Leinster must be very, very glad to get away with four points from Firhill on a day that the machine did not function all that well. Sean Lineen’s men showed ferocious hunger, picked up all the scraps from the champions’ table, and feasted on them.
It was somewhat ironic that it was the (lack of) width of the Firhill pitch that eventually deprived the hungry Scots of the vital try at 16-16 in the game. With Sexton’s injury causing him to deploy on the left wing in defence, Glasgow never once got the opportunity whilst inside the Leinster 22 to run at him in those critical last 15 minutes.
Very illuminating also that Schmidt did not revert to using either Nacewa or Madigan to replace Sexton in the second-half of a vital game. That says a lot about Schmidt’s appreciation of Sexton, and more about Sexton’s value within the team. There’s also a hint as to how significantly this team viewed the importance of keeping their winning sequence going.
Everybody who understands the difficulty of keeping a winning streak going in professional sport [in any code] will recognise that there will be days when the engine just does not fire properly. Leinster’s first line-out in attack on the right-side of the pitch after about seven minutes’ pressure at the far end was a perfect example that Firhill was going to provide the setting for another of those uninspired days in Glasgow.
Either Cronin threw to the wrong place, or the jumpers missed their marks, or the lifters mistimed their attempts … whatever the reason, Leinster stacked Cullen at the back with Grey marking Toner at the front and Cronin threw in between them to our third second row, Bakkies Nobody.
Just before half-time, Leinster had an attacking scrum under the Glasgow posts and despite an initial shunt forward from the blue front-five, the ball emerged on the Glasgow side and resulted in a clearance to almost half-way.
The quality of this Leinster team was the manner in which they shrugged off this screw-up and went back to get the vital equalising penalty before half-time and then followed with a try after the restart. Such performances in the ‘championship minutes’, to quote our best loved Narbonne-based Aussie, was a clear indication that Leinster understand that even when your team are not playing well, there will be moments when you are creating opportunities and you have to take points out of them to eke out the wins.
Toner, Cronin, Rob Kearney and Fergus McFadden put in hard, effective shifts in this game. Toner’s take and offload to originate the winning try epitomized just how much his play in open field has improved this season. There’s something to be said for bringing him into the Irish set up now – not in two year’s time when Donncha’s IRFU contract expires! There are a number of contenders for the front-jumper slot in Tuohy, Ryan, McCarthy and O’Callaghan, but at middle jumper there just Paul O’Connell and Toner … both Mick O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen have passed through the international period of their career.
Rob Kearney took on a lot of responsibility in attack and defense. There was a lot in his personal performance that showed why Joe Schmidt believed that he could be the best full-back in the Northern Hemisphere; there was also evidence that he has learned from the presence of Isa Nacewa in the Leinster set-up. Having to improve to keep up seems to be a very strong part of the Leinster ethic under Schmidt. Kearney hasn’t pouted or sat back on his Lions’ laurels, but has instead invested trust and effort in improving his own game for the benefit of the team.
McFadden continues to improve and whilst his passing may never be the thing of beauty of Darcy or O’Driscoll (or Sexton or Madigan) he is a super mid-field defender, an effective off-loader and has some serious gas on the outside. He doesn’t deceive his opponents by sleight of hand or big steps, like either of his more illustrious team-mates, but he is a handful in the No 13 jersey. Approaching the Six Nations, Declan Kidney should be considering him as a centre, rather than a winger.
Leinster’s bench was almost Toulouse-like in its importance to this victory. Van de Merwe, Brown, O’Malley, Boss & Ruddock all provided their direct opponents with different challenges than their predecessors – no less physical, but with different skills emphasis. When you are tiring and behind on the scoreboard this is a real challenge in the last 15 minutes of a competitive game and the variety served Leinster well and stretched Glasgow in these vital minutes.
So never comprehensive, better than workmanlike but not for a minute approaching pretty, Schmidt and Gibbs will be satisfied with this performance, even if it has robbed them of Sexton for next week’s denouement against Montpellier. The French outfit have an important Top 14 game against Stade Francais on the Friday night after the Leinster game, and, with qualification for the knock-out stages of the HEC out of reach, the Stade game will undoubtedly be their focus between now and then.
