Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Harpin Points 8 : RWC warmups, drops goals and multiple yellows

Every Wednesday we widen our focus beyond Leinster & Ireland rugby matches, offering views on broader rugby topics and themes


There I was, all set to leave a grumpy reply to a tweet last week when I realised "hang on, I can always use this for my Harpin Points instead..."

Ireland's opponents for the month leading up to the 2019 World Cup were announced last week...we start at the Aviva against Italy on August 10, then a fortnight later we face England at Twickers, followed by a 'home-and-away' series against the Welsh, first in Cardiff and finally in Dublin on September 7.  The tweet in question, which sadly I cannot find now, was trying to make the point that our playing other countries from the Six Nations somehow devalues the annual spring competition.

First of all, these are warm-ups for the World Cup.  It's the only tournament in the sport that includes all of the countries from both hemispheres at the same time.  And it only comes around every four years.  So I'm sorry, but this makes it more important than the Six Nations.

Next, we all know how much Joe Schmidt loves having his squad together in Carton House.  There's an almost religious quality about the place, and when you look at all the success we have enjoyed under his reign, a lot of that preachin' turns into convertin'.  And this spell before a World Cup is the only time he ever gets to assemble his chosen ones for that long, so given that other nations can't always be expected to come to Dublin, keeping the away days close has to be a help.

Final, our first match is against SCOTLAND on September 22.  And it's more than likely to be our biggest match in the pool.  So keeping our heads in the Six Nations in the weeks leading up to travelling to Japan is far from the worst idea in the world.

So while the results from these matches will tell us nothing, the playing of them will be of value to our preparations in many other aspects.  Some also say that four fixtures is too many...this is a view I might get on board with but then again we cannot forget the lure of the almighty euro.


This Harpin Point is specifically about Craig Gilroy and one particular aspect of his game but I also want to touch on a broader theme, namely something that bugs me when watching provincial rugby even when it's Leinster...a player has one good match including some highlight reel moments and suddenly a flurry of comments appear on social media : "Joe HAS to pick him in November.  There's no other way!!!"

You'll see a review of Ulster's dramatic win over Edinburgh further down the page, but I want to focus on a pivotal moment from the match, namely the Craig Gilroy try that clawed back the last of the visitors' 17-point lead.

Basically he does what I grew up expecting a winger to do...beat his opposite man on the outside.  And to be fair, the space was there, he finished the score brilliantly, and it was exactly what the Ulstermen needed at that moment.  But as much as I'm a fan of Gilroy and would have no problem seeing him getting himself some more test caps, I wonder if Joe would be inclined to select him based on this try.

To contrast, let's look at a try for Leinster by Fergus McFadden against the Scarlets.  It was a different situation in that it was much closer to the line, but as Ferg gets the ball, a more 'traditional' winger's instincts would still be to make a beeline for the corner and trust both their pace and agility to get the ball down.  Instead, Ferg had only one thing in mind...sell a sidestep and power forward at an angle into the defenders before him and he too was rewarded with five points.

My argument here is that the decision to cut inside is what Joe would rather see from his wingers in either situation.  Maybe the space was there for Gilroy, but against top 10 ranked test nations, it certainly wouldn't be.  Backing yourself on the outside is all well and good but there's an immense risk of getting bundled into touch thus losing possession.  Cut inside and run against the grain into tacklers, you might still break free into open space, but even if not, the pressure is now on your team-mates to go with you and clear out to give your team front foot ball.

Am I saying Gilroy should have cut inside in that moment?  Or that he shouldn't be near the Irish squad in November?  "Of course not" to both questions.  But I am making a case for the try NOT being proof that he must play for Ireland.  And in case you think I'm going for Leinster over Ulster, I often see Stockdale cutting back inside while one of the best at it in the four provinces was Andrew Trimble.


This was something I noticed in the Toulouse v La Rochelle match and it has been a bugbear of mine for a while which makes this the perfect forum for me to harp on it.

So your team is in the midst of some attacking phases on or around the opposition 22.  At one of the breakdowns, the referee's arm goes out for an advantage.  Many call this a 'free play'.  Yet often we see teams go for the three points for a drop goal.  My question is....WHY???

Even if the mark is out towards the touchline and you don't back your out half to make the placekick, you can always kick for the corner (though in fairness at the top level your kicker should be able from all positions at that distance).  Otherwise it has to be kickable.

So why waste your free play going through the rigmarole of getting your forwards in position, dropping into the pocket, hoping your 9 makes the perfect pass, and attempting a drop kick as opponents charge at you, when you already have the option of an uncontested shot at goal for the same amount of points?

For me, the penalty advantage should always, always, always lead to having a crack at a try.  A 'Hail Mary' bomb into the sky challenging the opposing full-back.  A cheeky grubber through or a little dink over the top for your centres to chase.   Fire it out through the backs who can take some creative risks shipping the ball on without fear of interception.  Or even let your forwards do some grunt work up the middle.

I'm hoping someone can explain this to me, and not because I'm assuming I'm 100% right either...I'd be happy to share a decent answer.


Much of my Scarlets v Leinster writeup was about referee Mike Adamson...while I didn't blame him for us losing, I didn't think his performance was the best I have seen; I felt he was poor at communicating the decisions he was making.  For this final Harpin Point of the week I'd like to focus on a call he didn't make.

