Monday, May 23, 2022

Leinster-35 Munster-25

FIRST OF ALL

First of all, before I harp on the actual match itself, I'd like to make a couple of more general points so if it's just the match writeup you're looking for, you may want to skip ahead to the "0-20" section.


NO CONSPIRACY


There was one by-product of this match that not many seem to be talking about, so I'd like to use my little soap box to highlight it here. For me, the way the last few minutes transpired served up cast-iron proof that there is no IRFU conspiracy to manipulate this competition, contrary to the constant accusations of (an albeit small minority of) Welsh observers. Allow me to explain.


Originally these two rivals weren't meant to be facing each other in the final round of URC fixtures - Leinster were down to face Edinburgh while Munster had Glasgow. It was a combination of Christmas Covid cancellations and an Ed Sheeran concert that had things ending up the way they did.


And there's a very good reason for teams from the same nation not to be playing each other in the final round. You might think it makes sense for rivals for one of the four URC "Shields" to square off in decisive derbies, yet while that may work in American sports, it has different connotations for a rugby competition that spans five different unions.


When Harry Byrne kicked a penalty on 70 minutes, it put Leinster 10 points ahead on the scoreboard. The match may not have been won yet, but let's just say the way things had gone meant it would be very difficult for our opponents to get the lead back.


However, with Munster having scored three tries, while a fourth would not have changed the result, it WOULD have meant they came away with not one but TWO bonus points on the URC table, which the way things stood would have given them a home quarterfinal, and with both ourselves and Ulster having already been assured them, that would mean three out of the four lucrative knockout matches would have been on Irish soil.


So what I'm getting at here is that if the IRFU really were the puppet masters many are saying they are, then with a healthy batch of extra gate receipts on the line, they would surely have used their influence to persuade Leinster to "let" their opposition in for a score. Hopefully if this plot really had been hatched they wouldn't have been as blatant as the Argentinian 7s players were on the same day, but there must be subtle ways it could be done without the home side sacrificing their own victory.


Yet it never happened. Instead we had the Leinster's "finishers" putting in as solid a defensive shift with the clock in the seventies as the starters had done when it was in the noughties. And this wasn't out of lack of awareness of the home QF situation, nor was it even out of a desire to stick it to our rivals...like I have said many times on these pages, we've been doing this all season so it's just how these players want to impress their coaches.


So, clearly, there's no conspiracy. Obviously 3 home quarterfinals for the provinces would have been nice, but I wonder if even the Munster fans would have wanted to get one after having been allowed to score?


Just in case you've fallen asleep in this section, I did warn you! As you can see I think a lot about these things!!!! #nerdalert


Anyway, one more harpin' point I'd like to get to before describing the action...


LEINSTER-CENTRICITY


As the banner says up at the top of the page there, this is a Leinster fan site. Now that doesn't mean we don't care about the other provinces, but this provincial pairing in particular has been so one-sided in recent years that the media narrative tends to circulate around "what is wrong with Munster", as if the only takeaway from each result is that there should be a debate over what needs to happen to reverse it the next time they cross paths.


I'm not necessarily saying that's a bad way to look at it, but what I am saying is that if that's what you want, you won't get it here. I'm a Leinster fan, a proud one at that, and as you may have noticed when they play well I like to write about it.


There are plenty of great sources out there to analyse what needs to be done on the other side so I will let them work away, although maybe one small thing that needs to be pointed out is that while many have highlighted the amount of players Leinster rested on Saturday, Munster were themselves missing a host of key performers - deprive any team of names like O'Mahony, de Allende, Snyman, Kilcoyne and, at the last minute, Casey, and you're bound to have problems.


But maybe even that was too much on the subject - it's time now to stick on the bluer than blue goggles and look at how the 80 minutes went.


0-20


Harry Byrne took the kickoff towards the North Stand end and it was clear this XV was hell bent on making a point that if anyone was calling this team Leinster A, then the A stood for amazing (something we discussed on the pod during the week). He sent a little drop kick about 12 metres into the opposition half for Ryan Baird to bat it back and before you knew it, we were already on the attack.

Just as you'd expect, the Munster defence wasn't making things easy for us but we patiently went through the phases until it was that man Baird again getting involved, barging his way through until he was stopped at the 22 where the Munster tackler was penalised for not rolling away.


