Monday, November 06, 2017

Glasgow Warriors-31 Leinster-21



We really shouldn't feel bad about disagreeing with someone, but with things so polarised these days we often find ourselves saying nothing rather than causing a fuss.

Sometimes, our silence can be for practical reasons, like when the guy cutting my hair on Saturday started saying things like 'Actually when ya think about it that Trump fella isn't so bad after all...' - as a rule I try not to argue with someone holding a sharp object close to my head.

But for the most part, I find the fact that we all see the same thing in different ways fascinating, and it's what I enjoy most about running this site.  Maybe the bulk of the work is in writeups like this where I give my own take on what happened in a particular match, but for me the real colour comes from the numerous comments put out by various egg-chasing experts on social media. 

This particular contest represents a perfect example of how much opinions can differ, and to give this article a theme I'm going to look at four different marks out of ten which could be given to Leinster as I write.

0/10

It was one of those grumpy Friday evenings, wasn't it.  When you're physically at a match it's not so bad, but I find watching on TV at home brings our anger a lot closer to the surface than at other times, which is understandable at the end of a long week and possibly with some alcohol thrown into the mix as well.

You can see it as you follow Twitter in particular; more often than not the observations went to the furthest extremes.  For this 'marks out of ten' category I'd like to explore two in particular.

'Leinster can't tackle'

In my preview I predicted a home win...I say that not to gloat [oh ok maybe a teeny bit] rather to point out my decision was based mostly on the starting centre pairings.  For us there was Conor O'Brien making his senior debut while outside him was Rory O'Loughlin.  Both have abilities going forward and the latter has often shown this at senior level but Leinster rely heavily on the 12/13 channel for defence and they were up against a much more settled combo in Sam Johnson and Nick Grigg.

The Australian made a break up the middle to put his side on the front foot where the Warriors are usually at their best - they are like a coiled spring waiting for the opportunity to let loose a mesmerizing series of shimmies and intricate offloads.  And few players encapsulate that spring metaphor more than Niko Matawalu.

When he approached a breakdown after the Johnson run, he was quick to spot that we neglected to put a 'pillar' in place, ie a tackler guarding the space immediately beside the ruck [though in fairness the reaction was so fast there was barely time for it to be called a ruck].  He then bolted through the space and just like that there was an offload to Turner who had scrumhalf George Horne in support to finish.

But when it comes to brilliant opportunism from Niko, that was merely the appetizer, and to appreciate the main course, you first need your palate cleansed by an explanation of the overall situation immediately before the stunning try.

The first half ended with Glasgow firmly in control but in the early stages it was very much tit for tat in the scoring stakes.  Leinster had two tries in and were pushing for a third when, after a breakdown on the left touchline, we put a ball deep into their 22 which was recovered yet it still pinned the home side back on their line.

Most teams that are 21-14 up against opposition that put them to the sword two weeks earlier would have been happy finding touch from this situation.  It's very possible that Leinster players collectively assumed this too, because if you drew a line down the centre of the pitch from one goal post to the other, we had 13 players on the left side of it and just Dave Kearney on the other at that moment.
  
But the Warriors are absolutely not like most sides and when Niko receives the ball he identifies this imbalance in an instant and turns on the jets.  We can moan about missed Leinster tackles all we like in this sequence if we really want, but I'd rather appreciate what the Fijian actually achieved.  

He knew exactly when to sprint, exactly when to step, and ultimately, exactly when to offload to Grigg for the finish.  Had the chasers done anything differently, I'd argue he'd have compensated and the try still would have been scored.  For me, the moment was lost  for us when we were slow to realise they were going to run at us, not because we couldn't tackle.

'The bloody ref!!!'

And when the angry Friday night Twitterati weren't bemoaning our tacklers, the attention was often on the officials, no surprise there.  But in this I reckon they might have a bit of a point, though I'm not for a minute suggesting the result would have been any different.

When the halftime whistle blew I firmly believed we could salvage something from the match, and with 77% possession and a whopping 87% territory advantage in the second half, we probably should have.  Much of our failure to get that fourth try and the two bonus points that came with it was down to us, that's for sure - but the officials didn't help either.

First, we had repeated penalties conceded by the Glasgow D on their own try line.  Yes, I know they received two yellow cards, but also when Adam Byrne got our third try there was a penalty advantage coming and I'd love to know if referee Stuart Berry considered reducing Glasgow to 13 men, as it was not the first pen they had shipped in that situation.

Then we had the TMO call right at the end as Richardt Strauss was pinged for an illegal clearout.  I have said many times that especially now with five unions involved in this league, there should always, always, always be neutral officials.  That doesn't mean I think TMO Jim Yuille was necessarily being biased in pushing the ref to call a penalty, but when we hear a Scottish accent doing so, it's bound to get our heckles up.

