Monday, May 31, 2021

Mini-writeups : #MUNvCBL, #BENvCON, #TLNvUBB, #DRAvGLA, #ATLvGIL


The reason I did the first of these "mini-writeup" posts back in April was my "OCD" nature when it comes to posting content.


My plan was to harp on Leinster v Toulon in the last 16 of the Champions Cup so when that match was taken away from me, I still felt I had to write about something so I picked 5 matches from the weekend and offered a few thoughts on them.


I enjoyed doing them so much that when Leinster were left with a two-week gap in their schedule on account of no longer being in Europe as well as a Rainbow Cup bye week, it seemed to make sense to try the format again and sure enough there were plenty of interesting matches to feature last weekend and this one was no different.


For this instalment I was looking at the matches from two angles in particular; the first, naturally, involved a Leinster-shaded lens, and on Friday I worked out exactly what needs to happen over the coming weeks for the boys in blue to reach the Rainbow Cup final. As things stand, that is still possible, though less likely given how the latest results panned out.


Another thing I wanted to focus on was TV coverage, and this is to be a theme of sorts on these pages for the week ahead. With eir Sport leaving the market, I plan to have some fellow Irish rugby fans on the podcast to discuss what we'd like to see from the broadcaster that takes their place.


So part of my aim here is to compare and contrast what we tend to see from both the Pro14 and the Top 14, and just for the craic I had a look at a top of the table clash in Major League Rugby as well to see how the Yanks are covering egg-chasing this weather.


As I'm featuring three Pro14 Rainbow Cup matches I won't comment on the telly presentation seperately; all I'll say is that personally I didn't really have any major problems with eir Sport over the years, which I know is an opinion that won't be very popular.


Many have qualms with Liam Toland's contributions in particular but for my part I tend not to pay too much mind to what the pundits are saying and even when they do get my goat, sure isn't that all part of the craic? What I liked about eir Sport's coverage was that EVERY match was available for viewing, with the vast majority of them live. As a blogger who likes to research ahead to keep up on Leinster's upcoming opposition, that was absolutely ideal. I'm not so sure RTÉ will guarantee the same, especially if they plan to take back the GAA Leagues as well.


Some qualms I'd have would be over nerdy things like in-play graphics. Sometimes they use phase counters, sometimes they don't. Personally I think they should come as standard. Also I'm a big fan of using a separate clock to indicate how long is left on a sin-binning. But like I say we'll be going into all this in more detail on the podcast during the week so what say we get on with the 5 matches in question...

MUNSTER 31-27 CARDIFF The simplest way to describe the way this match panned out would be "Braun over Brain", since Munster's tries came from mauls and carries while Cardiff tended to go the more creative offloading route for theirs.


But before I get lambasted for suggesting Munster don't have any brains, in actual fact they had them to burn right at the very end when the Blues were attacking in their 22 only for CJ Stander to use his "captain's challenge" to point out that Cardiff's sub scrum half Lloyd Williams had kicked the ball back into a ruck at one point which meant the home side could kill the match.


I have to say while Munster ended up with the home bonus point victory I was expecting, I never thought it would be this close at all. However Dai Young is back in charge at the Blues and he definitely had them playing some great no-fear rugby from the kickoff, really putting it up to Johann van Graan's men who needed every ounce of their set piece and close range accuracy to secure the 5 match points.


Having gone 10-0 down early on thanks to a 2nd-minute Tomos Williams try plus a penalty, Munster shifted everything back the other way with three very similar tries before the break and it really looked like that was that but the Blues weren't for letting up and with Tomos bagging his second before his replacement Lloyd made it three, the visitors nudged back in front 24-27 in the final ten minutes.


But when sub Keynan Knox barged his way over for the bonus point score it seemed to be all over and while ultimately it was, the Blues were able to put themselves in a really good position before Lloyd's late brainfart got sussed.


The end result for Leinster was that for us to have a chance of at least overtaking Munster on the table, we first need maximum points from our two remaining matches, plus we'll be hoping for a favour from Zebre to either avoid defeat in their final match or at very least lose while conceding three tries or less plus keeping the points differential down to give us a chance to catch up. Yeah, I know, none of that really sounds likely, does it. Sure as the saying goes, ya just never know do ya!!! BENETTON 20-12 CONNACHT Before I harp on this match from Leinster's perspective, we must all spare a thought for poor Denis Buckley.


All throughout the week there was loads of much-deserved praise for the loose head prop as he prepared to lead his province out for his 200th appearance. He has been a great servant to the Westies over the years and was really unfortunate not to have received any attention at senior test level in that time.


So after all that hype in the build up, only to go and justify it by brilliantly winning a turnover in the opening exchanges, doesn't he then go on to get himself injured as with his legs locked in the jackle position he gets cleared out resulting in an injury which ended his involvement before the clock has ticked past a minute. Dreadful luck for the chap and I hope he's back in action soon.


Anyway, going to the match itself, despite the early subsitution Connacht started brightly and hooker Shane Delahunt mauled over for an opening score. But it wasn't long before Benetton showed why they're in pole position to appear in the very final they are set to host on June 19.


