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Brent Pope: Blues have one week to get things right


Leinster's Luke Fitzgerald (left) juggles with the ball as attempts to control the ball during the Pool Two match of the European Rugby Champions Cup at Twickenham Stoop, Twickenham

Leinster's Luke Fitzgerald (left) juggles with the ball as attempts to control the ball during the Pool Two match of the European Rugby Champions Cup at Twickenham Stoop, Twickenham

Leinster's Luke Fitzgerald (left) juggles with the ball as attempts to control the ball during the Pool Two match of the European Rugby Champions Cup at Twickenham Stoop, Twickenham

During the week, Leinster rugby coach Matt O'Connor took a bit of a sideswipe at the media during his team's press conference.

O'Connor turned a question back on the attending journalists and asked them what they classed as "form" and that despite the press criticising Leinster for playing "ugly rugby", they were still winning.

Yesterday, in London's famous Stoop ground, winning ugly suddenly became losing ugly, as once again the real Leinster did not show up.

Despite an energetic and muscular start from the visitors, clearing out ruck ball and creating plenty of clean line breaks mostly via Jimmy Gopperth, Leinster lost their shape.

They started playing like individuals, rather than a cool collective, and made too many basic errors. It is not all doom and gloom for the Dublin-based side, and Leinster showed enough good play in patches to suggest that they can beat Harlequins at home next weekend and re-take control of their pool.

The fact that Harlequins lost two of their key players during the match, Kiwi outhalf Nick Evans and then talismanic captain Joe Marler (both now doubtful starters next week in the Aviva) will give Leinster even more hope.


In fact, with Evans off the field after just 15 minutes, Harlequins suddenly looked rather rudderless, with young South African Tim Swiel having a particularly nervous European debut, later missing an easy conversion that would have denied Leinster a losing bonus point.

Rugby is often about psychology, or the "top two inches", and in the last few minutes of the match Harlequins, rather than push for a penalty that would have denied Leinster any points at all, did not have the confidence to go for it, choosing instead to play down the clock.

It showed that after a difficult start to the season, they were happy just to get a win. That lack of killer instinct may yet come back to haunt them if Leinster beat them next week and deny them a losing bonus point.

For the second week in succession, Leinster were held try-less and for the most part, did not really look like creating try-scoring opportunities. In fact, Leinster's execution of the basics for most of the match was fairly poor.

Too many dropped or undirected passes, too much cross-field running and ineffective kicking meant that they struggled to get continuity. Time after time Leinster backs ran from one side of the field to the other, often with the ball tucked under their arm looking for a way through, but there were no support runners to link up or straighten the attack.

When Leinster's so-called width game does not bear fruit then they can become too predictable, and apart from the rugged ball-carrying abilities of Ryce Ruddock and hooker Sean Cronin, Leinster badly missed another carrier that would consistently get over the gain line.

Leinster still had enough possession on the front foot, but it was usually the result of a lineout win, maul or a turnover. Leinster's scrum was taken apart in the first half, with English loose head Joe Marler teaching Mike Ross a lesson that must have had Irish scrum coach Greg Feek sprouting grey hairs.

But Ross, the man they call the scrum doctor, eventually figured it out - just. But a lot of Harlequins power play around the fringes of the rucks and scrums was due to the fact that the Leinster flankers had to stay engaged for longer periods at scrum time.

Harlequins' aging No 8, Nick Easter, and his English team-mate Danny Care had armchair rides behind a dominant scrum, and as a result Harlequins were able to make more yards with the ball in hand than the Leinster players, despite being fairly equal in terms of territory and possession.

The frustration of Leinster's back play was often summed up by a lack of communication between its players. In the first half - on at least two occasions - fullback Rob Kearney could not link effectively with winger Darragh Fanning and the momentum was lost.

You could see Kearney asking the big winger to take the pass inside him rather than drift out over the line. It summed up Leinster's day. Things finally came completely unstuck. Leinster retained the ball well, with Ruddock and Cronin again combining to get Leinster into good field position.

Leinster came looking for the try, but a badly telegraphed pass from Kearney to replacement Zane Kirchner saw Harlequins Fijian winger Tikoirotuma latch onto the blind pass and sprint the length of the field to score. It was effectively game over, and a bridge to far for a Leinster team that just kept making simple errors in chasing the game.


Harlequins will have their own concerns, and while their scrum was a huge improvement from last week, their restarts, lack of leadership at No 10 and a mis-firing lineout will have perfectionist Connor O'Shea up late at night. But in the biggest game of their season to date, they deservedly took the win.

Leinster will have seen that Harlequins do not commit many numbers to ruck and that there is an opportunity to counter-ruck and drive Harlequins off their second-phase ball.

If Nick Evans is not fit, and O'Shea is forced to persist with Swiel (effectively the club's third choice out-half) then Leinster must target the young Springbok's nerves and inexperience.

On a positive note, Leinster's own outhalf Jimmy Gopperth had a fairly good game, mixing play well, especially in the first half and especially with ball in hand.

Gopperth was the "man most likely" for most of the game and had he had more runners on his shoulder to carry on the Leinster momentum, the result could have been different.

So all the play for next weekend and plenty of soul-searching for a team that needs to find its mojo before it's too late.