Monday, March 12, 2018

Scarlets-10 Leinster-10

So, fellow Leinster fans, how did YOU react when Nigel Owens' arm went out for that last-gasp penalty?  I'm not talking about what you thought of the decision...I mean what did you physically do?

My go-to gesture of sporting anger is banging my fist on the nearest table, but this time  because I was sitting on the opposite end of sofa than I normally do, somehow I instinctively knew that the cushion, nearest to my hand, wouldn't make enough noise so instead I went sideways several times against the arm.  
For me this seems to be shaping up to be one of those grumpy Friday night matches where fans of both sides have contentious decisions to moan about and all going well we should finish on top, if only by 3 to 5 points.
Dan Jones' coolly taken penalty, his second in as many matches against us that earned some handy extra match points for the Scarlets, may have torpedoed the prediction in my preview but I definitely got the grumpy part right.

Absolutely everything about this match was less than ideal - the timing, the squads to choose from, the conditions, and most of all, the decision-making and that's not just a pop at the officials - the players weren't great at it either.

But given my Friday frustration turned into Saturday celebration thanks to events at the Aviva and Stade de France respectively, I can now see Leinster's glass as more than half full - we were a long way behind the Scarlets earlier on in the season and now, with just four matches remaining all against sides out of playoff contention, we have a three-point cushion [four if you count our big advantage in points difference] so as I write this on Sunday evening, the furniture around me is relatively safe.

As my time is limited this weekend what with a test match writeup on my plate as well, what I have done is take my notes from the rewatch and scatter them down the page as harping points.

Lots of brotherly love this weekend - Dave Kearney imposed himself on this match with just 22 seconds on the clock and went on to have a great night at full back, with Rob winning man of the match the following day.  

Meanwhile as his brother Harry was kicking 10 of the Wolfpuppies' 30 points to beat Scotland in Donnybrook, Ross was trying to impose a territory game on the Scarlets.  It took a while for it to get any reward, but not only did he comfortably slot the tricky-enough penalty that nudged us in front with ten minutes left, he played a large part in the multiple phases that led to both that and our only try of the night.

As for Ed and Bryan Byrne, well they were literally brothers in arms at scrum time and while the hooker was unlucky to drop the ball for an early opportunity, his prop sibling made up for it with the try after we came out strongly in the second half.

Magic Mike with the mic - I have to say I was impressed with Mike McCarthy's analysis I reckon he has a future at it.

Neutral refs - I got a bit of resistance to my views on neutral refs in the league on our Facebook page, and that's great as I love the debate.  However I still believe that in a five-nation competition there should never be refs from any union involved on the night.  

That doesn't mean I feel Nigel Owens was biased [though many who were even grumpier than I was at full time made an online case for it], I just don't think he should be in that position.  Also his cousin was playing for the home side!  That's one thing when you're a dad holding a flag at your son's under-13 match on a Sunday morning but another entirely at the top professional level.  One reason I'll give the league a pass for now is that the expansion was rushed for this season - hopefully more can be done in this area for 2018/19.

SOB Story - Absolutely gutted for him, as will be all who watched, not just Leinster and Ireland fans.  On second watch it seems he actually took his first bad blow at the 13m mark as he tried to tackle Nicholas but he played on after getting a bit of treatment before going down again after being hit by Dan Jones at 23m on what seemed to be his next carry.  Leo Cullen tried to play down the injury afterwards but so soon after the news of Jamie Heaslip's retirement you have to wonder if there's much left in the Tullow Tank.  Fingers crossed.

TMO Llanelli on par with CSI Miami? - I recently watched my first football match with VAR [Spurs v Rochdale] and I thought it was hilarious how much of a horlicks they were making of it...but let's just say I wouldn't use this match as a shining example of the merits of rugby's TMO.  It's not that the officials were necessarily wrong to rule out tries for Tom Williams, Nick McCarthy and ultimately Varndell, it's just that the dialogue amongst them was farcical in the process - again I point to the need for refs from 'neutral' unions in that because they were all Welsh, they were probably over-eager to be heard 'being fair'.

You can't win the maul - One of the many factors that kept the scoring so low is that both sets of forwards were able to turn opposition lineout/maul set plays into turnovers more than once [with one big exception for the home side]...that's going to kill any team's momentum.

The tries - The biggest plus for Leinster on the night was the way we started the second half and this has happened so often this season that I have to assume the credit must go to the coaching staff for their dressing room talks and tweaks to our territory.  It was like we willed ourselves to Ed Byrne's try on 44m [Dave K kicked it deep into their 22, a super chase forced a 5m scrum before 11 phases got us over] and the way this match was poised at the time we really should have been able to bring even that relatively slender lead home. 

But a breakdown penalty for the champions, followed by their one decent maul of the night, led to a string of passes that tempted James Lowe in off his wing only to be skinned by Asquith who got over to make it level. 

Actually now that I think of it, if you just saw the tries you might think it was a decent match.  You'd be wrong.

Even Fardy wasn't right - This is how you know it wasn't a spectacle...even our Wallaby, a major contender for Leinster Player of the Year, couldn't sell his unique brand of dark arts, getting caught rapid on several occasions.   Still, this has to count as a blip for him and watching the Ireland v Scotland game later had me wondering...can we really afford not to start either Scott, Toner or James Ryan against Sarries?

When a push comes to a shove - Something needs to be done about the area of blocking kick chasers.  I agree that shoving them out of the way, as James Lowe did at one stage, should be penalised, but on more than one occasion I noticed replays where Scarlets were blatantly stepping into the path of chasers so the rulings shouldn't always go one way.  The shoving is done to bring attention to the refs and all I'm saying is that maybe they should take more heed.

Sky commentators were itching for a Varndell try - I don't necessarily mean because he's English, it's just with the match so evenly poised as he made his debut for the Scarlets it would have been a great narrative for them and to be fair to him, he very nearly provided it.  Not a bad signing in the final months of the season, hardly at Brad Thorn levels though.

And finally...those phases at the end... - All of which brings us back to where I started.  Was it the wrong choice for us to kill the clock with some phases in that final sequence?  Seeing how there were about 33 seconds left I'd say it was probably the right idea just with absolutely horrible execution.  Even our second string should be able to protect the ball in that situation and with the likes of Beirne sniffing around he shouldn't have been allowed get anywhere near it. 

But since I quite like this new desk I have my laptop on right now, I'd better not harp anymore on that.  We'd have taken the draw at the start so what say we take it now and move on.  Ospreys away are next...not only will we need that outing to prepare for Sarries but with Connacht away in our final match I don't think we can afford to slip up too much before then.

Time to put the blue jersey away for a few days though...I have a different green one set to wear every day of the week between now and Saturday!  JLP

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