First there was Ignacio Brex powering over in the corner after a great sweeping move and from there the home side were more than happy to take three point oppotunites courtesy of out half Garbisi to keep their side of the scoreboard ticking over.


Connacht did manage to maul over for another try and actually led at the break but their poor discipline kept the kicking tee on the pitch for Benetton and in the 74th minute a red card for Papali'i helped them see the victory home.


If you squint your eyes and tilt your head while looking at this result you can kind of see how the fact that Benetton weren't interested in the bonus point helped Leinster, but now the situation is that we not only need Ospreys to win by 8 points or more in the Liberty Stadium on June 12, we also have to hope Connacht recover in time for next week to make sure those pesky birds aren't also still in contention.


Personally I think it might be easier for Leinster fans to adopt a "hope for the best but prepare for the worst" attitude towards this Rainbow Cup and perhaps consider the benefits of hopping on the famed "Benetton Bandwagon Bus" should it become mathematically impossible for us to reach the final.

TOULON 25-19 BORDEAUX

First and foremost, as an avid watcher of rugby on Irish telly it was absolutely amazing to see Top14 action back on our screens. How it dropped off in the first place I'll never know as surely there will always be a decent demand for it, but whatever the reason it worked out perfectly for my plans for mini-writeups especially as the Ulster/Scarlets match was unfortunately cancelled.

My only real bugbear with TV coverage from the French networks was in their graphics - whenever the clock stopped they would replace the time elapsed with the word "STOP" and it always annoyed me because I couldn't work out why they couldn't have both the word and the clock on at the same time! Yeah, I know, that's a nerdy thing to worry about but hey, I'm a fully-fledged rugby nerd who never tried to hide it!

Anyway to the match - this was a big clash in terms of how the top six playoff places were going to pan out and also while we were celebrating the ability to watch on the box, fans at the Stade Mayol were also able to return to enjoy the famous "Pilou Pilou" chant before kickoff.

Bordeax began the stronger with Jalibert leading them around the pitch and Scott Higginbotham crashing over after a maul to give them an early lead. But gradually their discipline allowed the home side to "three-point" their way back into it thanks to the boot of Louis Carbonel and after nudging in front 12-11 after the break, a bad Jalibert miss was soon followed by another Toulon pen back down the other end; quite a significant six-point swing.

Then as the match ticked into the final quarter Bordeaux managed to see off a ten-munte spell with 14 men without falling further behind until the ridiculous series of scrum resets you see in the above tweet not only ate over three minutes off the clock but also led to a try from Facundo Isa that sealed the win.

Bordeaux weren't quite done yet and pinched a try before the death thanks to Maxime Lamothe but Botica was unable to convert to get within the 5 points required for a vital losing bonus point.

All of this leaves things quite tight at the top of the table with Champions Cup finalists Toulouse and La Rochelle both with 77 point but with the former travelling to Bordeaux in the final round and the latter having to go to the Stade Marcel Michelin of all places, things could definitely change next week.

DRAGONS 16-27 GLASGOW


I've already mentioned in this post how Leinster need help from Ospreys and Zebre to reach the final, but even if they oblige us it won't matter if we can't do our own job of getting maximum point wins in our final two matches, and as luck would have it we got to watch both of our opponents play each other on Saturday evening.


Apparently the Dragons are working on sorting out their infamous playing surface back home in Newport so this was played at the Cardiff City Stadium and it was quite an interesting contest from start to finish with plenty of intent from both sides, if perhaps not always a whole lot of accuracy.


With the Rainbow Cup touted by many as an opportunity to get game time for youngsters, I have to say these two clubs definitely do seem to have some prospects. I already knew about Ross Thomson at outhalf for Glasgow as he played quite a bit when Adam Hastings was out injured but now the Scotland international has returned, they seem to have him at fullback so that Thomson can play a bit more and he definitely looked the part here.


Also on the Glasgow side there was number 7 Rory Darge, who at 21 has the look of a taller Hamish Watson about him and certainly put himself about much like the Lion openside. On the Dragons end of things, although 20 year old Aneurin Owen looks absolutely nothing like Jamie Roberts, he was enough to confine the great centre to the bench and definitely showed plenty of his carrying power.


In fact it was Owen himself who opened the scoring with an early try although in reality the Warriors pretty much dominated throughout and after a couple of scores were disallowed by the TMO, struck twice just before the break through Steyn and finally Thomson after a superb series of Warrior offloads that began at midfield.


From there it was really only a question of whether or not the visitors would manage to get the try bonus and they did right at the very end with another sweeping move resulted in sub lock Kiran McDonald falling over the line - the TMO checked the legality of a couple of the passes in the build up but they were all called "flat" and Glasgow had themselves a deserved maximum and Leinster certainly won't have things all their own way at Scotstoun this Friday.



I couldn't let this particular "mini-writeup" go without a nod to the lost luscious locks of Mr Richard Hibbard. As someone who only recently was able to lose my overgrown "COVID hair" I can appreciate the need to reach for the blade but in Hibbard's case the mane was something of a trademark so you couldn't help but notice the difference. The commentators remarked it takes years off him, I might add it takes pounds off him as well!!!