Towards the end of the first half Leinster were pressuring the Scarlets' try line and Samson Lee was yellow-carded for collapsing a maul as Sean Cronin nearly got it down over the line.  A couple of side-notes about this decision...there was a strong case to be made for a penalty try given it was a maul heading towards the line, and also as the TMO checked the grounding the ref made the curious statement : "If it's not a try it's a penalty for collapsing the maul and yellow card".  Even if it was a try it should the yellow not still be awarded?

Anyway...the point I'm making here is that on the next play, again as we were bearing down on the Scarlets' line, they committed another penalty offence.  Why wasn't this worthy of another yellow card?  And what made it more annoying was that in at least two other Pro14 matches this weekend, Connacht v Zebre and Benetton v Cardiff, teams went down to 13 men is similar scenarios.

I suppose my point is that perhaps the laws should be a bit clearer on yellow cards awarded for 'professional fouls'.  For me, when an attacking team is "well on the front foot" (another concept that would need defining I suppose) deep in the opponents' half and the defence ships a penalty, it should be a yellow card at least 90% of the time, whether or not one has just been awarded.

And yes, I know I'm running the risk of the rugby gods punishing me for my moaning by making sure Leinster get something like four yellows in quick succession against the Dragons this Saturday.  Don't rule it out!!!

Final point on referees (for this week anyway)...I often see comments on social media which read "don't knock the ref if you've never done it yourself".  To me, that makes no sense.  Sure, don't blame the ref every time you lose, but everyone is part of the show and we evaluate the displays of the players despite very few of us having played pro rugby.  Once the critiques are respectful, they should be encouraged.  And let's face it, even a few of the disrespectful ones can be entertaining!!!

A bumper week of 80-word-reviewing here at Harpin Manor
we looked at three Irish provinces, all of Leinster's
European pool 1 opponents as well as the Dragons
who visit the RDS this coming Saturday

Glasgow availed of both home advantage and the first half wind behind them to jump into a 22-0 lead.  Munster were unlucky losing skipper Holland and scrum-half Cronin early, but MotM Adam Hastings and Stuart Hogg combined brilliantly for one try while a disastrous fumble under pressure by JJ Hanrahan led to another.  The Warriors had to switch to defensive mode in the 2nd half as Carbery tried to lead a fightback but Rhys Marshall’s try was way too late.

Embra built a 17-point lead with stubborn D and tries from Brown and Johnstone.  Addison broke the seal before fine Cooney and Gilroy efforts nudged the Ulstermen ahead, Speight and Jordi also impressed.  A Hickey penalty briefly pinched the lead back but after the determined hosts recovered the restart, for the 2nd week running Cooney calmly slotted the winning points;  Despite taking 133 minutes to score their first try across two home matches, Ulster somehow ended up with two wins.

It’s not often I’ve said the words “I expected more from Zebre” but they really struggled in the wet Galway conditions.  Their only five-pointer was a 79th minute consolation. Meanwhile two early Paul Boyle tries gave the Westies a comfortable lead and though a fine Griffin finish on 59m wrapped up the BP and Adeolokun added a fifth, they should feel they left a couple more behind.  Still, exactly the kind of result Andy Friend wanted after last week’s disappointment.

Plenty of free-flowing rugby in both directions with quality finishes from Daly and Bassett for Wasps, Cordero and Slade for Exeter, keeping the scoreboard moving.  There were also a few mauled tries for fans of the Premiership’s more traditional power game. The lead went back and forth until young Wasps 10 Billy Searle threw an intercept try to Slade.  Lima Sopoaga tried to lead a final quarter recovery but the home side could only muster a try BP from there.

Toulouse had all the early possession, territory,  barging runs from the likes of Tekori, mazy runs from the likes of Huget, yet it took 22m to get the first score from skipper Marchand.  Their continued positivity led to three further tries either side of HT. Roudle pinched one back for the visitors but when Ramos got try #5 the maximum pts should've been safe.  La Rochelle weren't done though and 3 late tries took some shine off the victory.

Bath was on fire in the first half, but only literally - thankfully nobody was hurt.  On the pitch, poor defence up the middle helped Glaws run in three converted tries, only for poor handling to let the home side draw level by minute 65 with three of their own.  After trading penalties Bath finally went ahead through former Gloucester lock Stooke but it was former Bath wing Banahan who drew the Cherries back level. Neither side looked Europe ready.

Some fine attacking rugby from the Italians was met with some gritty ripostes from the Blues to make the score 21-26 before the real drama began as the clock went red.  A flurry of Benetton penalties at set-pieces invited a couple of yellow cards and with yet another scrum advantage pending (which should have been penalty try IMO), it was shipped out wide to Ioane who levelled the scores for Allan to calmly kick the winning points from the touchline.

“Error-strewn” best describes the 80 minutes and having built a 17-0 lead, the Dragons let their guests pull back level going into the final quarter. Ironically it was an inaccurate box-kick falling nicely for Josh Lewis on the run that secured the win but a try at the death earned two BP for the South Africans. Only Dragons full-back Jordan Williams stood out with pacy runs from deep; hopefully that won’t be enough for them at the RDS on Saturday.

And so we come to the end of another Harpin Points.  Thanks for sticking with me this far down the page.  Tomorrow we'll have our 'Rugby on TV' feature, Friday lunchtime the Leinster team to face the Dragons will be named and in the afternoon we'll post our preview, and on Saturday we're planning to liveblog Leinster A v Cardiff Blues in Energia Park Donnybrook before heading on down to the RDS for the big home opener.  

Do join us for any or all of the above, and be sure to enjoy your rugby wherever you are.  JLP


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