Leinster may have to allow Madigan the free rein of his instincts next weekend. However, this is a much lesser risk at home and against a disinterested French opposition than in the cauldron that can be Firhill. Leinster to get at least four tries with a back-line in which Madigan and Nacewa will make up for lost time this weekend.
It was a funny game from Leinster’s POV. There was a lot of exertion but for little return. A heavy looking and narrow pitch, an awkward kick-off time and most pertinently inspired hosts contributed.
Worst game I’ve seen from Redzer this season. Not that he did a lot wrong, no major brain farts, but I think this game needed the Heavies. Worried about J10 too, but that he saw out the game is positive. Kearnage Jnr played very well too.
Warriors played great, must be frustrated to not see it through. Some ferocious tackling, great lineout and some exciting backs. That 3rd choice Oxbridge prop had a stormer.
Looking to Team Ireland, I know Mole Towers is with me when I say “No to Keith @13”. And I’m with you on the Darce-Ferg combo being too similar. EOM won’t have enough experience, for Kidney at any rate, which leaves Superstar and T-Bowe (wingers) and Cave (my #2 choice atm). Toner has been a revelation in broken field this year, nice and aggressive at ruck time too. Gotta be in the mix for at least the bench.
The heaviness of the pitch looked to be quite an important factor in terms of line-breaking. In this morning’s IT, Joe Schmidt refers to the players having put the 18mm studs in their boots for the game. We generally play a game with a lot of movement, so that stymied us quite a bit, moreso than Glasgow.
Beyond specific incidents within the game, the thing that struck me most was the wisdom of Joe’s previous ‘away’ team selections. A lot of people have been calling for him to go with the faster, lighter and more adventurous ‘home’ team in every game of the HEC, but you can see the positives of picking the likes of Kev McLoughlin, Isaac Boss and Richardt Strauss in light of yesterday’s performance.
As champions, people will be looking to have a cut off you, and fielding a bigger, stronger and more durable outfit that can take the hits for the first hour has a lot to be said for it as a tactic. Big Browne and Nathan White could have come off the bench a little earlier for Mike Ross and Leo, both of whom had very tough games – then again, you never know if Joe Schmidt is bound by the IRFU to play Mike Ross for 65 minutes of HEC games or some other similar diktat.
Lastly, Joe Schmidt’s interview afterwards was perfect – gracious, thoughtful, succinct. What a coach!
I’m pretty worried about Leinster this season. There seems to be a lot of talk on-line about the team moving nicely in this tricky period/medals not handed out in …. (insert month here)/unbeaten in 15 games etc, but I do worry about a side that has been stuck in third gear for 2 months. Bath at home aside, Leinster haven’t threatened a 60 minuter (let alone 80) for quite a while. I think winning becomes a habit but we need to be more clinical in the scrums, line outs and in attack very soon or we are very unlikely, I feel, to retain this Cup.
Big wins recently over Cardiff (minus about 7 first teamers) and Ulster (minus about 23 recognisable names) sort of paper over a few of the issues. Even v Glasgow at home we were error ridden for 20, deadly for 20, and then slept though the second half. There’s a lack of cohesion in midfield without BOD and Isa doesn’t have the same spark coming off the wing. FMcF is doing a good job but he sums up this Leinster team really. Industrious, hard-working and dogged (anymore media cliches, feel free to add). SOB is suffering a little bit this season, but that was more like it from Healy. Cronin too.
We’re heavily reliant on Sexton too as our main playmaker. Need more from the lads directly beside him or April could be a very testing month.
I really thought that was a big positive win. Sexton continues to mature and your analysis about he and madigan is spot on. Again I thought Schmidt handled that superbly at the time. Also thought it was a great test for the second row against a formidable pair and they will get plenty of good out of it.
A few problems I would pick out were that:
1.A small bit of zip was missing. They looked like a team who have been upping the training stakes as part of periodisation lately and are feeling it. I am a huge healy fan and he did some great things, but he looks shattered lately and his body position at the scrum (for which he actually won a penalty) under the Glasgow posts was a bit like that Welsh rwc scrum all over again. He was fortunate that the opposing scrum isn’t great. I know I’m being very harsh, because the standards he sets are sensational and it ain’t fair to reference a single bad scrum, but his thoracic flexed big time. HVDM made a good impact.
