Monday, January 17, 2022

Leinster-89 Montpellier-7

NO MERCI

I haven't played table tennis since school but I definitely remember the "mercy rule" whereby you'd win a match automatically if you won all of the first 7 points. Which side of that scoreline I generally found myself on isn't really important right now.


So if they were to ever bring that rule in for rugby, I reckon the ideal place to set the bar would be 28-0, and in many ways it would have been best all round for this particular match to have been stopped then.


Now I say "in many ways", but that of course is ignoring one particular way in which we absolutely needed to carry on. At the time of the EPCR ruling against us, I penned a "writeup" where I did my best to take a "c'est la vie" approach although when the decision was made to turn all the other postponed matches into 0-0 draws I definitely considered a re-write.


But in the end that wouldn't have changed anything so on top of all Leinster cancellations over the holiday period, the only way we could give any kind of response was on the pitch, and after a week of doing all I could to avoid jinxing the match going ahead, finally the boys in blue took to the pitch at lunchtime on Sunday.


I've read all the comments about what this type of scoreline does to the "credibility of a competition", how boring it might be for the neutrals, how the players on the losing team might feel about being sent out as lambs to the slaughter...all of those points are valid and have been made before for much smaller margins of victory, often also by Leinster.


But this match was different, and if you're not going to have any sympathy for the actual province itself (and let's face it pretty much nobody outside it does) maybe, just maybe, you can spare a thought for its fans. I know there is a phenomenon of people like "Lunsters" where "blow-ins" end up following the province but the fact remains that a vast majority of the fans actually come from Leinster and would probably still follow even with half of the success we have enjoyed over the past decade or so.


All of which means it would be very harsh to begrudge in any way a feast of scores like this one after we had been denied any rugby at all for so long, especially when you consider all that has been going on in the "real" world in that time. For me anyway, this was just the scoreline we needed, and just the gametime the squad needed and when it comes to "doing harm to a competition", well it's just going to have to suck it up in this case and you know what, I reckon it's going to be just fine.


When it comes to writing up the match itself, what else could I do but harp on the key moments by way of headings, most of which involved Leinster tries. I also picked my three favourite scores and awarded them Olympic-style medals because, well you know, why not.


#1 JACK CONAN (1) 2:46 7-0


Our first try was a case of “third time lucky” after we saw from our opening two possessions just how easy it was going to be to break the Montpellier line.  With the opening minute yet to be completed we worked some space on the left wing only for Jimmy O’Brien to overcook his kick up the line a tad, then a slick show and go from Ciaran Frawley got him through only for his final pass to go behind his skipper Garry Ringrose.


Eventually a strong carry from Ringrose got us back on the front foot and when Jordan Larmour got everything out of some space on his wing, we sent it quickly through the hands out the other way where Jack Conan was able to go over.  Clearly a sign of things to come.


TADHG FURLONG SUBSTITUTION


Never a sight you want to see especially after 5 minutes although it looked like more of a niggly matter as he actually got involved in a defensive series before being taken off so hopefully it was just a case of “Six Nations cotton wool” coming into play.


#2 JAMISON GIBSON-PARK 8:54 14-0


 After a bout of kick tennis, MHR scrum half Aprasidze lost it in the tackle and from there we went the simple route again putting it through the hands quickly to earn space for Jimmy O’Brien who seemed to lose it forward before JGP applied the finish but in fact it had been knocked from his hands so the try stood.


#3 ROSS BYRNE 13:28 21-0


A strong JVDF carry got us on the front foot and it wasn’t long before we were deep in their 22 again, and although the visitors managed to turn it over, they were so surprised to have the ball they rushed their clearance and it got blocked by Conan to fall perfectly for Ross Byrne to get it over the line.


#4 ROSS MOLONY 23.29 28-0


Then 10 minute wait to the bonus point seemed like an age but I loved that it was Ross Molony who got it because not only has he been a workhorse for Leinster this season, he was one of our starters who played from the kickoff with strong counter-rucking as Montpellier were trying to exit.  Here he followed up on another strong run and step from Larmour by bringing it the rest of the way.


MINUTES 26 TO 30, aka “THE MONTPELLIER PURPLE PATCH” 28-7


On a rare bout of Montpellier possession at midfield, Jimmy O’Brien was tempted off his wing allowing them to bring it all the way into our 22 and after a few phases on the line their Fijian flanker Masivesi Dakuwaqa dotted down after diving over a ruck.  Then after winning a penalty they worked the lineout up the line before a fortunate bounce or two allowed No8 Tauleigne to get it down but it was called back for a foot in touch.


#5 MICHAEL ALA’ALATOA 33:47 35-7


Had an amazing string of pop passes and offloads around halfway resulted in a try it could have been one for the ages but in the end we knocked on so it took a more conventional route of carries into the 22 before once again it was Jordan Larmour stepping and barging his way to extra metres after the tackle and on the next phase Ala’alatoa just had to fall over the line.


