Sunday, February 27, 2022

Leinster-21 Lions-13


"Real life" doesn't always give me time to do the kind of research I'd prefer ahead of matches like this, but I did make sure to find the time to watch the Lions' last URC match against the Stormers two weekends ago.

The first thing I wrote in my notes was the commentator mentioning that while the Johannesburg-based side may not have been having ideal results of late, the best feature of their overall game was definitely their scrum.

Here's the thing...what I saw from the 80 minutes didn't really leave me with that impression, so when it came to writing my preview for this match, I left it out. They won a few penalties at the set piece yes, and against a front row with the likes of Kitschoff I might add, but it was nowhere near enough to suggest it was actually a real threat, at least not to me. Needless to say they showed us that it was at the RDS on Friday.

One other thing I did notice was that their winger Stean Pienaar likes to have a cut when given half a chance, so he DID get a mention and what's more, when he finally found a few inches of space out wide having picked up a loose ball in the 60th minute, it looked to all intents and purposes like he was going to finally get his side's first try of the night.

But the thing is, nobody had consulted Tommy O'Brien about all of this. And before I heap the deserved praise on him for this, I must point out the prevailing culture that seems to be at Leinster at the moment, a very defense-orientated one which may not be fully appreciated by all fans, but most certainly is by this blogger.

We may have come out of this three-match home series with some grumbling about cohesion and such, but still it has to be said that for a makeshift squad to be so organised over 240 minutes to limit each of their opponents to just one try in the final quarter each time, the overall systems have to be in pretty good nick.

And when your province is in that kind of a zone, you'll be extra motivated to hunt down an opponent even when it looks like your match is won anyway. But that's enough about the general state of Leinster's defence - like I said, this was mostly about Tommy.

It was a certain try. It just was. And even if Pienaar was caught, that wasn't going to be enough - he had to be hit just right so he couldn't power through and touch the ball down anyway as the best wingers are wont to do. And boy did he hit the guy just right, it was one the best try-saving tackles the RDS has seen.

Obviously he did more than that to earn the Player of the Match award, but the fact that his tackle was very much the highlight of the night despite the four tries in total speaks volumes. But since this is meant to be a match writeup, I really should start harping on what happened the rest of the time.


There were milestones aplenty on this night - it was the first time the Emirates Lions had played in D4, and also Leinster were led out by Rhys Ruddock who was racking up his 200th appearance for the province.

We were just about two minutes into the proceedings when our guests gave us the first taste of their scrummaging prowess. I suppose having been a prop may self back (way back) in the day I should stick up for the Front Row Union but I have to say these were all well-coordinated 8-man heaves with the power from the engine room very clear to see and we struggled to counter throughout.

The decision was made to go for the posts and while the angle was a bit tricky, the attempt by their 10 Hendrikse was poor and he also missed another a couple of minutes later. Obviously that doesn't mean they "should have been 6-0 up" as that's not how rugby works, but it would certainly have settled them nicely had one gone over.

On their next possession however, the Leinster defence started to do their thing, forcing another error from the boot of Hendrikse as his attempted high kick was caught in the wind and drifted into touch on the full, giving Leinster our first attacking chance with a lineout well in opposition territory.

First our 9, 10 and 12 combined well but it was Tommy O'Brien who made the most space by offloading around his tackler to Osborne and just like that we had a 3 on 1 out wide with Jimmy O'Brien sending it to Dave Kearney who beat the last man for a fine opening score, with Ross Byrne adding a sweet conversion for good measure.

Normally I'd have led off the writeup with a description of a try like that, but the way the rest of the match went I reckon the O'Brien tackle was more memorable. Because as memorable a score as that was, our mission was to go for a win with at least four and for the remainder of the half, we were unable to add to our side of the question.

As it turned out the only other score of this quarter was Hendrikse finally getting a penalty over the bar after some scrappy play in midfield led to a Leinster player getting isolated offering a much easier kick position. They might have even had more if openside Ruan Venter had held on to an interception after we tried a cheeky lineout but it was knocked on.


The Lions also won the first scrum of the second quarter and now they were putting it into our 22, only for our defense to show itself to be strong once again. Our maul stood strong and the big boot of Jamie Osborne is handy enough for clearing long.

For the remainder of the half it was pretty much an ugly slog at midfield with neither team able to make much headway. Tommy O'Brien managed one decent moment when he chased down his own kick ahead into their 22 but the visitors won a penalty and were able to clear.

A better chance came down the other end when the nippy Lions 9 Morne van den Berg got deep into our 22 only to be caught by our scrambling defenders and eventually what a sight it was for Dan Leavy to be jackling us out of a tough spot once more.

We came close a couple more times before the break, first we were pressuring the line until Nick McCarthy tried a risky pass that was picked off, and also right at the death when Leavy looked to have gotten it over only for it to be judged held up. In the end the only other score was another Hendrickse penalty and I doubt there were many in the RDS who thought the halftime score would be so close.

