Le­in­ster leave it late against Cardiff Blues

Province’s de­fence ques­tion­able as they scrape past Cardiff in open­ing game

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - John O’Sul­li­van

Le­in­ster res­cued a bonus point vic­tory with 90 sec­onds re­main­ing in Cardiff and while de­scrib­ing it as an act of lar­ceny might be an ex­ag­ger­a­tion, it is only a slight one.

The win won’t cam­ou­flage sev­eral short­com­ings in per­for­mance terms, ones that looked like be­ing fa­tal for large tranches of the game but the im­pe­tus pro­vided by the bench – Bryan Byrne’s brace of tries a fo­cal point in the late tri­umph – in­jected just about enough mo­men­tum.

The Ir­ish province were sloppy, very at times, and while miss­ing a plethora of first choice play­ers, it doesn’t fully ex­cuse an off colour dis­play. Flaws per­me­ated most as­pects of their pat­terns on both sides of the ball.

Out­played at the break­down, where they strug­gled to se­cure quick ball and had their pock­ets picked on oc­ca­sion, they were also dis­jointed in de­fence and as a re­sult were forced to box-kick far too of­ten. Cre­ativ­ity in terms of back play was also rather scarce, largely pred­i­cated on slow pos­ses­sion.

Brit­tle tack­ling

A level of rusti­ness was to be ex­pected in the first com­pet­i­tive out­ing of the sea­son but some of the tack­ling was brit­tle and down to in­di­vid­ual rather than sys­tem er­rors. It takes a while to build trust and un­der­stand­ing within units in the team and that was very much in ev­i­dence.

No one ex­pects per­fec­tion in a first out­ing. De­spite the is­sues there were a num­ber of ex­cel­lent in­di­vid­ual dis­play, no­tably cap­tain Rhys Rud­dock, who led a side con­tain­ing only two play­ers from the team that started last sea­son’s fi­nal.

Scott Fardy was ex­cel­lent, so too Adam Byrne and Dave Kear­ney, while the team co­he­sion and in­ter­play sparked into life every now and again with some nice of­fload­ing and clever run­ning an­gles. The re­place­ments in­fused a vigour that drove the team to vic­tory.

Pre-sea­son train­ing ground drills can­not repli­cate the rigours and in­ten­sity of the match en­vi­ron­ment and that was abun­dantly clear when some of Le­in­ster’s unit skills were stress tested, par­tic­u­larly at break­down and in the mid­field de­fence.

Cardiff were sharper at ruck time ini­tially in de­cid­ing when to com­mit num­bers and the reward was turnover ball, while their for­wards were phys­i­cally su­pe­rior in most col­li­sions, an edge that was par­tially at­trib­ut­able to some up­right car­ry­ing on the part of sev­eral Le­in­ster play­ers. Pe­ri­odic clear­ing out at rucks by sev­eral Le­in­ster play­ers was tech­ni­cally weak and in­ef­fec­tual.

The home side were handed im­me­di­ate trac­tion on the score­board, the state of af­fairs fur­ther fa­cil­i­tated by Le­in­ster con­ced­ing the first four penal­ties of the match. How­ever the vis­i­tors were punch­ing holes when they man­aged to es­tab­lish some con­ti­nu­ity and the em­pha­sis on of­fload­ing in and through the tackle was im­pres­sive at times.

Rud­dock, Fardy, James Tracy, Cae­lan Doris and Peter Doo­ley were es­pe­cially con­spic­u­ous in get­ting go-for­ward ball for their team, while Adam Byrne and Kear­ney added value every time touched the ball.

Cardiff’s li­ne­out dis­in­te­grated alarm­ingly – James Tracy’s try came from an over­throw – and the Le­in­ster eight, de­spite giv­ing away a penalty in the first scrum, enjoyed the up­per hand in this facet of the game in that open­ing half.

Dis­ci­pline

The home side’s dis­ci­pline be­came an is­sue giv­ing away a raft of penal­ties and Le­in­ster came from eight points down to lead 11-8 as the in­ter­val beck­oned. Fardy’s de­ci­sion to take a quick throw cost his side seven points, al­beit that the scor­ing pass to Ja­son Har­ries was for­ward.

Le­in­ster’s kick­ing game was poorly judged at times, a cou­ple in par­tic­u­lar cost­ing the vis­i­tors the op­por­tu­nity to score tries. The Ir­ish province’s de­fence in mid­field for Cardiff’s first try was por­ous and ditto for the home side’s third; the spac­ing, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and align­ment com­pletely out of kil­ter.

The fourth try was an­other hor­ror show de­fen­sively. Wan­der­ing con­cen­tra­tion was also an is­sue es­pe­cially on two or three re-starts.

It was ap­po­site that Rud­dock was in the van of the late rally, car­ry­ing pow­er­fully sev­eral times and Le­in­ster inched their way to­wards re­demp­tion, cul­mi­nat­ing in Bryan Byrne’s lunge, the re­place­ment hooker touch­ing down against the base of the post.

Le­in­ster’s post match re­view will make for painful view­ing in gen­eral and a huge im­prove­ment will be re­quired when the Ir­ish province re­turned to Wales to face the Scar­lets next week­end.

Drills can­not repli­cate the rigours and in­ten­sity of the match en­vi­ron­ment

PHO­TO­GRAPH: BILLY STICKLAND/INPHO

Le­in­ster’s Adam Byrne and Cae­lan Doris tackle Owen Lane of Cardiff Blues at Cardiff Arms Park.

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