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An impromptu trip to the RDS stemmed the flow of tears of a lack of rugby last weekend. A last minute ticket offer to play the other top team in the conference (and the bogey team of Irish provinces last year) was too much to resist.
The Scarlets rolled into town depleted by a welsh injury crisis that had Warren Gatland reaching over to the Scarlets team for a dig out. In fairness to him, injuries or not, if he is picking on form then a lot of the Scarlets team would get the call up.
Leinster were also in the position to test their bench and their academy system because of the Irish call ups, this is the most interesting time of the year for Leinster supporters. They know that Joe will be calling up a lot of starters and that the second string / third string players will get game time and this will show the real depth of the team.
The first thing I noticed that the team song has changed from the thumping and adrenaline pumping Thunderstruck by AC/DC to some sort of pop song that is the musical equivalent of a prostate exam. Absolutely horrific choice of song, it really sucked the energy out of the crowd which is not what you want when your team takes the field. Bring back welcome to the jungle followed by thunderstruck!
Music aside, it was a fantastic day for rugby, a bit cold but sunny. The defending champions looked to get on the board early and showed some class to put 7 on the board within 10 minutes. Even with their second string they looked dangerous and confident. Leinster looked a little slow and unsure. This would be an interesting game.
James Lowe had the predators dialled in, some amazing kicks on the day that eased pressure and forced the visitors backwards. Towards the middle of the half Leinster had found confidence and began the strangulation rugby that has become a hallmark of their play this season. Not getting on the board but putting markers down everywhere and slowly moving forward like an anaconda eating an elephant. I mean the animal there, not the Nicky Minaj video.
As an aside, remember where you heard the term strangulation rugby first. Right here on thedailyclothesline.blog and the accompanying podcast The Couch Pundit (available on all podcast services and Spotify).
The Leinster maul was called into action at the 18 minute mark and was a thing of beauty. Scarlets tried every trick in the book but it trucked on a good distance and changed direction twice to tire out Scarlets and allow quick passes across the pitch to a waiting James Lowe to finish in the corner of the north stand. He ran so fast that his man-bun became undone! A strong and solid try from Leinster.
Lowe is playing a blinder, remaining calm in defence and assured in offence. Serious shift already from the lad in the first half.
10-7 at half time and Leinster looked in third gear, coasting on the M50.
Looking at the stats the game was even. In total Leinster ran approx. 40 more metres (333 to 297), had 50 less passes (120/175), 11 Leinster turnovers conceded to Scarlets 12 and 124 of 140 tackles made to Scarlets 120 of 133. So as you can see, it read like a very close game.
But sitting in the north stand, it didn’t look close at all. Especially in the second half. Leinster where very much within themselves, McGrath going off with a knee injury drew a deep inhale of breath from the crowd. Who would come on? Nick McCarthy was called on to replace McGrath and the entire stadium said, ‘who’s that guy’ (expletive removed for publication). The game plan appeared to bring on himself and Frawley late in the game to blood them in the first teams jersey, but injuries brought them on early and both played with confidence.
Ciaran Frawley was the man who replaced a knocked out Rory O’Loughlin and looked like he had been there forever even taking over kicking duties like a 50 capper. He also looked like he was on work experience from transition year. It is amazing the conveyor belt of confident players Leinster are churning out, the issue will be hanging on to them as the squad size increases. As the age profile is not lopsided in the 30’s there just isn’t enough room to get all of these players on the pitch in a season.
Back to the match, Leinster kept the board ticking over with penalties from the red bullet of Frawley. Some tough kicks made too which is great for his confidence. The second half started with the proper Leinster start, massive intensity massive work rate and McGrath finished off a great move that involved 6 players. The foot was going down. The Scarlets spent most of the second half rattled and with their leaders in the other red jersey they found it hard to get back into the game. It was a kick battle really that kept them in the game. 17-10 with 68 minutes gone, and it was a ho-hum game. Leinster very comfortable but not finishing off the visitors. The thing that kept attention was that the crowd knew that Scarlets are dangerous at all times. They just didn’t look capable of turning back the blue wave.
Leinster where the equivalent of me way back in the school disco days, I would chat a girl up, it would go well but when it came to sealing the deal, my closing game was sorely lacking.
Leinster pressure lead to penalties, Scarlets happy to give away 3 instead of 7 hoping they could get back into the game. 20-10 with Frawley looking sharp with the boot.
The closing moments where mind games from Scarlets. During the match their scrum was under pressure, so in the closing moments, to get a penalty and the losing bonus point they decided to allow Leinster to load the loose head side and went into a spin. Complaining to the ref of early engagements/infractions to draw the penalty. After 1 reset the penalty was given and they left Dublin with a losing bonus point. So not only are they a very good team, they can play the mind games too. It will be interesting to see them again in a few weeks.
The big take away for me from the game was the massive improvement in James Lowe. Skilful everywhere, tackling everything and showing a vision that is massively important against the top sides. Look at his second try again; as he wriggles through the Scarlets line to get back into attack formation, he taps McGrath on the back to ask for the ball out wide. McGrath delivers and Lowe punches through to score. Really impressive stuff from the Kiwi / Ireland winger in 3 years.
It was a good day in the RDS and a great way to bridge the gap before the other red jersey of Wales arrives in Dublin.