Leinster rugby, gate keepers and a Summer off

Sitting here at my desk, a week ago I thought I would be writing a very different post to the one that will appear, as if by magic, below.

Leinster came into the business end of the season in fine form. Inventive, tough and confident. Sweeping most aside for the season. The final in the Aviva looked to be a foregone conclusion. All that had to happen was beat a team that was beaten easily 2 times this season. The Leinster brain trust where confident that this would be a procession.

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Leinster: A journey to the League title

We are 2 weeks into the new Guinness pro 12 season and it has already been a massively different season for Leinster over the last 3 seasons.

Starting with an expected opening win against Treviso in the RDS. The second week was going to be the first big marker of the season, taking on the Glasgow Warriors away in Scotland. Glasgow have been consistent for years and this was the year I had picked them to make the semi-finals of the league. And if you can reach the semi then you can reach the final. They had done some really good things, recruited well and have a great coach. This was their year. They are on the ascent whereas Leinster have been staying consistently inconsistent for the last few years. About as consistent and my ability to take the bins out, that being not very.

The opening game this year was strong for Leinster. The attack looked to be much improved, which was the big complaint last year. The blue wall of defence has been the one thing to improve recently and it was still there. But it was Treviso, and with all due respect to them, the victory should never have been in question and it never was.

And so the team jumped on a plain to Glasgow. The new pitch the nice Scotstoun Stadium waited. Leinster came out of the blocks. Playing like the champions of previous times. It was a confident, strong and inventive display from a team who appeared scared to do this over recent times. The players where trusted to perform and they did that. Glasgow where scared, but never out. Tommy Seymour kept them in relative touching distance, but Leinster moved into a 10 point lead with 50 minutes gone. Game plan was working, every play worked and those that didn’t meant the improvisation from the team was called into play and it worked. Joey Carbery and Luke McGrath played with confidence and skill which is fantastic to see.  Rob Kearney showed form that he hadn’t shown in years and the team itself was confident.

And then Glasgow started scratching their way back in. they knew they had a player in Seymour who could cut Leinster to shreds. He has been epic in the opening 2 games for Glasgow. 6 tries in 2 games shows a player who is on form and confident of his ability to beat any player. He led the team back into the game and into the lead. He Scored 4 tries in the game and stretched out the lead to the final score of 33-25 to the home side.

That score line is not all doom and gloom. There was an intercept pass thrown by Carbery, there was a few missed tackled by Mike McCarthy and the team did appear to get tired towards the end. This early in the season that is somewhat expected. The preseason is one thing, game time and game intensity is completely another.  Glasgow came back with intensity from the 10 point deficit and the tank was just empty for Leinster. This is an early season issue that all teams run into and won’t happen at the business end.

Again, the attack play was a step up. It was inventive and creative. Great to watch and it yielded results. Which is the point. There is no point in flashy rugby if no one scores. The defence was good, the interception and missed tackle aside. These where mistakes that can be learnt from. The new players stepped up against a full strength Glasgow and where not left wanting.

To me, this is the final of the league in game 2 of the season. By the time we get to the Aviva for the final, the Glasgow team will have stepped up to keep up with their in form Tommy Seymour and Leinster will have all the players back and playing in a style that has won championships in the past.

Hugely positive for this season and welcome Stuart Lancaster.

As usual @nkeegan for more

The Leinster Blues, expectations and certainties.

It feels like a very long time since I even thought about rugby. For the first time in what feels like forever, we got a small break from the game. A game to refresh, recharge and re-evaluate. Hopefully Leinster took the time to do that too.

A lot happened last season. A new coach in the Great Leo Cullen, an unsettled team and a crowd of supporters unsure how to deal with transition. Leo was always going to coach the province he captained for so long. I just don’t think it was due to happen so soon. Matt O’Connor didn’t see out his contract and he just wasn’t the right fit for Leinster. By all accounts the players really liked him, but the results and style of play just didn’t suit. Leo was fast tracked in a few years ahead of plan. He took the opportunity with both hands and it galvanised the team. Along with recent returns of talisman Isa Nacewa and Johnny Sexton it looked like a season of bounce back was on the cards.

I am forgetting about Europe last year. That was a step too far for a new coach trying to bring in a new way of doing things in THAT group. The play against Toulon in game 2 was very good and Leinster really should have won that, but aside from the second Toulon match there wasn’t much to write home about. Again, that is not the issue from last season.

Moving into the league, the atmosphere was a bit dour in the usual upbeat RDS. The beginning of last season was a rollercoaster, opening with a loss to Edinburgh and then losing another couple of games that really should have been won. The game plan was taking affect slowly, the players where responding, but it was going to take time.

Moving to the business end of the season, the game plan that had been coming in appeared to disintegrate. The semi-final win against Ulster was a walk for Leinster. Ulster have become Clermont in European rugby, they just don’t believe they can win a semi-final. As long as that is the case, teams like Leinster will walk through them. The 30-18 score line suggested this. At the time I wanted struggle, a game that pushed and tested Leinster because Connacht where going to be monsters in the final.

