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So is this Deja-vu all over again or is this a slightly different week for Leinster after a trip to Montpelier in the final group game of the European Rugby Champions Cup?
Well it is a bit 50-50.
The result from 43 minutes wasn’t ever really in doubt, a mixture of an efficient, if underperforming Leinster team mixed with their mike Tyson-esque aura when coming back into the game reached the point where the home side began to tire.
In the first half, Leinster started as they have made the effort to in the big games this season, get on the board first, and draw first blood. A well worked try was finished by Ross Byrne with 5 minutes on the clock. Usually Leinster would continue to work from there, chip away at the opposition and once a slight gap appeared they would dazzle their way through it. That didn’t happen over the weekend in the first half. Handling errors and what appeared to be some fatigue hit the team. The pitch may have played a part too, it looked about as well kept as …… well this is a family blog so I won’t continue with my trail of thought there but you get my point. For a top team, the pitch was in an awful state, chopping up under foot all day. This would have had an effect on Leinster. The legs getting heavy while waiting for the second wind to arrive. The home side scored 2 tries in the first half, the second being a beautifully worked move from a lineout finished by Camara. A move that looked great but if the visitors where a bit more switched on it would have been stopped. This is where the fatigue appeared most, in the last 10 of the first half. A worrying end to a lacklustre half, not through a lack of effort, but sometimes it is not your day.
The half time talk in the Horse Show House in Ballsbridge (a great spot for a match – https://www.horseshowhouse.ie/ ) was that once Leinster got refreshed they would be ok, Montpelier where not massively inventive, just massive. Nadolo on the wing always being a favourite whether you are an MP fan or wearing blue. He is always fantastic to watch.
The second half was a different game entirely; Leinster began playing Brazilian Jiu-Jitzu rugby. That being the strangulation that they have been using this year to great effect. If you look at the possession stats, first half Leinster had 40% in the second half it was 66%, territory was 31% first half 71% second half. So it appeared the orders where to keep the oval thing in hand and chip away at the monster Montpelier team and the gaps would come. Montpelier where gallant in their defence and had to make a lot more tackles in the second half.
Henshaw scored at 46 minutes which was another skilful but well within themselves try for the visitors, Cronin capped off another man of the match performance by finishing a rolling maul try that demoralised the home side. Cronin didn’t miss a throw all day and was playing like he was annoyed at someone. Always fantastic to see.
Leinster once again played ugly and won. The first half would have caused alarm bells to ring in days past, but the team stuck together, trusted the system and executed the plan. Much lie the Manchester united team of 99 where they won ugly as well as when they played well, this Leinster team are full of trust of each other and the system .When the pressure is on, they won’t be found wanting.
The only issue coming out of the game was James Lowe. A fantastic player who has fairly liquid esque soft hands. A player who can beat most, tackle most but sometimes gets a rush of blood to the head. Not in a bad way, he wants to win so badly that he becomes a dog chasing a car. There were a couple of occasions that he was in the wrong spot or the wrong pass again this week that caused problems for the Leinster defence, these are easily remedied and when looked at in the ratio of positive to negative play, he is still very much on the right side of that. But opposition will now target him, he knows this and will rectify.
If the team keeps the penalty count down (6 in total for the match) the above won’t be such a glaring issue. The discipline is fantastic in the team, especially in times of trouble like the first half on Saturday. No team will think that pressure will = points against Leinster. Whereas if a team plays Munster they know discipline will be an issue.
Leinster face Saracens in the Aviva Stadium in the quarter finals. I managed to watch the first half of their match against Northampton and it was high scoring but low on defending. The Leinster squad must have been watching that salivating at the chance of taking the scalp of the reigning champions. This is huge for the team to stay hungry.
Another massively positive week in blue.
Moving to our red cousins. After a fairly horrific month off the pitch for Munster (we don’t need to go over it again, drugs cheat, shouts of media bias and nonsense) the team finally got back on the pitch against a Castre side that had an ordinary level maths chance of progressing. We all knew that if Munster could come out as they should, with aggression and the crowd behind them, they should win this easily. I had said they would win easy and they did. If you look at the metres run, they home side covered nearly 3 times the distance of the visitors. A fantastic stat, really shows the work the team put in. while Castre where not at the races, the biggest positive for Munster was the penalty count. This was the first time this season that they kept the penalty count in single figures. While they were never under any pressure, this is still a win from the game. Score line aside, they need to keep that count low to win against a top team.
There is still a massive amount to work on for Munster and while the new coach is looking at incrementally implanting his plan, this will take time. But 2 weeks in a row of good performances bode well.
They welcome Toulon to Thomond Park in the quarter finals and they will need everyone in Munster to get religious and pray for a low penalty count and a high aggression level to win that. Toulon doesn’t play and in the business end of the competition they will show their class. Munster needs to find some to progress.
Ulster lost to a Wasps side who aren’t much to write home about. After beating La Rochelle the yoyo affect kicked in again. If they could bring some consistency, there is enough skill and leaders there to contend for silverware. It looks to be a while away yet unfortunately.
Not enough written about Connacht in Europe this year. That will continue with only a paragraph given today. Another massive win against European opposition. 50-14 against Oyonnax. No team wants to go to the sportsground; we may be looking at a celebration in Galway the likes of which hasn’t been seen since supermacs arrived in Eyre square.
Bring on the quarter finals!