Monday, February 21, 2022

Leinster-29 Ospreys-7

BENCH BONUS

"Hansen and Lowe are similar types of players who don't just do run-of-the-mill things, they want every possession to lead to something...it's like if they were playing chess they might take ages deciding on a move because they'd want to get to checkmate in one"


We all go OTT when giving our opinions, it's human nature. So when I said the above in a podcast on Feb 2 just before the Six Nations kicked off, I didn't exactly mean it to be literal. And I certainly didn't expect both men to provide perfect examples of this before the month was out!


First we had Hansen's Ireland debut which was barely minutes old when a blocked kick found him like he was a magnet allowing him to do his thing and get us on the front foot down the other end of the pitch, with his maiden test try arriving not long after. Then just in case that wasn't direct enough, we had his wonder score in Paris a week later.


So when Rugby's Greatest Championship took a weekend off allowing James Lowe a chance to return from injury to appear the United Rugby one, you'd have thought he'd be keen to make an impact as soon as possible just in case his own heroics in the green jersey were forgotten from all the way back in November.


Well he took the field against the Ospreys in the 54th minute with Leinster leading 15-0, including just two of the four tries I said in my preview we'd have to push for. And when a penalty put the visitors into our 22 shortly after his arrival, it looked like it might take a while for him to make the kind of first impression I was talking about.


But then our defence showed exactly why the "nil" was on the Welsh region's side of the scoreboard when we held them out pretty easily off the lineout with 13 phases coming to nothing before our tacklers forced a wayward pass that was pounced on by Ross Molony.


It's important to note that while this opening ramble might be about James Lowe, his support in this GIF-able moment can't be ignored. First, the conventional wisdom having forced a turnover in your own 22 would be to clear to touch yet despite being just 5m away from his own line, Ross Byrne didn't hesitate to opt for the kick pass.


As we are used to seeing from him, the ball landed perfectly for Jimmy O'Brien who had time to ship it inside to Lowe, already in his stride. Again, you'd expect the percentage play in this situation would be to kick it ahead and chase down the scrambling defenders to cause mischief in their 22. But of course not for this guy.


Having collected it just outside his own 22, he wasn't met by a would be tackler until he got 10m over the halfway line - I doubt Luke Morgan would have been wearing the 11 jersey without being able to skip and step opponents himself but he was given a masterclass by Lowe here; he made it look like he was easing around an overweight prop on a Sunday morning in the local park.


There was still some work for "J-Lowe" to do, as Harri Deaves seemed to have him in his sights; the openside was easily his side's most impressive player on the night with a host of contributions that included 25 tackles. Only this wasn't to be one of them. Did he dive in vain for a tap tackle or did he fall over having gotten, er, caught up in the sprint of Jimmy O'Brien providing support? I guess we'll never know.


But whatever the answer, this provided a moment of brilliance which brought my perception of the match situation from "I'm worried about where another try will come from" to "What the hell was I worried about? " in a matter of seconds.


In case you're relying on this article for info because you didn't see the match, trust me, as a spectacle it badly needed the above sequence. You could probably nod to the horrible conditions provided by the series of storms to hit this part of the world (that influenced the match before it started because it meant Andrew Brace had to referee instead of Gianluca Gnecchi), but the rugby nerd in me would much prefer to say it was down to a very strong defence from the visitors that only left them with nothing because ours was even better.


But it wouldn't be much of a writeup if I didn't also harp on the rest of the match so here goes...


0-20


At first when I saw a rampaging scrum-cap-wearing Leinster player bringing it from around halfway to well into the opposition 22 in the opening minutes, I figured it had to be Ryan Baird but it was actually Martin Moloney (who compared to the 6'6 Baird is a slip of a thing at 6'1) continuing on from his fine display against Edinburgh the week before.


We weren't long on the front foot before we won a penalty under the posts for not rolling away and the decision was made to take the easy points to get us off the mark, probably under the assumption that it wouldn't be long before we were back down that end of the pitch again looking for more than three.


And we weren't wrong in that assumption, because the dominance that led us to just under 60% overall in both possession and territory started early, but once we started putting our penalties to the corner, the visitors' defence was proving stubborn as we went after try number one.


Maybe our task during this spell would have been easier if the ref had spotted a clear neck tackle by Rhys Webb on James Tracy (ironic since the Osprey captain had only just been told to warn his team mates about discipline), but we were also making our own problems with knockons and conceding penalties ourselves.


Eventually Ryan Baird did get a chance to rampage, getting us going in our own half and we were able to work our way right into their 22, albeit with the help of a suspect pass from Ross Byrne over his own head that looked to be forward and made the Ospreys appear to stop. A few phases later Byrne chose a cheeky little grubber straight ahead for Larmour to out-run jerseys 9, 10 and 11 and plant it down in front of the North Stand crowd.


