Monday, May 27, 2019

Keego on...keeping the blue jersey on

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So as we sit here at 9:17am on the Monday after the final game of the club rugby season I am 50% delighted and 50% not so delighted. I am delighted that we got to see a slug fest of a final between Glasgow and Leinster, but I am sad that the season is over. But, maybe we all need a break for a few weeks before we put the big green jersey on and put our provincial bias / passion / insert word here, away.
As we mentioned previously, both teams entered the final on the back of a demolition job in the semis. Glasgow won by 30 against Ulster and Leinster smashed up the other old enemy of Munster. Both teams looked fit and ready. The main difference being that the final was a comfortable place for Leinster, it will be for Glasgow but they haven’t spent as much time at the top table as the defending champions. Would this affect them? 
In short, no. 
Glasgow showed up ready for war. The pressure of a home final, Hogg bowing out in a home final and the knowledge that beating Leinster in a final is something that can really help the team jump on and progress, didn’t affect them. They played like veterans and this will pay off for them as the season’s progress. 
Starting with the score before we get into the game, Leinster won 18-15. We called it here as a 1 score game and it proved to be just that. It may be a little closer than it should have been in the end but the score is probably close to being reflective of the game. 
Glasgow started with Glasgow intensity. The kind of intensity that you might find on the dockside at closing time. It was fantastic to watch, it galvanised the crowd and the team looked to be putting a footprint in the final. Scoring at 14 with a bruising and bullying try that may have sent a shock through the blue side. It was well deserved and well worked. Marker put down, how would Leinster reply? Well 120 seconds late they replied after a McGrath block down and a Ringrose chase down. A real champion’s response to adversity, McGrath tracked the ball back into the Glasgow try area and jumped like Michael Jordan in his prime to block a slightly lazy Hogg clearing kick, Ringrose pounced and the game changed. 
From that moment on, Leinster played like the veterans. Marching forward and strangling a determined Glasgow. A team who never went away even in the face of a blue wave, a blue wet blanket and let’s not forget, the vaunted Leinster-jitzu.
Healy scored at 28 minutes which kept the game moving. A Sexton penalty at 36 minutes kept the scoreboard ticking. Leinster are masters in scoring in the ‘championship minutes’, that being the 10 either side of half time. It must be demoralising to see the scoreboard move like that just before the oranges at half time. Or whatever players have at half time these days.
But let’s have stats check:
Leinster ran 30 more metres at 381, passed 94 times less at 101, and had 34 fewer runs at 152. Leinster had 49% possession for 54% territory (at least whatever possession they had was in the right areas for the most part), Leinster where called into making 230 tackles (making 205), Glasgow only where called upon 191 times. The big stat, the stat that shows that these are the 2 best teams by a mile in the competition. Glasgow conceded only 7 penalties, Leinster 4! To operate under that pressure and leak only 11 penalties in 80 minutes is a testament to the skill on the pitch. 
As for the set piece, Glasgow lost 1 scrum and 1 l/o. Leinster leaked 1 l/o. Again, top level execution from both sides. The second big stat, the Irish provinces have been conceding more turnovers this year, on Saturday Leinster conceded only 7 (the best of the year so far), Glasgow where turned over 14 times. 
In terms of player stats, well it is the usual suspects in blue. Ryan with 28 tackles, missing only 1. Ruddock with 27 only missing 1, Cronin and Healy with 16 and 13 respectively. Henshaw and Ringrose had a big day too on the tackle count with 18 and 11. Glasgow appeared to have taken aim at the blue midfield and the pack. Attempting to batter them like Saracens did. Leinster where more than up to the challenge. 
Glasgow has 8 players in double figures for tackles but everyone else on the pitch had at least 3 on the counter. Hogg aside, the entire team had to put in a big shift on the day. 
So back to the second half. The teams began as the first ended, with the Leinster wet blanket being thrown on the Glasgow fire. It was a big scrap. Glasgow never went away and fought hard throughout, but they just couldn’t find fresh air in that sea of blue. Anytime they got a whiff of air, a Leinster player snatched an ankle, made a tackle or made a big hit. The fitness on both teams was unreal. 
The subs began and that was the point Glasgow popped back into the game with a Stewert try on 75 minutes with Kearney in the bin (rightly so), for a tackle on Hogg while in the air (more on the cards, or lack of below). They took advantage of the extra man and looked dangerous. But Leinster put the ball in the right areas, less box kicks in the second half took the dangerous Hogg out of the game and Leinster strangles their way to another deserved trophy. 
Sean O’Brien lifting the trophy had tears shed on the couch. A massive servant in blue and green, a leader on the pitch and off. And an example for the players coming up behind him. All the best in LI and on the recovery Seanie!
So let’s look at the controversial points of the game. Firstly the booing of Sexton. The Glasgow side of social media say it was because he took so long for the opening kick. The blue side say the booing started well ahead of the allotted time he has to take the kick. The answer lies on the blue side in this one. Not 30 seconds in did the boo start. This isn’t football lads that needs to be sorted. When the MC said over the loud speaker to respect the kickers, he got booed as well. You know you’re in Glasgow when ….
The second (and third) are the tackle from Fraser Brown on Luke McGrath at the side of a lineout. Referee Owens (usually great, but this season has seen him slip a bit) not card him due to Brown thinking that McGrath had the ball. Well if I could have used that excuse when I played, then literally every single player at any time of the game would be in danger of a tackle, just because ‘I thought they had the ball’. Silly decision and the linesmen really let themselves down here too. It was a yellow card, end of. The Brown injury looked horrific and hope the lad will make the world cup. 
The second moment was the Kearney card for a challenge on Hogg as the Glasgow FB was jumping for the ball. A fair outcome here I think. There was nothing malicious here, unlike the Brown tackle which was completely malicious. Both players had eyes on the ball and these things happen when two 15 stone fellas are competing. Classy stuff from Kearney after the challenge and after the card to check on Hogg, but a fair result in terms of the card. 
So the season is over for the blue jersey. There have been ups and downs, but with 58 players used and Dr Felipe slipping in nicely this year it has been another good year. Navigating a dip in form and finishing with a trophy is a fantastic return. Having a fire in the loins after that Champions Cup loss is no bad thing either. 
We take a break, and we go again!    
@nkeegan on twitter and for more. 

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