Monday, May 01, 2017

Leinster-31 Glasgow-30

In my preview I tried to find ways to make this match appear relevant despite the fact that neither team had a whole lot to play for.  Somehow, I managed to find as many as five.  But I’m kicking myself that I left one out - we should always expect the unexpected.

These days, especially with social media folks and bloggers like myself policing the fringes of what goes on in sport, when something outside the ordinary happens, it gets analysed to death.  So you can be sure a floodlight failure is going to be the subject of tweets aplenty.

A small percentage of these are “serious”...some put forward conspiracy theories, others make pathetic attempts to use it for their own agendas like World Cup bids.  But mostly, the incident is used as a source of humour, with every conceivable electricity joke and pun being trotted out; it’s true we had a good bit of fun with it, and naturally I couldn’t avoid making reference to it in my title.

But here’s the thing...I’m only harping on the outage at the start of this writeup to get it out of the way.  Yes it was unusual, yes it was inconvenient, yes there will need to be inquiries made, but was it even close to being the most interesting this about this match?  Hell, no.

This was a cracker of a contest that did the league proud IMO.  The lead changed hands a few times, one team seemed to have it in the bag before being pegged back only to inch back in front again, and in the midst of it, there was a feast of attacking rugby on display with technical discipline very much to the fore for both sides.

More often than not, the team which had the ball was able to put together series of phases in the double digits while also advancing down the field; yet when even the slightest hint of a mistake was made, it was punished.  Just over two years ago these same two teams drew 34-all; that possibly would have been a “fairer” result for this one too.

And the Ballsbridge Blackout coming as it did in the final couple of minutes probably made most people forget just how exciting the opening sequences were, literally from the kickoff.  Glasgow had the honours and immediately showed their intentions to have as much possession as they could get.  

Having won the ball back they then embarked on a series of 17 phases of precision carrying, offloading and clearing out which has been a trademark of the Gregor Townsend era, one which was of course highlighted by a first Celtic League title for a Scottish club.  This got them deep into our 22 when a high tackle by Leinster’s skipper for the night Ross Molony gave them a penalty, and being the away side they were probably right to take the easy three points on offer.

But we were yet to see Leinster with the ball, and before you could say “anything you can do we can do better” we were on the attack shortly after our own restart.  Some probing runs here and there got us into the Glasgow half before a superb arcing pass from Noel Reid (on for a Tom Daly HIA) helped Adam Byrne into the 22.  

A few phases later it was Zane Kirchner storming through a couple of forwards before he used to Dominic Ryan in support to bring the finish.  A conversion from Ross Byrne meant that with just five minutes on the clock the Friday night RDS crowd had already been treated to ten points.

I was delighted for Dom “Dippy” Ryan to get his name on the scoresheet because he has had an awful run of injuries of late.  Guess what...with barely a minute gone after his try, his evening is over thanks to what looked like an arm injury.  The poor guy doesn’t seem able to buy himself any luck, and it doesn’t help he’s at a club with an awesome array of back row talent either.

Glasgow came right back at us but this time we managed to hold them out, and on our next attack Ross Byrne attempted one of his by now trademark crossfield kicks, with two of his favourite targets Adam Byrne and Rory O’Loughlin on the end of it.  The former went up for the catch along with two Warriors but it got by all of them to fall into the grateful arms of O’Loughlin who cantered home.

The TMO had several looks at the aerial contest and hand on heart I thought Adam had knocked it on but I suppose it’s just as well the decision wasn’t up to me!  Ross wasn’t able to convert but still the lead was nine.

Speaking of Ross, our tight head prop who has that surname was probably making his final start at the RDS...he got a great reception when his name was called out, he led the side out onto the pitch, ripped the ball free in the tackle in the first half shortly followed by a strong carry which got a great cheer from the home crowd, and the scrum was solid pretty much throughout his shift. Wouldn't expect anything less from the Leinster legend.

After the second try there followed a scoreless period as the defences began to come to grips with the onslaughts they were facing - the teams traded penalties before a strong jackle from Josh van der Flier won us a penalty - this was kickable but we opted to go for the attacking lineout, something that had failed us badly in Lyon just five days earlier.

If only they had gone like this one! Textbook dart, catch & maul...we then roll our way to the line where eventually it's Peter Dooley, one of our several "third string" options who could easy start for at least half the teams in the league, got the ball down.

Ross Byrne then missed another conversion but made up for it with a penalty just before the halftime whistle. Three tries to nil and a seventeen-point'd be forgiven for thinking that yet another Leinster rout was on the cards.

