Monday, December 03, 2018

Dragons-10 Leinster-59


SCHOOL OF RUGBY


It was a technical point, but a correct one by referee Lloyd Linton. If one foot is ahead of the ball in a ruck, a player can't take it up and carry himself.

What's this? Using the TMO without wasting too much time, making a correct decision, communicating it well…is this really s Scottish official in the Pro 14?  😉

Of course it was a shame that Caelan Doris had his first ever professional try taken away, but given how the match had gone up to that point, most Leinster fans would have been OK with the outcome, although having the bonus point wrapped up by halftime is always a nice target to hit.

Yet from that reprieve, the Dragons started to play.  A good territory kick from Rhodri Williams pinned us back, and then although Josh Murphy took the dart cleanly enough, it was lost as he came down, falling to home skipper Richard Hibbard who took it towards the line.

This was a gift the Men of Gwent had to take if they were to stay in the contest, and they were wisely going through the phases in an effort to create the space for a breakthrough.  But when they finally put it through the hands, a big hit by Jimmy O’Brien forced a drop and when the ball fell to Scot Penny, the teenage flanker didn't hesitate in hoofing a decent clearance to touch outside our 22.

Yet they just came roaring back at us.  14 more phases to set up this time, and during one of them some over tenacious involvement by Dave Kearney saw his boot illegally touch the loose ball so when the move broke down we went back for a penalty.  Back for another attacking lineout in our 22, and the Dragons’ pointy tails were up…

...until Josh Murphy, probably determined to ‘atone’ for the earlier lineout, rose into the Newport sky to swat down a dart for his side, and after the situation was tidied up, Jamison Gibson-Park did the smart thing and put the ball dead to end the half.

***

So in a match that had ten tries, nine of them by Leinster, I decided to start my writeup by describing a seven-minute spell during which the scorers were untroubled.  Crazy, right?

Well I do try to bring something to these pages that you won't see in the ‘mainstream’ meeja, but also I wanted to illustrate just how complete this performance was by such a youth-heavy patchwork matchday 23.

It's not like we were given mere glimpses of what this Class of 2018/19 can do…over the past couple of weeks we have been treated to all-round displays that managed to put 111 points on two Welsh regions, both of which fielded several senior players, with a mere 17 points in reply.

Of course we don't want to go overboard with our praise, though given this article's subject matter is just Saturday evening's match, I can afford to let loose a little bit.  Sure, there were mistakes made, but watching the ‘culprits’ come back and quickly ‘atone’ for them was arguably as entertaining as the tries themselves.

That said, I always find the best way to tell the stories of big victories like this is to simply describe the five-pointers one by one, so here goes…

6m - Leinster #1 - Dave Kearney

From what I have seen of the Dragons this season, Richard Hibbard doesn't seem to be living up to his billing as a Lion with them just yet, and when his side were on the attack at midfield and he saw a pass heading towards him only to let it go and fall on the ground for Leinster to recover, it summed up my opinion nicely.

Then after a reasonably cagey first couple of minutes we quickly settled into our pattern of phases.  Ciarán Frawley was unfortunate to miss out after being man of the match against the Ospreys, but with Bath on the horizon it made sense for Ross Byrne to get some pitch time.

What he does best is going to his boot in open play, particularly with crossfield kicks and lower-trajectory kick-passes, and having worked phases on one side of the pitch, he calmly put it onto Dave Kearney's chest on the left wing for him to break the seal.

Ross Byrne’s conversion good : 0-7

12m Leinster #2 - Scott Penny

It should be noted that Kearney The Younger, who also played in that infamous, youth-filled, pre-Europe trip to Newport in 2009, played really well on the night, and his wing play shortly before this score was impressive in how he kept the play live.

We got it all the way to the line where it looked like Scott Penny got it down and although the ref called it ‘held up’ he also spotted Dragons lock Lewis Evans committing about half a dozen breakdown offences at once in the process so he had to visit the naughty step for ten minutes.

This meant a penalty which soon became a 5m lineout, a set piece which has been a regular source of tries for the young Penny this season, most often in the Celtic Cup but also last Friday at the RDS.  And perhaps he didn't barge over off the maul this time, but he still managed to get on the end of the ensuing phases to to secure his second try in pro rugby as well as Leinster's second of the evening.

By the by...Penny was also comfortably our leading tackler on the night with 18.

Ross Byrne’s conversion good : 0-14

18m Dragons penalty converted by Jason Tovey : 3-14

22m Leinster try #3 - Scott Fardy

I suppose when I’m watching Leinster or Ireland, no matter how dominantly we're playing, I have to let off some steam at some point, and my biggest angry shout during this one was when Jamison Gibson-Park fed a poor pass close to the Dragons line which meant a promising move broke down. I should have realised though that the clearance was to lead to another chance very quickly.

From the lineout our play was designed to get it into the hands of inside centre Conor O’Brien, who seems to instinctively know when to fend, shimmy or full-on crash to get beyond the gain-line.  Just like that we were on the front foot again, and Gibson-Park was making no mistake this time as his right winger was in acres of space to take his strong yet looping pass…

….only it wasn't his right winger it was his skipper Scott Fardy, who was the Jack Black character in this performance of School of Rugby.  It was like he had so much confidence in the youngsters around him he knew he could hang out on the touchline as our extra man ready to go over when necessary, which he duly did on his way to being awarded Man of the Match.