2. Although (rightly) lauded for the (soft) try and some nice touches, Rob kearney is also showing a touch of carelessness at times. They would need to watch that don’t develop further or spread. I risk stepping on the tiger’s tale again but just at the minute I reckon hurley must be close for the 6 nations. That might do rob no harm in the long run. Again, possibly being harsh, because you would want him to express himself and in order to do so the odd mistake will happen.
Other than that, it was never going to be a blow out so a good victory and boss must be having the season of his life. I would like to see that leinster team get angry about something in the knockout stages though.
we missed you for a bit Paddy O. Does Gavin Duffy get the love he deserves from Ireland’s selector(s)? The Mole thinks not, and would have him ahead of Hurley as an alternative to Kearnage
Ah I had to spend some time with the kids over Christmas there. It’s all about them apparently, selfish little gets. Nice to get back to the important people in my life though….you Palla and chaser….
Or perhaps I wasn’t well for a few days there…….too much haggis for breakfast(?!) Nearly as weird as the cauliflower bean bag reference. Been reading away at you guys in all honesty, great entertainment I must say – fair fux. Especially liked the WoC piece on Stuey Barnes – very, very funny.
Yep I take your point about duffy. Would like to see an open mind on selection generally in all positions and not just select guys because they are the incumbents. Kidney has been getting it in the neck (a bit ott in my humble opinion) but i reckon he will shake it up with this squad, in so far as that is possible….he ain’t gonna drop fez, poc or obrien like.
The shake up should obviously apply with doc and the keet at 13 preference. Funny that in all the 13 watches trimble at 14 has prob had the biggest say in who plays there. He has surely played his way into the team and not just because of the tries. His handling and defensive positioning were better than seen from him before. Still, the way he went in and then outside to the right for the scores suggests he is a better right wing finisher than a left. Consequently bowe would go to 13 and earls dukes it out with Fitzgerald (among others) for 11.
Anyway a lot can still happen between now and then. Gotta say I think the wolfhounds will be useful for the likes of ohalloran et al, though accept your argument that it probably isn’t so relevant to omalley or madigan who have had (and will have more) top class exposure in a comfortable winning team.
Healy is a little worrying, he is doing his usual round the park jaw dropping heroics, but the body just seems to have taken a pumelling of late. Hopefully court or Wilkinson will be able to burden share over the 6 nations.
Anyway I will stop there before I give you the ammo to literarily tear me a new one.
Just goes to show Leinster are in a piss-easy group when all three opponents bring their A-game at home and we can live with them fairly comfortably while playing at 80% of our capability. Things won’t be so easy in the knockouts, esp if we get past the QF only to land an away semi.
Let’s not cod ourselves otherwise, we got a peach of a group and we’re cruising it playing below par.
Everyone in the Leinster squad looks a bit knackered at the moment, bar Cronin, Madigan and Toner.
Heading into the 6N, the man on whom a lot rests is Eoin O’Malley. He the one guy who isn’t a regular starter but who should be if he can get his form flowing again. If he’s playing well, we can decide whether Ferg or Darce starts at 12 at the sharp end. If we’re stuck with Ferg at 13 till the season end, we are not half the attacking threat we were last season. Great 12, lousy 13.
O’Malley holds the key to our ability to raise it up a notch for the knockout big guns.
I don’t think it’s as much O’Malley’s form that is keeping him out of the team as his below-average tackling.
Because of his size and the position he plays, he needs to be the best technical tackler in the Leinster threequarter-line; on the evidence of the home game against Bath, he’s the worst [Rob Kearney is the fullback, hence technically not a threequarter].
You’re right though, our group is a piece of pish. I’d be more worried about it if we were going to be thrown directly into a quarter-final, but as the boys from Whiff of Cordite point out, the knock-out rounds of the HEC are almost an entirely separate tournament. Any momentum that a team builds up in the group stages is dissipated by the Six Nations.
A bit harsh on Ferg’s passing. What about the sublime miss pass to Kearney that set up Fitzgerald’s try against bath. I think he is the best bet at 12 for Ireland with Fitzgerald at 13 (I know he hasn’t played there much but Earls is not a centre (he kindly demonstrated that conclusively at Thomond Park last weekend) and we need to get the Rev Trimble and Bowe on the wings.
Toner has been fantastic and, along with the omission of Fitzgerald’s omission from the senior squad (although injury maybe means that he needs a run out for the Wolfhounds) and Marshall from the 52, his not being included with the grown ups seems harsh.