- Nov 5, 2017
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Broadly agree with all of this. There isn't anything structurally wrong with Leinster rugby. On another day, a few small breaks could have led to a very different result. The one the stands out to me is Baird not holding it, if he gets that we're two scores up and in a great position. We were also pretty unlucky to not capatalise more on Rhule's pathetic catch attempts in the first half.Head coach Leo Cullen has issued an injury update ahead of the Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup game against Connacht Rugby.www.leinsterrugby.ie
On the other day I think some people are seeing it as worse than it was (not that it was great or anything). A number of small things that effected the scoreboard didn't go our way, of course you expect a few in any game but normally at least one or two would have benefitted us:
That's ignoring Byrne missing a kick early on that he makes 9/10 times and the fact we played 52 minutes with really only two backrowers. Losing Ruddock was huge in my opinion. He was stopping LAR's big carriers on the gainline and allowing VDF to focus on poaching. Baird made as many tackles in his 52 minutes as Ruddock did in 28, VDF isn't a good enough poacher to have to be both the main tackler and groundhog, not being able to get turnovers really cost us as did our unusually inaccurate performance at the breakdown. I think the kicking game was also a massive factor in the loss, La Rochelle absolutely destroyed us there. Our main kicking options were McGrath and Lowe who are both just way too inconsistent to be relied upon in that manner. Keenan's most obvious weakness as a 15 has to be his kicking it's also something our centres don't really do despite both being useful enough at it.
- Larmour throws a poor pass inside off a linebreak in their 22, McGrath knocks on and LAR exit
- Byrne crossfielder takes a bad bounce and goes over Lowe's head when it's at least a linebreak in their 22 if he catches it
- Baird can't quite gather the ball when he would have scored if he caught it, LAR win a penalty off the scrum, then off the subsequent lineout and stretch their lead
- LAR player is fully tackled and held by Kelleher but Carley doesn't penalise it a phase or two later and West knocks over the drop goal
Obviously it doesn't do to decry injuries but I do think the result could have been quite different if we had Doris, JGP and one of Sexton or HB.
Also agree that Ruddock was a huge loss. Baird isn't a top level 6 right now, I think we saw that last week too. He doesn't bring what Ruddock brings around the park for all his talent. It also seriously threw off the balance of the back row, which had been well on top in the breakdown early on (and also against Exeter). You have to give LAR credit for adapting too but it's silly to pretend it wasn't a factor in us losing control of the breakdown. You can't beat having a 6 at 6, a 7 at 7 etc etc. Was a problem against Sarries too, first time the nonentitiy that was 2019 SOB and the second time trying to squeeze Conan and Doris into the same back row. Admittedly in 2020 we had plenty of other, bigger problems in that game but it still matters. The one we started with on Sunday was pretty perfectly balanced and losing Ruddock was a huge blow.
That all being said, everyone agrees we lost to the better team on the day, and it's the third year in a row that's happened and given the talent available it is starting to feel like underperforming. Sunday wasn't that bad but it's the the first time we've had periods of looking badly out of our depth in Europe (thinking more about Saracens last year and the first 20 against Exeter here). The league absolutely is a problem. Watching PSG last night struck me as really similar, we're polar opposites to them in many ways but they're another team who are completely dominant domestically (admittedly in a fight this year but that's beside the point) to the point of detriment at the highest level. They showed a lot of the same problems as we did, they started well but once things started going wrong they didn't/couldn't adapt because they're just not in the situation where they have to often enough. Once City had them figured out defensively they just couldn't find a way through (again, happened to us multiple times). The other thing that stood out is not seeing weaknesses, because we're better than almost every Pro14 team (at the teams we play in Euro group stages) in almost every area it papers over cracks and it's really hard to tell where you're actually the best in Europe and where you're need work but are being carried by the fact that you're great in every other area. Then we play someone else who's really good and get exposed. The most glaring example of this is our scrum collapsing last year but I think it applies in other areas and times too. For PSG it became apparent (to me anyway) that there fullbacks aren't great and that they're not creative enough in midfield but you don't notice that until it's too late if Neymar and Mpabbe score 70 between them and you win the league with a month to go. Obviously there are differences but watching them last night and watching us on Sunday were really similar experiences.
A bit part of 2018 was that we'd fallen short the previous year but also that we weren't as dominant domestically. While we showed pretty conclusively that we were better than the Scarlets, the fact that we had to wait all year to prove it as much to ourselves as anyone definitely drove the entire squad on.
The other thing and I've already talked a lot so I'll keep this shorter is that our backline isn't as good as we like to think it is. A part of this is Ringrose being injured/out of form but compared to the Schmidt era backline it's a few steps down as a collective. Henshaw over late era D'Arcy is the only obvious upgrade and we're significantly weaker at 10, whatever position Isa was playing, and 15. The guys we've got in those positions now are all very good (one is the same player after all) but they're not as good and it's not like we're better in other positions to make up for it. It's not a weakness but when we need a bit of creativity it's often not there. Overall, I rate them all individually as players but if someone only watched us in European knockouts I'm not sure they'd be particularly impressed by them.
Overall, this is extrapolating a lot from not a lot of games but that's the problem on one level, we don't lose enough. We could use a real rivalry with Munster too, 10 in 11 or whatever it was was fun but it didn't help us as a team. More competition (and I don't mean whatever last week's game was) would be good.