Still determined to play on, a phase or two later Harry sent one to Frawley, also a dab hand at being playmaker, and he had no hesitation using the "free play" to send an inch perfect kick pass over to the other side of the park, where Scott Penny gathered and bullied his way to the line.


One minute twenty on the clock, Leinster in the lead. And as a bonus, the try scorer gave one blogger a chance to say "I told you so in my preview"...

"...you can't look at this pack, especially given the competition it is playing in, without pointing out that try-scoring machines that are both Scott Penny and Max Deegan are starting in the back row and if at least one doesn't score a try then there is something seriously wrong."

For those keeping score, those two finished the URC regular season as Leinster's top try-scorers with 6 each.


Anyway now it was Munster's turn to kick off and they quickly won a penalty that put them in our 22, only now our starters were keen to prove they were no slouches on the defensive side of things either, with the usual array of double tackles raining in before eventually a powerful counter ruck from Joe McCarthy allowed Tom Clarkson to help himself to the ball and a high shot gave us a clearing penalty.


Sean "Nugget" Cronin was taking the darts in what could have been his last start for Leinster and this one stuck to set up possession around the 22 - it wasn't long before another Munster tackler wasn't rolling away allowing Harry to make up for his earlier missed conversion to put us 8-0 ahead after just 8 minutes.


Not a bad scoring rate, but nobody was under any illusion that it would continue and when Clarkson knocked on shortly after the restart, Munster were given a chance to force their way into the contest which they gratefully accepted. Between them Murray and Carbery were trying little diagonal grubbers to get past our tacklers and they were working well until, with a penalty advantage close to the try line, a long miss pass from Earls found Jack O'Donoghue who matched Penny's effort in the opposite corner, now it was 8-5.


It was another knock on that led to their second try, this time by Jordan Larmour who was always going to be tested under the high ball on his return from injury - when he lost it at the 22, Scannell made a bid for the same corner only to be halted by Harry Byrne before Penny put it into touch (maybe lucky not to be penalised in fairness).


There was a penalty advantage at the maul following the next lineout but Munster didn't need it as Haley spotted a rare lack of pillar at a Leinster breakdown to charge under the posts to give his side a 12-8 lead at the end of the first quarter.


(SIDEBAR- hopefully you forgive me using the term "quarters" trust me I'm not trying to make it sound like US football I just actually believe the two halves of a half in a rugby match are distinct and it helps me do a writeup to break it down that way)


20-HT


The Munster kicking tactics continued to work, like when Andrew Conway grabbed a high ball ahead of O'Loughlin but Leinster needed a way to get back into opposition territory somehow. Penny almost managed a turnover at halfway but when it was kicked ahead into our 22 it was gathered by Jordan Larmour.


It was against this same province that he scored his wonder try four years ago and you might think it naive to assume he'll do something similar every time he's in this situation, but here he came pretty damn close to it. I reckon it was the sixth Munsterman that had a go at defying his steps and weaves who actually brought him down, but not until he was at the halfway line. Now could his team mates provide some end product?


Enter our centre pairing, which has been the combo of choice for us in this league all season and their time together has served them well. When it looked like Osborne was going to fire a miss pass out to the wide channels, instead he knew Frawley was going to run a solid line for a little pop pass and just like that he was clean through.


He did need support, which he got from the instinctive trail line run by his scrum half Cormac Foley and once the pass found him there was open field all the way to the line, putting us back into the lead by 15-12. 

Unfortunately it was to be Frawley's last contribution as he had to leave the field for what looked like a really bad head knock although thankfully he was able to walk as he left, hopefully he'll be ok for Marseille.

The rest of the half was mostly a battle of strong defences and kicking tennis, although a knock on in the tackle by Rob Russell was deemed to be deliberate enough to warrant a yellow card which would have sent Munster into the "sheds" feeling they could come out from the break strong.


40-60


Jamie Osborne may not have been in our back three but he has played 15 both for Leinster and at Under 20 international level and he confirmed my halftime fears by misjudging a jump shortly after the restart, and when Penny grasped at the loose ball, it got away from him too and into the grateful arms of Conor Murray who cantered over the line to put his side back ahead 19-15.


Another mazy Larmour run then got us into a scoring chance as a high tackle allowed Harry to claw back three points (absolutely the right call to take the 3 btw) but shortly after, a deliberate knock on by Joe McCarthy (not enough for yellow this time according to ref Frank Murphy) allowed Carbery to restore the 4-point lead.


