SOMEHOW OVER THE RAINBOW
As soon as we knew it was to be called the “Rainbow Cup” I put in a rule banning rainbow puns on these pages because, well, you know, it was pretty obvious that everyone was going to be at it. You know the way whenever an Italian team is involved there’s always someone who can’t resist using “The Italian Job”? Well this tournament was always going to be that on steroids when it came to headlines.
But I suppose now that Leinster’s involvement is mathematically done I can allow myself one little reference, if only to show that elimination is not that big a deal. And I know that’s not just an arrogant Leinster feeling - everyone was going to be invested only as long as there was a chance of winning.
There is still plenty in this match to harp on however, and I reckon first and foremost I have to deal with another trope that gets trotted out throughout the sport far too often : “My team lost because of the ref”.
When you’re devoting as much content to rugby matches as I do, you pick up a lot of trends over the years, and one of the most obvious ones is when the team of officials are announced to which you always get replies of “Oh no, don’t tell me X is the ref!”. I’ve always wondered what the motivation for these comments is and I can only assume that it is “I’m just letting everyone know that if we lose, it can only be X’s fault!!!”
To be fair it’s not really a black and white issue. It has always been a bugbear of mine that a multinational competition like the Pro14, especially one that it spans as many as 5 rugby nations, can’t guarantee at very least a referee from a neutral one. And of course I understand the COVID limitations for the past year or so, but this has been a talking point for a long time before that.
So I guess I did roll my eyes a bit at the appointment of Frank Murphy for this match, though it was more because that puts him on a tightrope of compromise between making the right call and being wary of looking “biased”. Of course they are all professionals but for me it’s even more professional for the league to remove all elements of uncertainty.
Anyway - since the full time whistle blew at Scotstoun, there has been much talk about Murphy from some quarters, and you can only assume that this is because there’s a feeling that were it not for him, Leinster would have won. So let’s examine that shall we.
The way I see it, Frank Murphy was not responsible for…
A series of Leinster penalties in the opening 10 minutes where we were very lucky not to ship a yellow card
Conceding the first score courtesy of a Matt Fagerson try
A knock on at the base of a ruck denying a Hugo Keenan try
Leinster changing our attack plan after getting into a winning position
Allowing Adam Hastings to escape after he carried it over his own try line
Being unable to sell a block thus having another Keenan try called back
Not scoring any points during a second half Glasgow yellow card
Not being able to adapt in second half when Glasgow’s defence started to shut us down
I did my best not to name Leinster players in that list because our problem did not rest with individuals. The way I saw it, after weathering an early storm we took control of the scoreboard, a situation we are well used to, yet while the bonus point victory we required to stay in the competition was within our reach all the way up to the final quarter, we were unable to get the job done.
Now that’s not to say I agreed with every decision made by the officials, but as a general rule it’s safe enough to say that for every two dodgy calls that go against your team, there’s at least one that the other fans are just as annoyed about so when you lose, if you’re going to pin it all on the man in the middle you’d better be damn sure you’ve checked your team’s performance first.
So yes, I reckon that was forward but I also reckon de Allende’s try back at the RDS should have been called back, this time for an even more obvious offence as Peter O’Mahony knocked on in the build up. But nobody was talking about that back then and it certainly wasn’t the reason we lost that evening either.
And having pointed out flaws in both Leinster and the officials, I can’t leave out the home side either. Having watched the match back again I have to say something that happened in the opening minutes looked very suspect indeed. Sam Johnson required attention for a challenge, got up again, took part in a couple of plays, only to go down again and captain George Turner was very quick to use his captain’s challenge.
When asked to review the challenges the ref rightly saw nothing in it, though there may be a question mark over which one Turner wanted reviewed. This brings up even more flaws in that whole challenge rule, but as a side note I have to wonder if the home side wasn’t trying something? I guess Johnson did have to leave the action at 23 minutes but the whole thing had a bit of a suspect look to it. Again, not the reason we lost, just pointing it out, and it certainly wasn’t the last bit of ugliness from the 80 minutes and we got involved in our share of it.
But even without that, Glasgow would have dominated those opening exchanges. Although we had the wind behind us, the Warriors led by young Ross Thomson were able to retrieve their own box kicks and ship the ball quickly to the wide channels to make as much territory as possible and we were almost forced to ship penalties to stop them.
So eventually despite the fact we managed to find loopholes around Murphy’s warnings to avoid a yellow card, the relentless pressure resulted in Fagerson crashing over to give the home side a much deserved lead. But we have conceded the first score many a time and it remained to be seen how we’d respond. It took just a couple of minutes for us to get our answer.
For this next passage of play, I’d say over fifteen minutes, we were almost unstoppable with the ball. Passes through the back line were perfectly timed to take out defenders, carries into tacklers were getting multiple metres beyond them, and when there was a sniff of a series breaking down, we seemed to not only know when to pin our hosts back in their 22, we had the footballing ability to do it accurately with the likes of Ross Byrne and Garry Ringrose.
