Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Keego on...Ulster at the Aviva

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As we arrived to the Aviva stadium it was loud, it was getting cold and the volume was already at 11. Our Ulster cousins had arrived in full voice to stand with their team. Leinster and their blue army rocked up with confidence but the volume from them pre match was not at the high pitch of the visitors. 

Our seats where on top of the stadium, block z row z, seat z. But for 10 euro I couldn’t complain. The view from nearly everywhere in the Aviva is fantastic. There weren’t many Ulster supporters near us, but we could hear them. 

It was real hair on the back of your neck stuff pre match. Or Goosebumps for the ladies. 

So let’s look at the stats and then look at the game.  Wait until you read how close the game was by the numbers.

Leinster ran 381 metres to Ulster’s 370, passed 195 times to 183, made 190 of 211 tackles to Ulster’s 223 of 252, conceded 5 penalties to Ulster’s 8 (amazing stat that one), Leinster where pinged in 1 scrum and lost 2 lineouts, Ulster had 2 from 2 in scrum and 1 loss at the lineout. Leinster conceded 8 turnovers to Ulster’s 12, beat 28 defenders to Ulster’s 21, 6 clean breaks to 7, Leinster had 55% possession for 56% territory.

Leinster had 6 players who ran for 30 or more metres, Ulster had 2, and Stockdale ran for 97 metres! Cronin and Conan for Leinster had 55 and 67 metres in their boots. Both teams had missed tackles all over the pitch which shows that the game was being played everywhere. 

I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted just typing the above. It was a fantastic game to watch live. From the top seats, it looked like Leinster where able to break through the gain line regularly but never really tried anything past that. Ulster looked to move the ball, struggled in contact but had more xfactor on the day to get to the try line. Lowry had 72 metres off 12 runs. There was space out there for them to operate in. The Leinster strangulation was not in affect. Hopefully that is not from taking the opposition lightly. 

Ringrose being blocked down, once for the opening try, was not something that was expected. Ulster pressure early was important. They knew that to get on the board early would send the opening shot to the home side. That it did. Leinster stepped up and 5 minutes later Ross Byrne (what a game) dotted the ball down. And then??? Well not much. 

Bish bash bosh, but no real cutting play and Ulster must have had their caffeine doubled on Saturday morning because they were everywhere, anytime Leinster broke the line, Ulster regrouped. And regrouped smartly which was the key and something they can take away from the game. No part of their performance was a fluke. Committing exactly the right amount of numbers to every break in play meant that minimal space opened up around the field. 

The game progressed and without getting into the minute by minute, ended at 21-18. 

The big talking points being the points left on the pitch by both teams with the big miss being Stockdale’s try attempt. That was down at our end of the pitch, he befuddled 4 Leinster defenders and with 2 hanging on, and maybe putting him off, he was unable to dot the ball down.  The reaction has been beyond silly. Watching Stockdale play live is always worth the price of the ticket alone. Maybe worth double. The work he did around the pitch (metres run mentioned above) is amazing. If you are an Ulster fan (you’re not a supporter) giving him stick then maybe you should think about how your team would be without him in it. He is a threat anytime he gets the ball, regardless of where on the pitch he is. As a Leinster fan (and after squeaking the win), watching him is a joy!

So what now? The score line says one thing but who really won? 

Well for Ulster this is the start of the journey back to the top table. There is a crop of academy players nearly cooked and ready to bring some uplift to the team. They pushed the champions closer than anyone (even themselves if you’re being honest) expected. For me, I thought the game would be over by half time that Leinster would have too much. But I was very wrong. Hopefully Ulster doesn’t need to go through the heartbreak that Munster is going through in terms of semi-finals before knocking that door down to some silverware. 

For Leinster it was tough going. Ross Byrne played really well and it was important that he did so. No one played badly, but very little happened. A lot of running but not for a lot of return. I expect some hesitation after the 6 Nations, but with Toulouse coming in a few weeks, Leinster need to get their heads on and work their way back to their best. They will do that, but my heart can’t handle many more of these close games. 

Leaving the stadium, I felt that Leinster didn’t deserve the win. But in life sometimes you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you need. 

We go again in 3 weeks against a team we have already beaten mentally and physically. When you throw a group game to avoid going to their back yard, you have already been beaten. It is up to Leinster to put the hammer down.    

@nkeegan on twitter and www.thecouchpunditireland.com for more. 
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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