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Another weekend brings us to the end of the interprovincial matches of the Christmas New Year block before the teams head back into Europe. It is the second showing of where the Irish teams stack up against each other.
Which brought us to a cold RDS where Leinster welcomed their northern neighbours to the D4Tress. Coming into the game there was only going to be one winner, it was a question of by how many and what would the Ulster team do after a fairly dour last few games. Beating an ageing English rugby behemoth in Harlequins aside, the team just hasn’t been firing for more than 20 minutes in a game. They beat a Munster team who are in transition (to a new coach, not in gender) and struggling to pull the trigger, but they looked like a team down and out in the first half of that match and a team playing for their coach in the second. It is a good sign that they appeared to want to play for their coach.
But would that help against the inform team in Europe? A team on the crest of a wave built from the schools to the academy to the starting team?
We all knew it wouldn’t.
Ulster looked shell shocked from early doors. It was near their top selection but there was such a gulf in class it showed from the first minute. The stats (tries aside) tell the story of a relatively even game. Set piece was within 1. The only blemish being 1 lost scrum for the visitors, possession was close (44% to the home side surprisingly), territory was sided by the home team at 51%; Leinster completed 91% of their tackles whereas Ulster completed only 76%. This is where the story begins to unfold.
The missed tackles lead to line breaks which leads to space which leads to scores. This is how the game unfolded. Up front, which is where most thought the home side would dominate, was fairly even as seen by the stats above. This would be seen as a victory for Ulster. They were expected to fold under the pressure, but they stayed close. Whatever changes were made during the week have worked and is something positive for video review on Monday morning. But the story of the game was the missed tackles that allowed small cracks to appear in their defence, this may as well have been the grand canyon of space for the inform Leinster team.
Leinster played professionally well, as expected. They had a slight slump in the opening of the second half again which may cost them against a better opponent. The championship minutes are usually sold for Leinster but the second halves have started slowly recently. The man of the hour Jordan Larmour was on fire again. 2 tries in the bag and a man of the match performance. He is frightening opposition to the point where they put 2 or 3 defenders on him, this opens up the game for the others and he set up another try by recognising this. Unselfishness from the newbie and a great quality to have. Barry Daly played well too; he had the shark eyes in for his try which was a fantastic finish to a well worked try. Fergus McFadden had his best game in a long time, something Joe is delighted to see I am sure. Ross Byrne marshalled the team well and when Sexton came on the screw was turned, he even finished with a try. He still runs like a dog chasing a car!
Basically, the entire team played well again, with confidence, again and it showed the depth in the entire squad ……AGAIN!
For the green jersey this was another massive day. Stockdale was not at the races today, but he is feeling pressure to perform I am sure and this was just a hiccup. Tommy Bowe went off injured again; the poor fella wouldn’t have any luck at all if it wasn’t for bad luck! Larmour, Porter, McFadden, Daly, Byrne all played very well, they looked fit and looked ready to go. 1 of these players is a Joe favourite, 2 need to be in tracksuits on match day in the 6 nations and 1 should be in the Carton house squad. Massively positive going into Glasgow next week.
I had said that after the first Glasgow game this season that the league final would be Leinster v Glasgow. And we get to see that a few months early next week. It is impossible to look past Leinster at the moment. As long as the injuries remain manageable, because even with the mythical depth of the squad, no team is far away from being stretched.
So the mental countdown to the 6Nations is now underway. When you watch a game, have 1 eye on the green jersey and who you would pick and where. Ireland has an embarrassment of riches at the moment, it is time that the riches paid for something! The 6 Nations trophy with a mixture of new and veterans is a good start.
But more on that after a Glasgow victory.