Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Keego [aka The Couch Pundit] on...the Irish in Europe

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Another weekend of European rugby and another massively positive round of games for the Irish provinces. Some good fighting spirit shown by Munster away to Racing, Ulster shocked the world against La Rochelle, Connacht drew fairly easily with Worcester and Leinster continued to play like they know something we don’t.
Starting in Paris, Munster arrived in Paris with a 2-2 record over their last 4 matches. A team that was, well, I don’t know. You can’t put your finger on the issue. Good players, good coach, maybe it is a timing thing. Maybe it will take time for this team to find their feet, but most had them losing convincingly to Racing. Most outside of the sky sports / newstalk Munster brigade that it. It began as expected, the visitors under pressure on a brand new 4G pitch. This is a strange one, some clubs have these new pitches and some don’t, that’s not very fair. Thomond Park is about as far away from a 4G pitch as you can get, because it is real. Coming from training on grass to the synthetic will cause problems for a lot of teams. A few misreads but strong fighting spirit from the off for Munster. They were a different team within minutes than they were previously.  They matched the home side for tries and conversions which is a massive result. Not many will go to the U Arena and score 3 tries. But it was the discipline that cost them. Mouthing off to the ref from the captain cost 3 points, and with 12 penalties conceded (most early) you will always struggle.
Also remembering that they hit the post twice, which is an unreal stat. So if they get those 2 kicks they win the game. That is how close Munster were. This is the fighting spirit that we love to see, it shouldn’t take a couple of losses to get there.
Then we move to the RDS, not full for some reason. Where Leinster welcomed an understrength Glasgow Warriors. Earlier in the season in the league, Glasgow put one over on Leinster. This was a scalp that Cullen/Lancaster’s men would want. And that fast blue start delivered, 8 minutes in Jordi Murphy scored. He has been playing well now that he is getting a few starts and is a pity he is heading up north. Glasgow scored in the 17th minute and didn’t have a sniff of the try line until the 62nd. That is the job Leinster did on them.  It was clinical like a surgeon. Overall Leinster scored 8 tries, the visitors had 3. Leinster had nearly 3 times the breaks (14-5), over twice the offloads with both teams conceding 14 turnovers, which is a bit high for the home side. Both teams conceded 8 penalties in the game which shows how discipline is key at the top level. Munster doesn’t have this at the moment. Leinster nearly covered twice the amount of ground to Glasgow during the game which shows the work rate of the team. Massive effort put in again from all.
There are a few things to work on, which is a healthy way to come out of a win. James Lowe is a savage! A monster on the wing, but he was running like a kid chasing the ice cream truck into traffic for the last try. Missing everyone to allow Glasgow in. The score didn’t matter at that stage but it is something for him to bring into this week's training.
Scott Fardy is becoming the enforcer type in the second row. Settling in like he has been in the jersey forever. I shared a friend's screenshot of him celebrating on the ground for Sextons try, this is worth a few points. The team is firing, a home quarter final is in the bank and no team would relish coming to Dublin to play the blue machine.
We finish in Ulster where La Rochelle brought the big guns to take on a yo yo Ulster team that has played well in patches but desperately badly in others. Again, much like the game in Paris most thought it would be a formality for the visitors but the fight the Ulster men showed was fantastic to see. Rory Best playing like he hadn’t been fed in a week and the team followed suit. It was an important win for the team and their support. Ulster outscored their opponents all around the pitch. They looked up for the fight when La Rochelle tried to push their bulk around in a cheeky way. But most importantly, the front row frailty that appeared to be an issue as recently as last month has been rectified. They played Leinster and stood up to the world class Leinster scrum and did the same against the beef of La Rochelle. (The beef of La Rochelle is also the name of a film I accidentally starred in). The penalty count was a bit high at 12 to La Rochelle 7 but it was an immense performance from the Ulstermen.
The thing to watch is that if they can repeat that or is it only in the locker when the media backlash is in full affect.
Massively positive weekend again, Leinster go to Montpellier on Saturday with a clean sweep in their sites. Munster play a Castres team with no interest (a big score expected), Ulster go to Wasps and Connacht welcome Oyonnax to the Sportsground. Another 4 from 4 for the Irish provinces as we make our way to the 6 Nations?
Am I dreaming?
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Keego (@nkeegan): Blogger, professional wrestler, sometime attempted rugby player (@TheThirsty3rds), professional procrastinator and attempted musician with a fondness for long walks on the bar, tea and the couch. Opinionated Leinster fan and constant gardener.

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