Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Ever improving Benetton by Ciaran Duffy



https://pbs.twimg.com/media/D3fbF24WkAAI2Sc.jpgThe game kicked off an Benetton did what I said Ulster needed to do, take it to Leinster immediately.  Ulster did that and it very nearly worked out for them, Benetton obviously took note and went at this Leinster side that was a second string.  Getting the first try is vital when your playing the bigger team, it tests them, it checks if they’re up for it. Leinster were up for it, which made the early stages a back and forth arm-wrestle.  Bigi got over, Allan converted, and Leinster were faced with something that hasn’t come up too often in the RDS this season, a genuine game.
Benetton were the better team in the first half and deserved to take something out of the game.  That’s why when the second half began it seemed like they’d suffer what many of Leinster's opponents have suffered this season, a period of ruthlessness.  

James ‘scores when he wants’ Lowe got over, Frawley converted, Leinster were level, and Benetton had to do it all again. They did do it all again with a try from Ruzza, again converted by Allan.  It really did seem for a time that this would be their day. However Leinster started coming into it, and despite the Italian fans frantically cheering, you’d have to think the team was starting to tire.  Byrne and Frawley got over, with the latter adding a conversion both times. With ten minutes left it seemed unlikely that Benetton would come back, but they mustered up a big effort and with the clock in red Ratuva Tavuyara got over the line.  They went upstairs to check for blocking, the try was awarded (it would’ve been an extremely harsh decision otherwise). Allan kicked the conversion, and it was a draw.

Benetton could go away from the RDS with two points, knowing they would have deserved 3 or 4.  At the end of the game the Benetton fans continued to cheer on their team, while the players showed each other respect.
https://pbs.twimg.com/media/D3fyzf7XsAExF9s.jpgNot to take anything away from Benetton, but it seemed they had Jesus on their side, who may have magically influenced the game.  I caught up with Jesus and he didn’t allude to any kind of match-fixing and was very pleasant. It’s great for the league to have passionate fans who make the atmosphere enjoyable.  It’s important for matchday experience and sets a good example for younger fans. I’ve been fortunate to encounter a lot of good fans this year, with particular shout-outs to Connacht and Toulouse.  

This game was nothing significant for Leinster, but I was pumped going into it.  For one thing, it was WrestleMania week, and wrestling along with football and rugby is my religion (cue rugby-elitists saying “ugh wendyball” as if calling something feminine is somehow an insult).  I love going to matches, be it Leinster or my local football team Bray Wanderers There’s something special about going to see your team, even if it’s only half an hour down the DART line. I like to get there n hour early and soak it up, really you’d have to if your trying to get something to eat as well.  The Benetton fans really contributed to the atmosphere this week. They came in numbers, Saturday being a good day for away games for the non-celtic nations, and filled the air with song in the hours before the game. They came likely with mix expectations, despite being underdogs, they beat Leinster in the RDS last season and the home team were coming off an intense European Quarter Final win.  

If Leinster are to lose a game at home it’s probably at this stage, it’s been a long season and with big European and Pro14 knockout games to come they need to rest players, and naturally intensity levels will go down. This was a chance for Benetton, who haven’t bet an Irish team all season (they did draw with Ulster in January). They are having what can be called their best season ever as a professional club, they are in contention for the play-offs and are close to qualifying for the Champions Cup next season.  
https://pbs.twimg.com/media/D3gQDffXsAASMHk.pngI’ve said often that the benefit of Conor O’Sheas work in Italy might only start to be seen after he’s gone, or at least after this World Cup, when it comes to the national team, but both Benetton and Zebre have improved, (something Richard Mifsud discussed on Post to Post Sport a few weeks ago), with Benetton in particular looking like a team that won’t be out of place if they make it to Europes top competitions next season.  This success is vital for Italian rugby. They need a team to be competing among Europes elite, and if the competition is to continue to expand, there is the possibility of another Italian team joining, with Rovigo Delta and Calvisano the likely contenders (one of whom will qualify for next season Challenge Cup through the Continental Shield, Calvisano won the first leg of their play-off 29 – 13, the reverse fixture will be in Rovigo on April 20th).  This side of new years Bentton have beaten Scarlets, Glasgow, and Edinburgh, while putting the kind of score on Dragons that the big teams do.  Hopefully for the sake of the competition they continue to be competitive next year. Too often in the past these league has been a case of two or three teams that can win, with another two or three who might get into a semi-final.  That’s something the conference system has helped with.

Now rather than being pretty much Leinster, Munster, Glasgow, and one of Ulster or Scarlets, there’s a few different possibilities for the knockout rounds. While we still have Glasgow, and Munster in A, and Leinster in B, all comfortably in to a semi, which has been the case for a while, we are going to have one of Connacht, Cardiff, or Ospreys, and two of Ulster, Benetton, Edinburgh, and Scarlets playing knockout rugby in the league this season.  


It’s vital that this league remains competitive, because if fans are only going to be interested come May that will make attendances suffer. I will write in future how I think the quarter finals should be kept but relegation to a 2nd and then 3rd tier should be brought in to keep things fresh, with the teams in the continental shield getting representation rather than adding more super rugby rejects.  

All that being said I wasn’t going into this game expecting an easy win as I have in the past, testament to Benettons season.  European fatigue is a big factor, but also that Leinster have bigger games on the horizon, 4 or 5 points here wouldn’t have meant a lot, but they really would have meant the world to Benetton.

Reid hit back with a penalty, then went off injured.  I was surprised to see Reid start with Frawley on the bench, Frawley is going to be an important player next season considering Sexton (and possibly Ross Byrne) will be away for at least the first month of the season.  If Reid is leaving, it seems like this was a chance to give Frawley a game in a difficult condition. Frawley came on for Reid early enough, unfortunately through Reids injury. Frawley and Allan exchanged penalties, before Allan with a crucial one at the break to give Benetton a 3-point lead.  

It was an enjoyable game of rugby, and it was actually my first draw, in 33 Leinster matches I had never seen the teams go away level.  It was a week of firsts as I had seen my first penalty shootout in football on Monday (I will never get over seeing Bray Wanderers beat Shamrock Rovers when we are a division apart).  

I think a few stumbles towards the end of the season, like the one against Edinburgh two weeks ago will benefit Leinster.  While Munster and Toulouse go in to their semi-finals as underdogs and need momentum, Leinster and Saracens are favourites and don’t need to get carried away.  A few games where results don’t go their way will act as a reality check for the big guns, and a much-needed one. Every other team will be up for playing them in Europe and the League knockouts, and so they need to have their feet on the ground.  It will also benefit the young players coming through. There is a generation of players who have come in to a winning team, who had the most impressive season in European history last season. They need to learn what it’s like to have a tough day out.  

The first game I ever covered for Harpin’ on Rugby was Leinster – Benetton (then Treviso) back in 2015.  What I saw was a frustrating game where Leinster played so poorly but still managed to get a comfortable win, it raised the question why are Benetton in the league.  Now 4 years on, they’ve proven their worth.

Next for Leinster is Glasgow in the final home league game of the regular season; two teams we could see in Celtic Park as the final.

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Ciarán Duffy (@Voicenstein) is a Leinster supporter and self-proclaimed ‘big cheese’ of Post To Post (@PostToPostSport).   He’ll write about anything rugby under the condition he gets to take it too seriously.
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