That is exactly what happened. In the final Leinster where about as passive as I was during my leaving cert. They allowed Connacht run on to them and everything went through J10. No variation in the plan and maybe a bit of arrogance?

But that leads us to this season. There have been some exits, Ian Madigan did what he had to do after being treated terribly by Leinster and there were a few other serious exits. Now the backup for Sexton will be 1 of the two academy 10’s along with new signing James Gibson. This is the time for them to step up.  The signing of Robbie Henshaw is absolutely massive. He can play 12 or 13, and would complement and lead Ringrose further into becoming the player we all think he will be. The break has done the whole organisation a great thing. Reorganisation is key. McQuilkin has gone home which is the main hole in the team. He will be replaces ASAP.

The buzz coming out of the team is sounding great. Some of the long term injuries are coming back to fitness. Cian Healy must be starving for some action after the long layoff. Sean O’Brien is to come back. The international players will be back earlier this year than usual. It is all positive for Leinster.

The team should expect and work towards being in the final in the Aviv….Lansdowne Road. It is time to get back into the thick of it in Europe. An improvement on last year is an absolute necessity, aiming at a quarter final is a good return this year.

As usual @nkeegan for more.

Losing, Rugby Dynasty’s and eventually being happy for Connacht

After a tough sporting weekend its time to bring the season to a close.

This is Keego on Leinster, losing, dynasty destroying and the rugby social media warriors.

So, coming into this week everyone in blue (or most) where saying ‘if Leinster can’t win then I am happy its Connacht’. This was the first sign of a change in the stands that surround Leinster rugby. Can you imagine any other time where anything remotely like this was said? This is said when you don’t believe the opposition is worthy. It is a sign of supporters believing the hype at the business time of the season. I won’t lie, I said something similar to that a few months ago. The closer we got to the game, the more annoyed I got with myself for saying it. During the game I didn’t want Connacht to win, during the game I was annoyed at my team and after the game I am just gutted.

Connacht and Leinster went at each other hard in the opening minutes, but Connacht very quickly took control of the game and they did so far far too easily. The Leinster defensive line was about as active as I am on a Sunday morning after 12 RDS Guinness after match day, that being not at all. Connacht bulldozed towards Leinster and smashed through them by using their brains instead of their bodies. Running at space instead of a human being is always the way to go.

Going in, I thought the midfield was going to be Connachts chance. Aki and Henshaw against T’eo and Ringrose I thought was where they could win. T’eo hasn’t wanted to be in blue for a long time. He had a good game against Ulster but in the final where it counts, he was staying safe to get on the English plane. If a player doesn’t want to be there he should be taken off the pitch. Madigan was on the sidelines who wanted to play. He should have been brought on with 20 minutes gone. It may have made no difference, but I would rather have a team of players who want to play for the team instead of play safers. Ringrose tried very hard, and will be class at the tope level; it was just a learning experience for him.

There was only 1 area of the game that Leinster bossed and that was the scrum. Nothing else worked, nothing else looked like working. Now the question is, was this a game plan issue? Or was it a horrendous day for the players? Did Leo tell the team to lay back and allow Connacht run on to them? If so it’s a naïve gameplan. If it was the players, then why wasn’t there a leader on the pitch taking control? There were near 600 caps in blue on Saturday.  Leinster had less answers than I had during maths paper 2 way back when.

So, Connacht dominated and destroyed a rugby dynasty on Saturday. The further we get from the game, the happier I will be for Connacht but as of right now, I am still gutted.

Which brings me to the internet, never a good place to go after a big win or a big loss. People forget the filter they have in real life (something I am also guilty of) and they just talk. This morning it was about your friend and mine, George Hook. He wrote in the indo comparing the teams and the players a lot of which was spot on. He mentioned about maybe Schmidt being on the chopping block, we will put that in the ‘he’s had too much coffee’ pile. If you use Saturday as a reset for Team Ireland. How many Leinster players make the team? How many Connacht players make the flight? This was where reputations where shattered. Without naming any names, because any player on that pitch is an elite athlete performing at a stupendously high level, who get on the plane?

 

For me the team in green would dominate the big team in green in terms of places, but reputations are getting plane tickets and not form.

Is this a bigger issue? Work of Fitzgerlads injury will open the door for maybe AJ McGinty, which is exactly what he deserves. But he is not the only one.

 

Is now the time to re-evaluate the style of play? The selection process and how the provinces play? Or have we gone too far down the rabbit hole?

 

In closing, a tip of the cap to the Connacht support on Saturday. You out Leinster’d the blue army in Edinburgh and that is some feet. See you in the RDS next season for round 2.

 

As usual @nkeegan for more

 

Until next season….