Tuesday 12 December 2017

Leinster tick all the boxes as set-piece power sets platform for solid start

Leinster 33 Castres 15

Leinster’s Isa Nacewa scores his side’s fourth try despite the tackle of Robert Ebersohn of Castres as the Blues ran out 33-15 winners in their Champions Cup game at the RDS. Picture: Sportsfile
Leinster’s Isa Nacewa scores his side’s fourth try despite the tackle of Robert Ebersohn of Castres as the Blues ran out 33-15 winners in their Champions Cup game at the RDS. Picture: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Typically in any rugby game, it's not great planning to figure what your position will be in the 80th minute based on where you're at after just 10. You might allow the warm-up to creep into this as well.

And if one of the teams is French, away from home in Europe, then your antennae are raised for any signs of disinterest.

Leinster's Luke McGrath is tackled by Castres' Geoffrey Palis. Picture: PA
Leinster's Luke McGrath is tackled by Castres' Geoffrey Palis. Picture: PA

Nothing to ring any alarm bells in the preamble, but we'll admit that after 10 minutes, with only five points between the teams, it was hard to see anything other than Leinster getting over the line first, with Castres a good way back down the finishing straight.

Just after half an hour gone and with the home team 19-3 in front - and three tries in the bonus bank - the handicap of 14 points didn't look like it was going to survive.

And by the finish? Well, the boxes Leinster wanted to tick were as follows: win; win with a bonus; win with something solid to take to Montpellier; win without putting undue pressure on the physio. The early withdrawal of Tadhg Furlong - with a tight hamstring - is the most obvious injury issue to be sorted, though Rhys Ruddock was also treating a tight calf afterwards.

As for the rest, Stuart Lancaster will be giving the players back their workbooks with a lot more positives than negatives. For the second week running, the pack came away from the scene with 100 per cent at the set-piece. No matter who you're playing against, this is good business.

Leinster's Josh van der Flier on the ball. Picture: PA
Leinster's Josh van der Flier on the ball. Picture: PA

A week ago, the scrum was good and looked like it was getting better. Yesterday, it literally moved forward again and Castres looked likely to concede a penalty every other time they packed down.

They ended up conceding 14 penalties to Leinster's eight, though it felt like more. And the balance in both penalty tries and yellow cards seemed an oddity in the circumstances, with Leinster being done at a maul and, naturally enough, Castres at a scrum.

To give you an idea of how confident Leinster felt about their own maul, consider the speed with which they passed up a penalty shot about 30 metres out and in front of the sticks, 32 minutes into the game.

Maybe it was Sean Cronin making the running on this one, for he had already got over on the tail end of two blue mauls that had splintered the Castres pack. The 12-3 lead wasn't exactly massive, but Leinster's respect for their opponents' ability to defend clearly was limited.

This time, they had to dig in a bit, go to touch a second time after the French had come in at the side on the first, before loosehead Jack McGrath burrowed his way over. Isa Nacewa's conversion made it 19-3 - the essence of comfort.

In professional sport, the aim is to win rather than entertain, so you can't fault the tactic of doing something your opponents struggle to deal with.

So there and then, Leinster might have opted to reduce their diet solely to mauls and box kicks. Castres weren't great at dealing with the latter either.

Perhaps if referees everywhere were prepared to be ruthless about policing the back foot, the extra space would encourage more running and less kicking. Evidently, that's not going to happen, given that it's been a scourge for an age. Maybe if we could link injury prevention to the creation of space, it might move World Rugby to do the obvious, and act.

So between grunting and hoofing, on a day that had started off with a monsoon only to morph into warm, sunshine - it drizzled again before the finish - it was often hard to watch. For the 13,890 crowd, the best bits came in the last quarter, when there was loads of space to attack.

There was plenty for Leinster to be happy about. Going to Montpellier next Sunday will be the difference between a stroll in the park and running the gauntlet, but their forwards are motoring now. Behind them, the midfield combo of Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose again was good, and at 10, Joey Carbery just gets better.

His kicking game is a work in progress, but it is progressing. As for the other stuff, he is just a joy to watch. Interestingly, when he moved to full-back, you could see the damage from there as well, though the closer he is to the gain-line, the harder he is to contain.

By half-time, Leinster were 19-10 in front, stretching to 25-10 eight minutes into the second half after Nacewa - filling in at nine, with Luke McGrath in the bin for having come in at the side of a maul - scooted through the middle of a ruck 25 metres out.

He stepped Rob Ebersohn and then fended full-back Geoffrey Palis to touch down for a lovely try. Game over; bonus point sorted.

The penalty try for the home team followed soon after, and then the only blot on the copybook.

Conceding a try to replacement Anthony Jelonch around the side of a ruck close-in won't look great at the review meeting. You would hope that such softness will be inconceivable in France next weekend. A good return from that and they're in business.

 

Leinster: R Kearney (C Marsh 71); Z Kirchner, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, I Nacewa (N Reid 68); J Carbery, L McGrath (yc 40-50)(J Gibson-Park 59); J McGrath (C Healy 53), S Cronin (J Tracy 53), T Furlong (M Ross 37), D Toner, I Nagle (R Molony 59), R Ruddock (D Leavy 50), J Heaslip, J van der Flier.

Castres: G Palis; R Grosso, T Conbezou, R Ebersohn (F Vialelle 61), D Smith; B Urdapilletta (M Javaux 71), A Dupont (R Kockott 54); A Tichit (M Lazar 53), J Jenneker (B Mach temp 19-26; 38), D Kotze (D Tussac 60), V Moreaux (A Jellonch 60), R Capo Ortega (capt) (T Lasalle 54; yc 61-71), M Babillot, A Tulou, S Mafi.

Referee: M Carley (England).

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