Our first try came after our own lineout dart was overthrown yet still retrieved by Ross - from there the strong carries got us into the 22 until Caelan Doris spun out of a challenge before putting his skipper Luke McGrath through to cancel out all the Warriors hard work from the first ten minutes just like that.
It wasn’t long before we were back at them again and the first Keenan “try” would have been very “montage-able” were it not for an unfortunate knock on by Ross Molony at an earlier ruck which had it rightly ruled out.
For the second try we needed the home side to go a man down when Cole Forbes was pinged for holding back Cian Kelleher, who went on to provide a quality finish but only after more of those big carries including one from Josh van der Flier, hands down Leinster’s most impressive performer on the night.
So there we were, 12-7 to the good, having wiped out the home side’s advantage and looking to all intents and purposes like the two extra tries required were well within our reach. But let’s be clear - we got to 12 points before the half hour mark yet by full time we hadn’t added to them. What happened?
Well I wonder if we got a bit cocky. With Jimmy O’Brien handy with the boot as well as Byrne and Ringrose, I don’t understand why we didn’t just continue on as we had been, trying to keep them pinned back as much as possible and allowing our line speed, which was a decent standard throughout, help us win the ball back. I mean you could say Glasgow put extra men in the backfield but at this particular time they were still a man down.
So after going ahead we insisted on running the ball out of our own 22 and although we did get to halfway, we knocked it on before conceding a penalty at the resulting scrum and I reckon that was when we gave Glasgow an opening back into it. Eventually we pretty much forced Murphy to go to his cards before the break as O’Loughlin was sent to the naughty step giving us a tough start to the second half ahead.
Yet as we often do, we resumed the match strongly and maybe I was a bit harsh blaming our players for Adam Hastings’ ability to blag his way out from what seemed like a hopeless situation - from looking like we’d at least be getting a 5m scrum they were able to clear their lines instead.
We kept at them but this stage Andrew Porter had been introduced to the action and I really don’t think his cameo appearance could have gone worse if he put his mind to it. Obviously all Leinster and Ireland fans, like me, are gutted for him being forced out of the Lions tour after a toe injury, although I will never question a decision to play him as they always need some game time and it’s just one of those risks that has to be taken in the sport.
But when it came to the match, for a player that is well used to coming on and making a positive impact, it wasn’t to be the case here. First he did a poor job of “painting a picture” for the officials as Keenan had a second try called back. And as a result of the penalty for the illegal block, Glasgow ended up scoring their second (though disputed by this blogger) try straight from the resulting lineout.
And that wasn’t it for Porter’s involvement, as it was his hands on the floor in an attempt to jackal which led to the penalty which Thompson slotted to give his side the lead for good. But before you think I’m putting all the blame on him, please think again. It was a terrible night for him only because of the injury and the four points we required to at least get victory on the night certainly could have been found elsewhere.
Which leads me to the most unpleasant them from this encounter...the overall “ugliness”. I really do believe this was a tactic employed by the Warriors and to be fair, it’s a decent one and they wouldn’t be the first to try and knock us off our game. With players like Hastings, Harley and Wilson on the pitch they certainly had the characters to cause us problems, and eventually it was a Wilson neck roll, ironically on Porter, which gave us a vital extra man with as many as 27 minutes left.
And going back to the officials, I think the source of frustration in Murphy and co came from all the stoppages, for numerous “shamozzles”, way too many scrum resets as well as so many looks at the pitch side monitor they may as well have put an armchair for him there.
But while we had the extra man for a key portion of the match, we simply could not capitalise. Our ability to find gaps out wide and soft shoulders in contact almost at will seemed to evaporate and what’s more, it really looked like the Glasgow coaches did a great job of working out our attack patterns as they were very close to intercepting us more than once.
And so the match just fizzled out, as did our hopes of reaching the final, which were remote in fairness, although just before kickoff Connacht did us a favour by beating the Ospreys so it would have been good to see us keeping the rest of the competition looking over their shoulders a little while longer.
Yet it was not to be and just one last time I’ll point out that Glasgow were the worthy winners, not because of the ref, more because of our inability to convert a winning position. And to be fair there’s some mitigation for us with such a long injury list - while I do point out that our attacking prowess waned as the match went on it should be pointed out that it’s a lot to ask both your 9 and 10 to play a full 80 in such a competitive contest.
Anyway...whatever disappointment I may be feeling from the result over the weekend, that’s nothing compared to that we’re all feeling over Andrew Porter, and one other thing I know for sure - there won’t be one Leinster fan who was lucky enough to get a ticket for next Friday’s match at the RDS who will give a damn about whether or not it’s a “dead rubber”. I’ll be there myself, and I’m already counting the minutes to kickoff (6,070 left at the time of writing). Bring it on. JLP