But full credit to Glasgow - they weren't for throwing in the towel. A few tweaks were made during the break and they came right back at us; after winning a couple of penalties, they kicked for touch each time before finally being rewarded as Adam Ashe (who surely has to be sponsored by Lee Cooper at some point to complete a perfect rugby pun) dotted down - "just" the 12 phases in this series. Horne's conversion meant the lead was down to ten.

Overall the penalty count on the night both high and pretty even, the visitors shading it 13-12. So in some ways they were unlucky to be the only ones to see a yellow card - it was just that after their try, they committed three "high-viz" no-nos; first Kirchner was tackled in the air, then a lineout jumper was interfered with which them got a warning, and finally Sarto did a no-arms tackle which got him sent to the bin.

We proceeded to do what we could to force home our man advantage with a series of scrums under the Glasgow posts...a penalty try was very possible but after the second ping Dan Leavy took the option to tap and go...he's definitely the right kind of player to back himself from 5 metres out but hindsight will judge him harshly as the Warriors were able to not only clear, but ultimately march down the other end and win a pen of their own (off Leavy as it happened) to claw back three more points.

Now they were within seven and their tails were up. We needed a bit of luck, and got it off the restart when Ashe knocked on what should have been a simple catch. Scrum to Leinster in the 22, and we made it count.

Tom Daly returned to the field after his early HIA but by this stage, ie the 59th minute, Noel Reid had been brought on as a "proper" sub and once more he was able to fire a long accurate pass to Adam Byrne on the wing - he just got to the line before offloading to Zane Kirchner who spun and dotted down.

Sidenote - I have no quibble with Nick McCarthy's man of the match was a quality start from him and in recent times he has really presented himself as a decent option to McGrath and Gibson-Park at 9. That said, I reckon he was pushed very close for the gong by Kirchner, who might have picked up a few extra votes because it was also potentially his last home start. Just saying.

Anyway...after Zane's try, Byrne pushed another conversion wide which left our lead at 12, and when the Glasgow restart didn't make the required 10 metres, it seemed like that was that. But again we have to credit Townsend's men for refusing to give up and this time it was a wholesale change at halfback that helped.

It took them a lot of huffing and puffing to get over the line in the first half, but once Ali Price and Finn Russell were pulling the strings, they suddenly made try-scoring look easy. Two strong runs from Price into our 22 led to scores from Jones and Russell, the latter of whom converted them both and suddenly with less than ten minutes left, the visitors were two points in front.

Now it was our turn to make changes at first receiver. Joey Carbery was brought on for Ross Byrne to see out the match, and he too had an instant impact, putting O'Loughlin into space who had our other halfback sub Jamison Gibson-Park in support and even when initially tackled it looked like he could have gotten to the line.

But despite the fact that several high tackles had been called for both sides earlier on the night (with a later "tip-tackle" from O'Loughlin also flagged) , Seymour's follow-up challenge on JGP, which was also up around the neck area and clearly "in the ballpark" under the new guidelines, wasn't even seen by the TMO. Maybe it's my blue goggles, but for me that was definitely a penalty, with yellow and penalty try also up for discussion.

What happened next made me wonder if the officials knew they bottled it...after Glasgow cleared their lines, we were awarded a penalty immediately from the resulting lineout, almost as though it didn't matter what the visiting forwards did, something would have been called. It gave Carbery a chance to nick back a cheeky lead for us, but it was by no means an easy kick.

The mark was on the 15m line, but it was on the more difficult side of the park for a right footer; plus there were the ramifications for the match - sometimes I forget that this guy is still a "rookie"! But slot it over he did and we were back in front.

So as you can see it was very much still a contest as the power went down with 78:25 on the clock. Luckily we were able to resume with a Glasgow put-in just inside their own 22. A long way to go for any team.

Much like they did in the opening moments (and this time helped by the fact we had to be extra careful not to give away penalties ourselves) they were able to work their way up the field until, when they were just on the outskirts of "drop goal range", Richardt Strauss did one of his brilliant bouts of breakdown burrowing to wrest the ball free for Jack McGrath to take away.

Now all you have to do, Jack, is kick the ball to touch so we can all go home.

Let's just say that having been a loose head myself I'm going to leave all the slagging over McGrath's effort to his team-mates at the Leinster DVD review!!! I can only assume he'll claim (possibly on advice from Cian Healy) that it was always his intention to get the ball to Adam Byrne so he could bring it out of play and end the match with a bit of further drama. ;-)

So albeit with a stutter or two along the way, it was yet another win for Leinster - 18th of the Pro12 campaign and first place now ours to lose. It was also the final event on the 2016/17 season ticket. 14 matches, 14 wins, over four tries per match from the boys in blue. If that's not value for money then nothing is. JLP


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