Ross Byrne’s conversion from the touchline goes wide : 3-19.

There then follows the passage before halftime I described at the start and it wasn't long after the break when we nailed down the bonus point…..

42m Leinster try #4 - Dave Kearney

Practically a carbon copy of try #1, which more or less proves that Ross Byrne can summon his open play kicking powers at will.  Quite a powerful string to have to your bow, at least at this level…such space isn't quite so plentiful in European and Test arenas.

Ross Byrne’s conversion good : 3-26

45m  - Dragons try #1 (and only) - Rhodri Williams

Have to feel for Bernard Jackman - he was always up against it with this post and whatever about the particulars of his ban from the WRU (of which Saturday was the second of the 2-game sanction) the frustration is understandable.

Still, despite having shipped over 100 points this season to the province he once skippered, now and again his charges have shown they can play some enterprising rugby, with Williams’ score being an example after Harrison Keddie spotted rare space beyond a ruck and made the most out of it to put his scrum half through.

And speaking of example, on a day when the older Leinster heads on the park were meant to guide the younglings through, Gibson-Park was extremely lucky not to be binned for needlessly hauling his opposite number down by the neck in the act of scoring,  The ref had a good night overall but even through my blue goggles I saw his ‘penalty only’ ruling as lenient.

Jason Tovey’s conversion good - 10-26

53m - Leinster try #5 - Caelan Doris

Having been denied by the officials earlier, it was the kind of night when amends could be made and off another crash ball set up from Conor O’Brien (fingers crossed Seanie returns soon so we can freely use COB JOB & SOB to distinguish between them, not forgetting we also have a TOB, plus about a billion Byrnes) Doris made light work of finishing our fifth try.

Ross Byrne’s conversion good : 10-33

Three-quarters of the match gone and we're already well into 'ridiculous' territory.

61m - Leinster try #6 - Hugo Keenan

Pick of the bunch for me.  Jimmy O’Brien does an exquisite offload in mid tackle before Ross Byrne grubbers one through to be gratefully taken an brought over the line by Keenan.

Ross Byrne conversion good : 10-40

64m - Leinster try #7 - Bryan Byrne

Boys in blue brought from the bench have been brilliant and Bryan Byrne barged over after a nice set up from Gibson-Park which forced me to stop using ‘b’ words in this sentence.

Ross Byrne’s conversion came back off the upright - basic lip-reading as he ran back after the kick showed he was disappointed as it was his final contribution of the night : 10-45

68m - Leinster try #8 - Jimmy O’Brien

As if to placate Leinster fans upset at the news that Nick McCarthy was heading to Munster, Leo & co have showcased not one but two scrums-half from further down our totem pole in recent weeks.  And just as Hugh O’Sullivan looked ready to step up in his Ospreys cameo, so did Paddy Patterson here.  Without even thinking he took on a long arcing pass towards Jimmy O’Brien who was patiently waiting to take and provide a ridiculously easy finish.

Ciarán Frawley makes conversion from the touchline look equally ridiculously easy : 10-52.

78m - Leinster try #9 - Jimmy O’Brien

Credit to the Dragons for continuing to try to play some rugby right to the end, yet the squeeze from the reigning champions was relentless.  This time it was Max Deegan with a miss pass that found a ‘JOB opening’ out wide and this time he had work to do in applying the finish yet he made it look, yes, ridiculously easy.

Thought Ciarán Frawley couldn't repeat his impressive touchline conversion from minutes earlier? Have you not been following my narrative? Of course it sailed over to put the slain Dragons out of their misery.

I have used the word ‘ridiculous’ several times but it deserves the repetition.  Despite all the chopping and changing and debuts-awarding, our lead atop Conference B is now 15 points, with the margin in the points difference column now (a ridiculous) 175 over our nearest rivals.

Some say changes should be made to the league on the back of this domination, and I plan to have a look at that issue in Harpin Points on Wednesday.

But when it comes to the way ahead for Leinster, the short term sees us move into a ‘meaty’ portion of the campaign… Bath back to back, 3 seasonal interpros, then Toulouse, Wasps and Scarlets, all before the Six Nations.

As for the long term, I think we have seen over the past couple of weeks just what kind of talent is ready to step up and keep us going well into the future.

Credit must of course go to Leo Cullen and the coaches around him (Girve Dempsey included) but it should also extend all the way down to schools level as the levels of preparedness at this level for so many of these youngsters is, well, ridiculous!

Whatever is in the secret sauce that was all over these recent fiftyburgers is bound to be the envy throughout world rugby.  Is it wrong to be greedy and hope it remains a secret? JLP


Later this week we'll have our 80-word reviews on Tuesday, Harpin Points on Wednesday, Telly post on Thursday and our Bath v Leinster preview on Friday.  Plus of course every morning our Front5 quotes & links.  Do stay tuned!

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