It looked like we weren't going to get that much needed strong start when the Lions again won a penalty from the first scrum of the half, but we managed to escape really well and once down the other end we were able to start turning the screw.

No matter how kickable our first penalty was outside the 22 it was always being put to the corner and we backed up the confidence with a strong drive by our maul (ironic given how the scrums were going) and with a couple of penalty advantages in the back pocket it was eventually Michael Ala'alatoa getting it over the line.

And it wasn't long before we were back down there again as Dave Kearney tidied up some broken play by jinking his way into the Lions half before Tommy O'Brien took it even further on into their 22. Maybe there was a hint of a case that the penalty shipped by the Lions during this front foot ball might have been a card but to be fair we had shipped a good few penalties so were lucky not to have seen the naughty step ourselves.

Instead we were more than happy to put it back to the corner where Devin Toner snatched the lineout, it was a straight forward set up and who else but Scott Penny, sporting the 23 jersey no less, to power over the line for the gagillionth time.

So...after all the worrying about where the second try was coming from, now we suddenly had three in the bank and just under half an hour to go on the clock. It seemed all we needed was for the complacency we showed in the first half didn't creep back in to keep us from getting this job done.

Well apart from Sean Cronin stepping past a winger, the sight of which the RDS crowd will never grow tired, the only other highlight of this portion was that Tommy O'Brien wonder tackle.


As it turned out, while those two quick tries didn't spur us on to get the bonus point, they did play a large part in helping us nail down the win as with the margin at 15 the Lions had to push for scores and we definitely caught a break when referee Craig Evans gave us a free kick at a scrum 5m from our line in the 63rd minute allowing Osborne to clear (we sure as hell weren't going for another scrum!)

To say the rest of the match kind of fizzled out would be something of an understatement, but once feature of the final twenty minutes was a barging run by Joe McCarthy, who has done really well with his opportunities in this part of the season and hopefully will be rewarded with more.

But time after time we went back to being unable to break down the visiting defence and while I don't want to take too much away from the Lions, I'm writing this after having watched Ireland's match against Italy (writeup to come on Monday btw) and although that match was far from conventional, I couldn't help notice what a difference Jamison Gibson-Park's quick ball can make to an offence and it wasn't there for us on Friday.

Finally as the clock was ticking down the Lions got just reward for their scrum pressure. Having spent most of the final 5 minutes in our 22, our resolute defence from our bench was doing well to keep them out only because it forced a knock on, we had to weather one more scrum before the end.

And the frustrating thing was, we couldn't even cope on our own put in and this was no exception as the pressure forced the ball free, their 9 picked it up and easily slipped their skipper Jaco Kriel through for a try which made the final scoreline reflect the match a lot better it has to be said.


Let's face it - any club should be delighted to be 4 points clear at the top of the standings after 11 out 18 matches play. And an even better stat is that although half of the league have player fewer times (Cardiff only 7!!!) we still have the best defensive record of the 16 and that has to be the biggest takeaway.

Because maybe a bonus point here and there will be missed but if you can rely on your bench during the Six Nations to put in a strong shift in the last half hour of a match, that has to be a sign that things are set throughout the squad to be strong when you get to the business end of the season.

Also like I have said while the past three outings haven't been classics, there are some strong performances from Tommy, Joe, and the game time has done no harm for the Jamie Osbornes and Max O'Briens either which will help them down the line.


So it's away from the RDS we must go, on to Treviso in fact where we'll be on another quest for tries. On the podcast during the week I spoke to the author of the Italian Rugby Blog, mostly about Italy but he also gave a few pointers on the Benetton squad while the internationals are away so be sure to check it out.

With more harpin' to be done this weekend I'll leave you now with a selection of the best comments from after the fulltime whistle, many thanks to all who contribute. JLP


Dave Murray Take the 4 points and move on.

Chris McDonnell Good to have Dan back. Really impressed with Joe McCarthy. A few others like Oreily and ruddock were very good but We have 2 9's who are not even AIL standard. A 10 who can't move a back line.
Sloppy mistakes from the likes of dave, josh and dev. ED Byrne wouldn't get a game for bectives 3rds with that performance. Just not good enough from a team with about 14 or 15 internationals in it.

Conor Cronin Lions gave us a better game than either of the Scottish or Welsh teams over the last couple of weeks. They were deserving of their try and might have deserved a BP. Leinster wasted their chance for one throwing an intercept at 1m out.
With that said, from the south stand I reckon the refereeing was poor and hindered Leinsters progress. Particularly the kick that went dead and he said was fair. It's tough to see a game where the officials have so much away, this was one of those. As Dave Murray says, take the win and move on

Brian Corr It’s not often a scrum gets so dominated and the team wins, that’s my first worry, not that they won but that the scrum was so ineffective. Can this be changed is this a coaching thing or are we really so bad without Furlong, Porter, Healy, Kelleher and Sheehan.

Louis Hoffman Great to see South African teams very competitive. Augurs well going forward for the competition

Elaine Cully Tommy O'Brien's tackle, no need to say anything more!! πŸ™Œ


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