RUGBY ATL 17-12 LA GILTINIS

Way back in March, Harpin contributor Mark Strange did an excellent team-by-team profile of the 12 clubs in Major League Rugby and I can't believe how time as flown since then as it has been my intention of checking out a match or two this season to see how rugby is getting on over there.

And in many ways there has been no excuse as every single match is available for free on TheRugbyNetwork.com as well as separate highlight clips if preferred. But this weekend I was determined to check out one full 80 minutes and I certainly picked a good un as the top teams in each conference were squaring off at Life University in Atlanta.

But first, I have to confess that I have a serious problem with the nickname Giltinis. Coming from the Bay Area of California originally as I do I guess it's in my DNA to dislike anything sporting coming from Los Angeles but I reckon I'd have problems with this name anyway, and Austin's "Gilgronis" isn't much better. I don't care how ironic this sounds - cocktails and team nicknames do not mix!!!!

Yet when you look at the talent on show for the LA franchise I suppose you can allow yourself to at least try to ignore the name, even if it is emblazoned on their jerseys. Matt Giteau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, DTH van der Merwe, Adam Ashe, plus some Irish interest in the form of Luke Carty & the McNulty brothers - they all go a long way towards explaining why they have the best record in the league after 11 rounds.

But the Atlanta based side hasn't been doing too badly themselves and they went into this match top of the Eastern Conference so there was every possibility this match could have been a preview of the league championship decider on August 1.

Another familiar face, and another with an Irish connection, was referee JP Doyle. Originally from Dublin he was of course based in the Premiership until being let go during the COVID times so it is of course great to see him getting some work and his communication with the players throughout was a big part of the enjoyment.

On the TV coverage, well it was a very "American" presentation although I don't necessarily see that as a bad thing. Maybe there are more sponsors names in view on the screen than we'd like throughout but you can't deny the commentators knew their stuff with SA-born and former US 7s player Dallen Stanford and ex US Eagles coach Mike Tolkin holding the mikes. Also there's what is called a "hydration break" 20 minutes into either half which effectively divides the game into quarters which no doubt allows for more ads on the telly.

Another feature at the Rugby ATL ground (known affectionately as "the snake pit") was the return of fans and while it was a long way from a packed Aviva Stadium for the Six Nations, there was still a decent showing around the pitch and the fans were definitely engaged throughout. Final word on the presentation is on the jerseys, as both sides were sporting specially commissioned kits to commemorate Memorial Day weekend.

Right - now to the play itself. The commentators teed things up nicely with their preview pointing out that ATL were known for their physicality while LA led the league in tries scored by a mile on account of their high risk/reward approach and this was all evident from the kick off.

But on this occasion the home side with their dominant tackles had the upper hand on the Giltinis' attempts to pass their way around them, and ATL also enjoyed a lot of success at the lineout steal several on opposition throw.

It wasn't until the 22nd minute that the scoreboard started moving as ATL's winger Rory Van Vugt went over in the corner to help open up a 7-0 lead. But the Giltinis fought back quickly and a set play off an attacking scrum saw DTH VDM, known as "Tiger King" these days, finished off a straightforward play.

They couldn't convert it however and the game's most decisive moment came in a few minutes later when an altercation on the ground saw LA lock Luke White head butt an opponent on the ground right in front of JP Doyle who didn't hesitate producing a red card ("You know exactly what you did - you chose to do that"). ATL pressed for a try from the penalty but in the end settled for three points to go into the break 10-5 ahead.

Much like the Rainbow Cup, Major League Rugby is trialling that law whereby you can replace a red carded player after 20 minutes so it was important to the home side that they took full advantage as soon as possible.

And after a poor clearance from their own 22 was run back by outhalf Caarlse, ATL made the most of front foot ball to get close to the line and in the end a wonderful offload from Argentine centre Ezcurra allowed Ryan Rees to dot down. Sidenote from this score - the jury is still out on commentator Stanford's line after the try : "He's more elusive than Homer Simpson's dietician"...

Of course once LA were back to full strength they were always going to try to claw the lead back and after a tap n go try from Cottrell was converted by Luke Carty with the clock ticking down, they went on a 20+ phase set deep in ATL territory all the way to the 84th minute before an excellent counter ruck turned it over to end the match.

Both sides remain atop their respective conferences after this weekend but they also have teams chasing them like Utah, Austin and New York so we'll be sure to check in again when it gets closer to playoff time.
NEXT WEEK Right, well fun and all as the mini-writeups have been I can't wait to get back to harping on Leinster Rugby and all going well I'll get to do just that this Friday.

This week's schedule of content should be a lot more "normal" with a profile from Irish club rugby on Tuesday, podcast on TV rugby coverage on Wednesday, list of upcoming live rugby on TV this Thursday and a preview of Glasgow v Leinster around lunchtime on Friday. Be sure and check back for any or all of the above and as always, many thanks for staying with me right to the end. JLP


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Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019