

But here is where we seem to be getting to the crux of Leinster’s success in recent times.  That failure to score didn’t seem to hurt us; in fact, we came out with a renewed sense of purpose and, well, you can see by the final score how it turned out.

Right...now for the bit I love after wins like this, ie going through our tries one by one...

  1. Luke McGrath (1) - The Scarlets began well out of the blocks and we just about held them to a kickable penalty under the posts.  When we went back at them shortly afterwards, they did likewise, only we took the positive option of a scrum.  Our scrum half took it himself and showed great strength getting over the line; it was by no means an easy finish.
  2. Luke McGrath (2) - Again from a scrum only this time a Scarlet feed, I can only assume Luke was in Dan Jones’ blind spot because the block was made look way too easy,  Once again, our 9 had a lot of work to do and he kept Jones at bay with a neat fend which gave him the space to go over.
  3. Rhys Ruddock - My personal favourite try of the night, coming over 25 minutes after the previous one.  We were attacking outside their 22 when a high tackle on Luke McGrath gave us a penalty advantage.  Ross Byrne seldom needs an invite to do a crossfield kick, and this one was brilliantly taken by Fergus McFadden….a few phases later Ruddock was unstoppable.
  4. Joey Carbery (1) - Luke McGrath earned man of the match for being involved in all four tries that earned the bonus point.  This time he started with an excellent clearing box kick of which Conor Murray would be proud.  Then, after immense pressure from both our starting centres Reid and Kirchner, the Scarlets spilled it for our scrum half to recover before shipping it to Reid and then Carbery in support for the finish.  Even at this stage I’m mindful of a fightback by the visitors!!!
  5. Joey Carbery (2) - A tiny hint of broken play brings out the crossfield kick in Ross Byrne again, then Adam Byrne recovers and gets close to the line before offloading to Carbery for another one.  Now I'm thinking we can relax, this match is won.
  6. Ed Byrne - “The Byrnes Unite!!!!” was on the shortlist for writeup titles, but for the second week in a row I went for one put forward by @RugbyKino.  Both back from long term injuries, the Byrne twins Ed and Bryan came on at the same time, winning a pen at their first scrum.  Not long after we had Ross Byrne do yet another crossfield kick to Adam Byrne who, same as before, collected, took the contact, and offloaded, only this time to Ed to provide the finish.
  7. Jamison Gibson-Park - See this photo - seconds left on the clock and the Scarlets have a penalty.  How on earth did we manage a try after that?  Well to their credit they never stopped playing, but it really wasn’t to be their night.  They knock it on, we recover, Dan Leavy surges into their 22 like it’s the first minute not the last, and finally it’s JGP with the finish, providing the powdered sugar on the crushed walnuts on the cherry on the icing on the cake.
  8. Scarlets Nil - Not technically a try but keeping the visitors out was every bit as good as one in my book so it goes on the list.  Bar one butchered overlap in the first half (I have a bit of sympathy for Williams as the ball did dip at the last moment) they didn’t get a sniff.

This was an amazing display by a Leinster squad deprived of so many players.  In an ideal world, I’d love to pay tribute to them by selecting the exact same 23 for the visit of Cardiff to the RDS in a few weeks’ time, but by then we’ll have Wasps firmly in our sights.

Now Luke may have deserved man of the match, but there are several other names that stood out.  Carbery showed himself to be a very capable full back yet again, while our back row was more than up to the significant challenge put before them by the Scarlets.

Very honourable mention, however, should go to our centres Reid and Kirchner.  Both were influential in the bonus point try, only it was their defence which forced the error that led to it, and throughout the night there was no way through for the visitors.  Many raised an eyebrow at the South African’s placement in that role and he certainly did enough to send them back down again.

But much of credit should really go to the coaching.  And for once, I’m not going to focus solely on Stuart Lancaster.  It is clear he has been a powerful influence in the squad, but let’s not diminish the roles of those around him.  Remember...a lot of the youngsters showing immense ability at the highest level worked with Girvan Dempsey in the Academy.  And then we must appreciate the Leinster set pieces...10/10 scrums and 9/9 lineouts means a great night at the office for John Fogarty.

And how about Leo?  What struck me most about the display on Saturday was that we really looked like a group that was enjoying our rugby, and that’s a state of affairs that results from a culture throughout the squad that has to be fostered by the man at the top.  So basically I’m offering kudos to everyone involved at the province - after some lean years it really does look like there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Of course I can’t let the writeup go with mentioning the latest #NigelMoment, but first a reminder of what he actually does as a ref.  I believe he provides an excellent template for rugby officials not because I agree with every decision he makes, but because he provides a clear, concise explanation of his interpretation in real time after virtually every controversial incident.   

When the ball boy threw the ball against his back, only he could have come up with a reaction like that.  Can you imagine what the young lad’s face looked like as the ref turned around!  I would like to make one point about the incident...for me it doesn’t illustrate anything superior about the game of rugby as many suggest.  All sports have their good and their bad apples, and we definitely have our bad.  This was a simply memorable lighthearted incident which was well received by all at the end of a match that was fizzling into nothingness.

But one thing that certainly isn’t fizzling into nothingness is Leinster’s 2016/17 campaign which is in fine shape.  It's almost a shame we have to take a couple of weeks off when we’re playing like this, but the lads have earned their break, and besides, the boys in green deserve our full attention in the meantime.  What a great time to be able to harp on rugby! JLP

Thanks to Diamruid Tempany for the scoreboard photo
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