Monday, May 22, 2017

Leinster-15 Scarlets-27



"...it's like someone literally wrote down my worst nightmare and then charged me $32 to see it!"

Please don’t judge me too harshly for making reference to the US sitcom Friends...sure, it was cheesy at times but so many people I know have also seen it that I firmly believe there are few stories you can tell these days about events in your life which you can’t help describe with a quote or scenario from the show.

In this case, Chandler is watching his actress girlfriend in a play where she has a romantic love interest onstage.  That’s pretty much what it was like for me on Friday night at the RDS, and I doubt I was alone.

Let me be clear from the outset...the Scarlets were deserved winners, and of that there can be no doubt - you can see it in dozens of comments posted after the match, even from Leinster fans.  During the course of this writeup I’m going to mention a bit of suspect refereeing and even a hint of bad luck for Leinster, but make no mistake the prevailing reason for the final score was that the Scarlets were match-ready and we were not.

So as much as I’d rather forget about this one, we’re committed to harping on every Leinster and Ireland match so what I’ll do try to is break it down into the key categories I felt led to the result, ranked in order of significance.

LEINSTER ERRORS

Sorry Scarlets fans, but this is top of the pile because if you take these out of Leinster’s performance, the score would have been a whole lot closer.

The no-nos started in just the third minute when on Leinster’s first attack we worked a good overlap and all Johnny Sexton had to do was find his skipper Nacewa on the touchline with a long looping pass and he was in.  Sadly the ball’s path had the 22 beneath it for easy reference to show that it was clearly forward.

It wasn’t long before we were back at them but this time Sexton’s kick over the top, something he is well used to doing especially against Welsh defences, was badly misplaced so another chance was gone.   That’s when the never-ending knockons started.  

Sexton was first, followed by van der Flier, Henshaw, Triggs, all before the clock had even reached 15m.  Tack on lost lineouts, poor resourcing of rucks, and kicks from the hand out on the full and you have a litany of errors that won’t get you anywhere at this level.

But if I had to pick one mistake that summed up the night most for Leinster, it had to be Isa’s conversion attempt on 64 minutes which was virtually in front yet came back at him off the post.  Having finally gotten some points on the board in a second half where we had an extra man for the duration, the two points seemed a formality but he took it as though his mind was on the next play.  I wonder if the same can be said for our showing overall with regard to the following weekend’s final in the Aviva.

SCARLETS PERFORMING WHEN IT MATTERED

First, in a nod back to the last heading, you can’t talk about one team’s errors without acknowledging that the opposition must have forced at least some of them, and that was definitely the case, especially for a portion of the knock ons.

But a key match stat was that Leinster had two-thirds superiority in both possession and territory (and it was the same for both halves so the extra man wasn’t really a factor in that).  What made the difference for the Welsh region was their ability to turn even the tiniest fraction of a chance into a try.

At the heart of this success rate was their quality centre pairing of Scott Williams and Jonathan Davies.  In my preview I said we were going to rely heavily on our own 12/13 combo of Henshaw and Ringrose.  They were certainly far from the top of our “blame packing order” on the night it’s true, but when compared to their respective opposite numbers, it was clear to see which pairing was further along in their careers.

For the first try Davies uncluttered the wide channel by evading the challenges of both Adam Byrne and Luke McGrath before slipping it to skipper John Barclay who fixed Joey Carbery before putting in Steff Evans for the finish.

I have decided that our own two tries from the night don’t really merit full descriptions, but here’s something Leinster fans may not remember - we actually had the lead at one point after Ringrose went over on 23m. Luke McGrath had just gone off injured and in the Sky commentary box Stu Barnes was heaping praise on Jamison Gibson-Park for his role in the build-up…

“He’s a really good player that Gibson-Park; there’s more to come from him”

It proved to be the ultimate commentator’s curse...just as he said it, JGP’s box kick off the restart was blocked down (it’s an area where he has struggled all season) and just like that the Scarlets had a half-chance to work with yet again.  This time Aaron Shingler picked a great line that used referee Mitrea to get past James Tracy and he had Gareth Davies in support who threw a superb long pass back to him before he handed off JGP to go under the posts.

Now was that pass from Davies forward every bit as much as the one from Sexton to Nacewa had been earlier?  Well, the officials didn’t have the 22 line as reference this time, but not only did I think it was at least worth a check “upstairs”, so did Rhys Patchell who hastily drop-kicked the conversion to end the matter.

From there the signs were clear it was not to be our night.  Yet another error from Sexton saw his restart not go 10m, and from the scrum it was Scott Williams making the space by wrong-footing Rhys Ruddock and thanks to more strong line-running by Steff Evans and great support from Gareth Davies, the Scarlets were under the posts yet again.

Now - were our opposition perfect on the night?  Absolutely not - for example, their call for a long lineout that eventually led to Conan’s try was bizarre to say the least.  

But as the title of this heading suggests, when it really mattered, they were able to get the job done, and that is why they are in the final where of course I'll be up for the Irish province but I still wish the Scarlets all the best after this historic first away Pro12 semifinal victory.