And on the subject of diving off your feet to clear out rucks, this is often an integral part of Glasgow's attacking game plan.  As with most 'dark arts' if you can get away with it that's fine - I wouldn't be complaining if the calls were consistent.  

Look...who's to say we'd have gotten that extra try even if Glasgow were down to 13 or even if Strauss hadn't been pinged; we'll never know.  But given circumstances like those I have outlined, while I understand while many would have given Leinster zero out of ten, I don't think that would be fair.

4/10

This comes closer to a mark I'd give Leinster on the night, because to offer anything lower means you're ignoring the three tries we did get, which taken on their own were quite impressive.

It seems like an age ago but we actually opened the scoring, and in doing so we played our own brand of direct rugby.  Rory O'Loughlin danced his way deep into the 22 before eventually it was Jamison Gibson-Park taking the ball himself at the base and going over.  

Having criticised the Kiwi much this season, I have to say he did well in patches here, though obviously not enough to get us ahead, and in that final flurry when he repeatedly sniped around the breakdown getting us over fifty metres down the pitch, it was clear he spotted he was about to be substituted.  I wonder if our coaches are willing to rescind an order to the touchline to make a change in a case like that because JGP's efforts seemed to be worth a reward.

Anyway back to the tries...our second came from us capitalising on a kick out on the full by outhalf Peter Horne [who had his brother at 9 btw] by mauling towards the 22, Jordi Murphy crashing into it and Max Deegan taking the ball to the line before O'Loughlin dots down.

Speaking of Jordi - if you want to point to an attempted tackle that cost us this match it could well be the one he made [before the scrumhalf had tapped and gone ten metres] that got him his yellow card.  Uncharacteristic for him and we lost two tries in his ten-minute spell on the naughty step.

Our best try was the third - Adam Byrne's dot down avoiding touch in the corner was only bettered by the conversion by Ross Byrne from the hardest spot on the pitch for a right footer.  And one final point on our tries...for all the praise Matawalu deserves for his involvement in Glasgow's scores, he also 'features' in all three of ours as his attempts to tackle fell short each time.

But impressive and all as those scores were, we couldn't get the fourth and sadly our lineout woes came back to haunt us.  To be fair to Sean Cronin, we had an unusual amount of darts overall [21] but while we only failed with three, they were at the worst possible moments, especially one right before the break when we were close to their line yet got our wires so crossed there was nobody jumping as he let go of the ball.

Also Conor O'Brien won't want me to mention his kick pass into touch late in the contest, but sadly I must.  It was as ill advised as it was poorly executed but I bring it up only to highlight yet again how the number 12 rather than 13 has been unlucky for us so far this season.  The young lad will have plenty more chances to shine with Leinster.

Four out of ten also represents the amount of points we got from two tough away matches in succession in Belfast and Glasgow.  It's certainly not to be sneezed at all things considered, but with one extra very 'gettable' try in each case it could have been seven and I hope we don't regret any of those three lost points come May.

8/10

In the cold light of day on Saturday morning [and it really is starting to get cold now] I hope most Leinster fans were, like myself, looking at the broader picture of our 2017/18 season to date.  Considering all the players we have been missing, especially in the key centre positions where we struggled to put the same pair out two weeks in a row, eight wins out of ten is a reasonable return.

Unfortunately when it comes to Conference B of the Pro14, however, it's only good enough for 3rd place, which isn't a good look for sure.  Watching this particular performance I'd be more concerned about whether or not we have the versatility in our game to match [or at least counter] the open type of rugby that brought success for Glasgow, Connacht and Scarlets in recent seasons, particularly if our squad goes into the playoffs on the back of tough European and Six Nations campaigns.

But hey, we can worry about that further down the line - and while I couldn't give Leinster marks this high for Friday, I definitely could offer something like that for the season so far.

10/10

One for the eternal optimists and hubris-merchants...an argument could be made that with respect to the three stars on our jersey, Leinster should only be concerning themselves with Europe, and thus two away league defeats should be ignored with judgement on this opening 'block' of matches made purely on results in the Champions Cup where, it has to be said, few would have expected us to get ten points out of ten.

Personally I can't bring myself to discard the defeats in Bloemfontein and Glasgow so easily, but one thing is for sure...while many headlines claimed Friday's win was 'revenge' for the Warriors, I bet they'd be more than happy to swap the results around if they could.  And from a Pro14 standpoint, once again it's a shame that what should be a high-profile matchup has to be tainted by so many players being rested, and to be fair it was on both sides.

The reason for all the cotton wool is of course the imminent Autumn internationals.  In the next couple of days we'll be changing the decor from blue to green here at Harpin Manor - here's hoping that after all the inevitable online discussion, most of us are giving Joe Schmidt's men top marks by the end of the month.  JLP



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