Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Keego on...the provinces in Europe Week 2

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We have managed to get through week 2 of the Heineken Champions Cup. If you wear blue or red, it wasn’t an easy watch. If you wear white or green, it was about the performance.

Starting with the Gloucester trip to Thomond Park. Early kick offs are not easy for the players or the support. The Munster team had to get up and have their pasta at 7am which, while part of being a professional, isn’t a great way to start a weekend. Gloucester arrived looking for a scalp. Looking to play and feeling good with Cipriani pulling the strings. He has been playing with freedom, with a need to get back into the white jersey and now that the has lost out again, I think we expected him to come in and manage the game. Himself versus Carbery was another interesting battle for the prince of Munster.
Starting with the positives for the home side. After coming off a loss to Leinster and a draw in Exeter this was looked at as a must win. And that they did. 36-22 was the final score and it looks comfortable on the scoreboard. But, Gloucester ran for more metres, had more possession and a higher % territory. (58% possession for 60% territory), Munster gave away 16 penalties to the visitors 11 and where forced into making 64 more tackles at 159. Gloucester made 76 of 95 tackles, but to keep the tackle count below 100 shows it wasn’t an easy day for the home side. Munster stole (odd phrasing) 4 lineouts and lost 4 of their own.
So where was the game won? Well the aforementioned Cipriani was red carded for a high tackle. The tackle itself was high as per the rules of the game and it is important to enforce them with zero tolerance. I would suggest that if the colour of the jerseys where reversed it would NOT be a red card according the Munster support but rules are rules. In the words of the great Walter Sobchek from The Big Lebowski ‘this is not 'Nam. This is bowling. There are rules’. It is important for this rule to be enforced, it trickles down to the kids playing and changes their tackling technique. Good call by the ref, correct call and Munster played their way against 14 men. Nearly letting the visitors back in for a bonus point at the end. A lot of work to do, and it gives me zero pleasure in saying that.
At the end of the day, Munster sit atop group Pool 2. Is that all that matters?
From there was head to the beautiful city of Toulouse. The Leinster army rolled in expecting a tough game but a win as a result. Toulouse are on the way back but surely this was a task too early for the French?
Well it is hard to tell. The final score was 28-27. The result is not in question. The right team won. A lot of blue support blaming referee decisions, not at all. A massive amount of fans shouting and the real supporters are analysing.
So Leinster had a big team ready to fire. Wasps capitulated like I did in maths paper 2. So they came into the game without being tested. Maybe a bit too relaxed. Similar to the grand finale against Connacht a few years ago. Not playing badly but below their usually output of 85%. Toulouse capitalised. Playing without fear, playing like the French should play and knowing what a win against the champions does for their season. Much like Munster, everyone wants that blue scalp for the mantle piece.
So, how do the stats look? Leinster had 59% possession for 58% territory thanks to a big second half up in the tempo. Both teams missed 27 tackles, Toulouse had to make 157 whereas Leinster where called upon 110 times. Even while playing below par, Leinster only gave away 7 penalties to Toulouse 11. 2 of those penalties from the visitors where kickable and early which put 6 points on the board too early. Toulouse aimed at the midfield and that brought the second row into tackles that they maybe didn’t need to be involved in. no one in blue missed big numbers of tackles, Henshaw at 4, Tracy and O’Brien at 3 each but each of those players put big shifts in on the tackles completed count.
In the second half Leinster began crawling back into the game, strangling Toulouse. Getting ahead on the scoreboard and in the Toulouse 22 at 70 minutes, looking to kill the game. At this stage Toulouse where tiring after all of their impressive work and where going backwards. The time came and McGrath went to throw the pass to complete the comeback and Thomas Ramos read it like the Da Vinci code for an intercept try. Toulouse had fancied the intercept all day and with Leinster not quite operating at their optimum they weren’t quick enough to read the Toulouse read.
Tomane has come in for criticism post-match which is mostly from fans and not supporters. He is still settling into the Leinster way, Lowe had another mammoth shift in France but last season there was a weakness in his defensive game. Once he managed that, he became the perfect winger. Tomane will get there, he has the talent and skill. It just takes time.
28-27 is probably a fair result. 1 team played above their normal and 1 team played below, while still nearly beating Toulouse at home. Mouth-watering prospect on the French coming to the RDS. They will travel and it will be some occasion!
Anyone have any spare tickets??
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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