OFFICIALS & INJURIES

Remember...I’m not making excuses, but you can’t writeup this match without pointing out a few incidents which played their part.

First, we lost both our starting props, though you could argue Furlong’s departure was around the time he would have gone off anyway.  All the talk was about their respective Lions hopes and while I do hope they can both travel, on the night I could have cared less about the tour.  We had also lost Luke McGrath after being hauled down following a dash for the line and as you see from the list below there were other issues too.

This was all on top of Sean O’Brien having to withdraw earlier in the day which (strangely I thought) led to us abandoning our plans for a “6/2 split” on our bench.

Now it’s true that the Leinster replacements, namely the likes of Cian Healy and Gibson-Park, were of a good enough standard that it shouldn’t have made a difference, but the fact remains that the Scarlets didn’t need to go to their bench until the 51st minute, so despite being a man down they had eight fresh pairs of legs to being on in that time, which certainly didn’t hurt.

Speaking of the extra man, let’s have a look at the ref shall we.

In fairness to both Mitrea and the Scarlets, he only became a factor when they had already built their 11-point lead.  It all kicked off when Gareth Davies had his “handbags” with Johnny Sexton.

The way I saw it, Sexton was shaping to take a 22 drop out from near the touchline.  If that’s the case, then whatever about the ensuing kerfuffle, I really think wresting the ball from him warrants more than a penalty.  Anyway, it didn’t according to the ref...and shortly afterwards there was an even bigger decision to make.

It won’t surprise you to know I agree with the red card for Steff Evans.  But that’s only because I believe in the need to follow clear guidelines and his tackle on Ringrose brought him “beyond the horizontal” and first contact with the ground was with his head.  No, this does not make Evans a dirty player, but the purpose of the sanction is to make them think twice before committing to this type of tackle.  No doubt he was pumped after what had been an excellent half for him and his team, but under the Laws he still had to go and you'll just have to believe that I’d have said the same if it were a Leinster player.

Now I know how this is going to sound, but I’m still going to say it.  From that sending off it really did look as though the visitors were getting the benefit of borderline decisions.  As good and all as their forwards were at the breakdown, especially worthy man of the match James Davies, the time allowed for clearing out seemed to be much less in the second half.  Then there was a knockon by Barclay for which advantage seemed to instantly evaporate as we tried to play on.

The final head-scratcher came when Leinster, six behind with over 10m left, had a clear shove on a scrum outside our own 22.  We have seen that given as a penalty several times, even earlier in this very match, only here Mitrea chose for a reset, and no sooner had that packed down when he blew against Cian Healy.  This gave Liam Williams the chance to take full advantage of Isa’s miss and from there, the match was as good as over, assuming it wasn’t already.

SO WHERE TO LAY THE BLAME?

It really was an extremely disappointing performance and result to take, particularly after so many impressive results throughout the season.  And while there were many individual errors on the night, it’s hard not to look at the coaching for a reason because while our ever-changing matchday 23s were able to perform well together throughout the season, that certainly cannot be said about Friday night.

Having said that, it’s a shame to see a few Leinster fans using this display to justify their original doubts over the appointment of Leo Cullen as head coach.   Despite the lack of silverware or even finals, there is an abundance of positives to take from our 2016/17 campaign, not least of which has been the introduction of virtually an entire team’s worth of new names to our lineup, with many more on the verge of breaking through besides.

And overall it has to be said that we are still on an upward curve under Leo.  No Europe QF and Pro12 final from 2015/16 was easily trumped by semifinals in both competitions this time around, though if the knockon effect is to continue, that doesn’t leave a whole lot of wiggle room for 2017/18.  But we can worry more about that when the time comes!

For now I’d like to thank you all for following my ramblings throughout this Leinster season.  I’m far from finished harping for now - an Irish Tour, a Lions Tour and last but certainly not least, a Women’s World Cup will keep me busy.  Let’s just say that at no point will I be able to say I was “on a break” ;-)  JLP

SQUAD UPDATE FROM LEINSTER RUGBY

Leinster Rugby Head Coach Leo Cullen has this afternoon issued an injury update following Friday's Guinness PRO12 Semi-Final defeat to the Scarlets. - Garry Ringrose: took a knock to his knee late in the game but is not of concern at this stage. Will be assessed further by the Ireland medical team next week. - Luke McGrath: was removed for a Head Injury Assessment in the first half and did not return to play. Has entered the return to play protocols this week. Will be assessed further by the Ireland medical team next week. - Rhys Ruddock: was removed for a Head Injury Assessment in the second half and did not return to play. Has entered the return to play protocols this week. Will be assessed further by the Ireland medical team next week. At a media event later this afternoon, British & Irish Lions Head Coach Warren Gatland will issue an injury update on the five Leinster players selected to tour with the Lions this summer.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note : unfortunately comments must be screened and may not appear immediately under posts.

Blog Archive