#6 JORDAN LARMOUR 38:01 [BRONZE MEDAL] 40-7


Best try of the half and Larmour definitely deserved to be on the scoresheet, but if you don’t mind I’d like to point out a little quibble with this try.  We had already worked it effortlessly into their 22 before a cheeky offload from Doris put Ringrose through and when Gibson Park tried to recycle with two men free out wide, only for MHR winger Pierre Lucas to slap a very deliberate knock down to stop him.


Referee Wayne Barnes allows play to go on, and a clever “through the legs” pass from Ross Byrne got it to Larmour to finish in the corner, but the subsequent conversion was missed when I really think there was a case to be made for both a penalty try and a yellow card.


Yes, I know we got a truckload of points on the board anyway, and yes, I know we’re Leinster and nobody outside the province would care about any perceived injustice against us anyway, but hey, I have a blog and I’m gonna use it - on a day when our goal was to maximise points difference, IMO we were “robbed” of two points and an extra spell of 10 minutes against 14 men here.


HALFTIME 40-7


#7 JOSH VAN DER FLIER (1) 43:42  [GOLD MEDAL] 47-7


Whatever the opposition you don’t rack up a score like this without a load of impressive displays and among those who fall into that category are Ringrose, Larmour and Molony but when it comes to winning the match gong, it really has been Josh van der Flier setting the height of the bar this season.


That said, for this try he was "only" involved at the start of the move, making the most of Jack Conan’s catch at a lineout at halfway, and at the end when finishing it by dotting down, again taking it from his number 8.  What happened in between was a wonderful series of passes, offloads, clearouts and recycles from pretty much the rest of the XV, with the highlight being a guided missile of a long pass from James Lowe (on for Larmour at the break) into the path of Jimmy O’Brien.  Plus we originally won back possession after a strong bout of defending at halfway.


#8 JIMMY O’BRIEN 45:30  [SILVER MEDAL] 54-7


Montpellier outhalf Forsans got his team's the next two touches of the ball after that JVDF try.  The first was to restart, the next was to do another restart after our exit from their 22 resulted in Jimmy O’Brien storming home on a diagonal run against little or no resistance.  


Obviously the defence was suspect to say the least, but I’m pretty sure any side in Europe would get credit for scoring directly from an exit situation so I’m giving some to Leinster here.


#9 JOSH VAN DER FLIER (2) 50:28 61-7


He was definitely a lot more involved in this move, in fact he was the only one to touch the ball after a Montpellier lineout was overthrown and he was first to react.  Took it on the full and powered home.  All this as our outhalf duties had just been handed over to Johnny Sexton so not a bad way for the club captain to return to action.


#10 DAN SHEEHAN (1) 64:27 68-7


Try number 10 for Leinster came after arguably Montpellier’s best moment of the match, when they took a quick lineout, caught us napping and sent it back with interest for a 5022.  But our defensive standards were mostly where they needed to be and after immense pressure following their lineout a massive hit from Garry Ringrose forced it loose.


Our resulting possession was a bit scrappy throughout the 8 phases that led to Dan Sheehan going in under the posts, but never enough to lose the ball altogether although of course it didn’t hurt our cause that the visitors had all but given up.


MASIVESI DAKUWAQA RED CARD


A drawback of being in the kind of form Josh van der Flier has shown this season is that you often get negative attention from opposition.  The citing commissioner who covered our win over Bath in round 1 deemed a challenge by Will Muir was worthy of a red card, and here despite our being 61 points to the good, Dakuwaqa countered his earlier try with a shameful drop of the shoulder onto Josh’s head and for me the only issue was why it took so long for the red to come out.  The scoreline should never influence these decisions.


#11 DAN SHEEHAN (2) 68:34 75-7


Penalty from the red card incident was put to touch, Sheehan throws to Molony before getting it himself as the Leinster maul inches towards the Montpellier line and he has an easy dive to get it down.  Easily the most straightforward try of the day.


#12 JACK CONAN (2) 75:09 82-7


Leinster scrum outside their 22, Sexton slips Ringrose through an all-too-easily-identified gap, he takes it all the way to the line, Conan follows up and crashes over.  Now the point a minute total had been achieved.


#13 JAMES LOWE 80:45 89-7


Didn't quite make the "podium" but still this was one of my favourite tries because with the clock ticking into the red as it was awarded, we could have easily killed the match but like I said in my preview and back at the start of this writeup, just on this one particular day I wanted us to be ruthless to maximise points difference and to make a statement against that EPCR ruling, so I’m delighted we did just that by going for another seven here.


After dummying a kick to touch and working a few phases, a simple enough switch play between Jimmy O’Brien and James Lowe allowed the latter to put the salted caramel glaze on the walnut sprinkles on the cherry on the cake.


*******************

That is literally all that needs to be said about this match. Statements have been made, the points difference has been improved, and hopefully the withdrawals both before and after kickoff weren't for anything too serious.

All we can do now is go to the Rec next Saturday and try for something similar, although possibly points difference won't be so crucial so maybe the ideal scenario this time could be one where we can actually show some mercy.

In the meantime, I'm still celebrating the fact that I had any Leinster rugby at all to harp on this week, plus I should add that I enjoyed the rewatch a whole lot more than I thought I would. JLP


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