It was here Leinster went to the bench for our front row, which included Cian Healy as tight head, possibly as cover for Tadhg Furlong next week. Not that anyone on the pitch was bothered about next week...there was a lead to gain back and it looked like we would need another bit of Larmour-level mastery to do it. Enter Cormac Foley.


Our pair of "scrums-half" are the focus of my TikTok video this week so I'll share that with you here so you can see the kick Foley put in at this crucial moment...

@harpinonrugby

Harpin TikTok 7 - A Long List of Leinster 9s

♬ original sound - Harpin On Rugby

Thanks to the 5022 law we now had an attacking lineout from just over 5m out and from here we got the best possible outcome after John McKee hit Deegan at the lineout, the maul got to the line, and Murphy judged Munster to have prevented a certain try which meant not only an automatic seven points to put us back in front, but also now Niall Scannell was sent to the naughty step.


It was important to make the most of the extra man and although our next lineout was much, much further out, in our own half to be precise, we still managed to make it work, thanks in part again to Mr Larmour. Not happy with running from his own 22 to halfway earlier on, this time he got from halfway to their 22 and hey presto we're on the front foot again.


From here, well, you could say we had something of an overlap over on the far wing as you can see from the screengrab. That didn't mean making it into a try would be easy of course, but some quick hands and then a skilful offload out of a tackle by Joe McCarthy meant it ended up with O'Loughlin who was able to get over.


The officials had a look at a pass from Foley to McCarthy way back before the Larmour break - tbh I thought it might have been forward at first but the replays looked less conclusive each time, especially when they switched angles, so the try stood and Harry added the extras to stretch our lead to ten.


Chris Farrell was doing his best to get things going for Munster and a strong run from him followed by some Harlem Globetrotter offloading by his team mates put them right back in our 22 only for our defence to just about hold out and as you can see in that TikTok video, young Ben Murphy was able to tidy from the resulting scrum.


Carbery kicked a penalty at the sixty minute mark to narrow the margin to a converted try going into the final quarter.


60-FT


While it was great to see Adam Byrne on the pitch doing Adam Byrne things like strong carries, great catches after chasing down high kicks and strong hits like one on Keith Earls, it was also sad for Leinster fans to see it as from next season it will be those from Connacht who will get to enjoy them.


But apart from that, while the situation for both the match and the URC table meant a Munster try was significant right to the end as I pointed out at the start, when you watch the final twenty minutes you really couldn't see them getting it, such was the ferocity and organisation of our defending, especially around the 74 minute mark where we stubbornly kept them out for 17 phases before Osborne tackled Jack Daly into touch, fairly although the Munster forward unfortunately had to go off injured from the challenge.


There were 9 more phases towards the end that went nowhere leading to a knock on that led to scrums which led to the curtain being drawn on the first regular season of the United Rugby Championship, with Leinster, already guaranteed first place, now having secured a lead over our nearest challengers of 6 points.


Quite the Saturday evening, quite the performance from Leinster starts new in Foley and Murphy, just established in Harry Byrne and Joe McCarthy, already established in Larmour and Baird, and long established in Cronin and Toner, the last two of which may well have made their final appearances for the province.


HARPIN' POINTS


I already had two big harpin' points at the start so not much to add all the way down here, but while I suppose it's easy for a Leinster fan to praise a league they finished first in, I still think it's worth saying that the competition has done really well amid lots of adversity what with a pandemic, a concert, and, well, the Welsh*.


We are now left with four very interesting looking quarterfinals (details just confirmed as I type), with the stand out clearly being Ulster v Munster at the Kingspan, although it has to be said it's the presence of the three South African franchises that brings home just what this new entity has to offer us.


WHAT'S NEXT


What's next you say? Hmmm, can't remember - is there some match next weekend in the south of France maybe???


Obviously we'll be giving it the full Harpin treatment - there's a Leinster Fan Panel lined up for the podcast during the week, then we have team announcement, preview and then it's all eyes on Marseille, hope you'll stick with us throughout, thanks as always for doing so here!!!! JLP


* - to be clear, I have nothing at all against Welsh rugby fans, even the "ItsTheURCsFault" brigade. My point here is that their negativity, plus all 4 regions' failure to crack the top 8, was not a good look for the game there yet I would be delighted if both were to change.


click here for a selection on online comments posted at the full time whistle


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