20-HT


Ross Byrne's conversion smacked the post but it wasn't long before we were back down their end and it looked like Luke McGrath had added a second try only for it to be called back for a knock on in the build up, but we had been playing with a scrum advantage so the siege was to continue.


Now we were winning penalties again and choosing the "tap and go" option from the menu. It wasn't long before Brace had no choice but to follow up the earlier warning and send the next infringee to the bin with number 8 Morgan Morris happy to oblige.


There was another penalty advantage after the next tap but it wasn't needed as Cian Healy got low enough to dodge the tacklers and plant it down, with the conversion pushing the margin to an all important fifteen.


We spent the remainder of the sin bin period, and indeed the half, in Ospreys territory yet couldn't add to the score even with both a scrum and lineout 5m from the line. In fact if anything it was our guests that came closest as a trademark Rhys Webb snipe off a scrum put him clear only for his kick ahead for the pacy Keelan Giles to fall for Dave Kearney instead and although the Leinster winger knocked on in the tackle, it was after the clock went red.

40-60


The two teams of 15 were the same immediately after the break but there was still a new presence on the RDS turf, that of Storm Eunice and the rain which was pouring down was never going to help cure the case of knockonitis that afflicted both sides in the first half, and if anything it became a chronic dose.


A lot of our backline moves showed a lot of promise it had to be said, with our young innovative centre pairing of Harry Byrne and Jamie Osborne heavily involved and Jimmy O'Brien again having license to show creativity from full back but the bar of soap always seemed to slip free.


There was consolation in that we never looked like conceding in this phase - like I said earlier our defence was rock solid throughout with the highlight being a series of plays around the halfway line at the 50 minute mark where they just simply had no answer for our organisation and eventually we drove them right back into their own territory and into touch. Also Toby Booth's men were having a nightmare with setpieces - at this level 4/11 scrums and 13/17 at lineouts won't get you very far.


Finally we had the magic I described at the start to stretch the lead to 22-0 and, more importantly, to give us over 20 minutes to find just one more try, though it's worth adding that at the same time James Lowe joined the action, so did Sean "Nugget" Cronin for his 200th Leinster cap and it wasn't long before he was getting stuck in with big hits and carries.


60-FT


Maybe that wonder score made us a smidge complacent and it only takes the tiniest lapse in concentration for someone like Rhys Webb to take full advantage. He spotted Ryan Baird shy of the pillar mark at a breakdown at midfield and executed a perfect show and go to get through the gap before emulating James Lowe's shimmy to beat his opposite number McGrath allowing him to break his team's duck.


I suppose you could say the score helped us refocus on the task at hand as it would have been a real disappointment to leave that bonus point behind and thanks to a strong showing from pretty much the entire bench we managed to put the squeeze on (including a super counter ruck by Messrs Ruddock, Dunne and Dooley) and stay down their end of the park until we got it.


Finally with the clock having worryingly strayed into the 70s, a massive Leinster scrum shove against the head won a penalty that got us back into their 22 and we made the lineout count.


There seems to be an unwritten rule at Leinster these days that if both Scott Penny and Max Deegan are on the pitch, at least one of them has to score at some point. Well, it was Deegan who caught the dart from Cronin and after the maul was sacked he earned some hard yards further towards the line, so it kind of made sense that a few phases later it would be Penny that crashed under the (way offside) Osprey tacklers to leave Leinster fans letting out a huge sigh of relief.


With the job done to say the match fizzled out would be an understatement.


HARPIN' POINTS


In the RTÉ commentary booth Fiona Coughlan awarded the Player of the Match award to Harry Byrne, which raised some eyebrows, possibly because while many a ball was dropped by Leinster players throughout, his was most noticeable. That said, he had an important remit to fill Frawley's 12 role and he certainly did it well, with both he and his brother among our top tacklers.


Personally I wish it could be possible to nominate an entire bench for a match gong. Our starting XV did well here it's true, seizing control early and staying strong defensively but were it not for the collection of cameos the all important bonus point was by no means certain.


Anyway for the second week in a row the scoring sequence was eerily similar to that done by Ireland in our first Six Nations match, in fact not only was this the exact same result, it was also against Welsh opposition. It's a win that brings us back to the top of the URC table, thanks in part to Ulster being denied a BP more by the weather than the Dragons in Newport on Sunday.


So it's another busy week ahead here at Harpin Manor, with one more "must get maximum points" home fixture on Friday for Leinster followed by Ireland hosting Italy in the Six Nations on Sunday. We'll be looking to bring you full coverage of both matches, with a pod during the week focusing on Benetton and Italy and all the usual features heading towards the weekend; do stay tuned won't you. JLP


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