Friday 19 January 2018

Scrum farce irks O'Connor

Leinster coach takes positives from display but calls for refereeing consistency

Dave Kearney dives over to score Leinster's second try
Dave Kearney dives over to score Leinster's second try
Conor George

Conor George

MATT O'CONNOR laughed off any suggestion that Saturday night's meeting with Ospreys will have any relevance when the sides meet in the Heineken Cup next month.

Leinster 29 Ospreys 29

Instead, O'Connor was more concerned with the inconsistency of refereeing at the scrum rather than anything Ospreys might have learned from their visit to Dublin.

The Leinster coach pointed the finger at the work of the experienced Adam Jones and seemed to suggest his reputation was such that decisions seemed to consistently go his way.

"There seems to be one common link in that and that's when Adam Jones plays and that seems to be the interpretation," he agreed when it was suggested to him the referee had made his mind up early about which front-row was on top.

It's a fair assumption that O'Connor was being mischievous when pointing the finger at Jones for the problems Leinster encountered at scrum-time. The truth is the scrum was a lottery long before Jones, a three-time Grand Slam-winning prop, was introduced at half-time.

The scrum that O'Connor was most agitated about was the one which resulted in Sean Cronin's yellow card in the 67th minute when he was binned after multiple re-sets on the Ospreys' line as Leinster sought to fight back from a seven-point deficit (19-26).

Clarity

O'Connor has a valid point when it comes to the scrum and referees' different interpretation of the set-piece. It's something Ulster's Mark Anscombe and Munster's Rob Penney have also made reference to in recent weeks.

The reality is that the inconsistency from referee to referee, game to game, and even scrum to scrum, is making a mess of the set-piece instead of tidying and quickening it up which is the purpose behind the law changes.

"I think we've got some issues, globally. We've got to get to the bottom of it really quickly because it's an on-going level of frustration for the players and there has to be some sort of strong leadership and clarity really quickly," said O'Connor.

What also certainly irked O'Connor about Saturday's game was the ill-discipline that coughed up the opportunity for Dan Biggar's equalising penalty after the 80 minutes had elapsed.

Leinster had just retaken the lead thanks to a third Jimmy Gopperth penalty and needed to soak up the Ospreys pressure while running down the clock. Incredibly, Jack McGrath, who set up Richardt Strauss' opening try in the first half and scored Leinster's third himself, was pinged for entering illegally from the side and conceded the equalising penalty. It was an unfortunate way for the game to end because Leinster had shown tremendous resilience to swing the game back in their favour after falling behind in a 12-minute period in the second half when they clocked off and Ospreys plundered two converted tries in a three-minute surge to go seven points in front.

Mercifully, the sin-binning of hooker Cronin focused the Leinster minds and they wrestled their way to parity through McGrath's converted try.

When the impressive Gopperth landed his third penalty – to add to the conversion and a drop-goal – with five minutes remaining, the Leinster coach must have believed his side were capable of closing out the game.

Unfortunately, they could not, but when O'Connor reviews the tape dispassionately, he will also realise there is plenty for him to be enthused about.

Gopperth is proving to be an astute signing. He is possessed of a fabulous break, has pace, vision, soft hands and an excellent kicking game. The choice between him and Ian Madigan in October for the resumption of the Heineken Cup will not be as straightforward as might have previously been thought.

Similarly, Jordi Murphy again impressed with his high work rate and composure at the base of the scrum.

Brendan Macken is also taking his chance in midfield. One try-saving tackle in the first half was executed to perfection and not only frustrated the Ospreys attack, but turned possession over for Leinster in a dangerous area of the pitch.

"I thought we were very good in the first 20. The intent we started with was excellent and then the fightback was very good," O'Connor said.

"There are some lessons there for us. You can't go to sleep and give points away, but the attitude and the accuracy in defence was better than last week and there are a lot of positives there for us to take from the game."

Saturday night's game was played against the backdrop of a looming Heineken Cup fixture in under a month's time when Leinster travel to Liberty Stadium to kick off their European campaign, but O'Connor is happy Ospreys took nothing from the game that will benefit them when next the sides meet.

"Two points is all they took tonight. I don't think you can read too much into it when we've got 14 players to bring back before that game!" he laughed.

LEINSTER: D Kearney; D Fanning, B Macken, G D'Arcy, D Hudson (I Madigan 5); J Gopperth, E Reddan (I Boss 60); J McGrath, R Strauss (S Cronin 50), M Ross (M Moore 60-70); D Toner, M McCarthy (T Denton 72); K McLaughlin, S Jennings, J Murphy (R Ruddock 55-63).

OSPREYS: R Fussell; B John (J Hasslerr 75), A Bishop, A Beck, E Walker; D Biggar, T Tebaldi; R Bevington (D Jones h-t), S Baldwin (R Hibbard 56), J Rees (A Jones h-t); I Evans, J King (A Tyler 53); T Smith, S Lewis, J Bearman.

Ref – L Hodges (WRU)

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