It was an incredibly bright start from Exeter. They demonstrated exactly what had made them England Premiership champions last year. They hit the game-line incredibly hard, varying it from tight rugby to spreading it wide whilst making sure they had quick and clean ball by clearing out each ruck with proficiency. They were rewarded with a converted try within the opening 2 minutes. They continued this with ruthlessness for the opening 35 minutes or so. They were also very effective in winning turnovers and preventing Leinster building any momentum. Cian Healy didn’t help the cause by giving away a needless yellow card (which could well have been red). Fardy also got sinbinned as well for collapsing a maul when Exeter scored their second try of the game.
After that second try by Exeter they were 17-3 up with only ten minutes or so until halftime and with a man advantage. My feeling was that Leinster were hanging on by a thread and if they conceeded a game it was game over. This is where Leinster had to show their character. They showed incredible courage to start playing some rugby with 14 men and spreading it wide. They clawed and grinded two penalties out of Exeter which meant we walked in to the tunnel at halftime 17-9 down. We gave ourselves a glimmer of hope that despite being completely outplayed and outmuscled we were still in touch with Exeter.
Leinster came out of the blocks in the second half and started with real intensity and this time we continued this for the whole half. Leinster won two penalties and brought it back to 17-15. In fact Leinster didn’t allow Exeter to score in the second point. Leinster’s bench proved a significant difference as well. All the players that came in were able to maintain the same level of intensity and provide go-forward ball. Leavy especially was brilliant when he came on and provided a linebreak and assist for the Luke McGrath try which eventually sealed the game.
For me, there were 3 players who really stood out for Leinster. The first of these was Robbie Henshaw. In a game where Leinster were initially struggling to find any go forward ball, he was called upon to take a lot of crash balls which he took well and delivered consistent gainline success. In defense, he was brilliant and had to make some huge hits and put his body on the line. The second player was Isa Nacewa, he showed inspiring leadership skills. After we conceded the second try he pulled in every player and gave them a passionate team talk which spurred us in to life. He also took over kicking duties when Sexton went off, despite being 3rd choice in Leinster at the moment and he didn’t miss one kick. For me the man of the match was Scott Fardy. In the past when Leinster have been successful, we have always had a enforcer in the second row. Scott Fardy is already looking to be that exact kind of player. He was extremely physical in this game and won important turnovers at the right times.
This was a really good win going forward not just in terms of pool position but psychologically. I always think it is incredibly encouraging to beat a team when they are the better team on the day. It was also great to see a good gritty win. In 09, Leinster had to beat Harlequins playing away and I think it was an important victory en route to winning the trophy that year. I think every team needs this kind of win in a successful cup campaign.
Last Saturday saw the clash of two very different club models. The first was the highly expensive ‘galacticos’ model of Montpellier who have a very strong South African feel to them. Leinster, the home team have seen that they can’t afford the type of model that the French and English clubs have adopted and have instead relied on their Academy players.
Before the game, my main worry was the fact that Johnathan Sexton picked up an injury against Munster the week before. Johnny is one of the best outhalves in the world and it’s always a relief when his name is on the teamsheet. On top of this, O’Loughlin’s injury in the same game, meant that our backline looked rather callow.
The game started fast and had the crowd worried as Leinster were under intense pressure for the opening quarter. To make matters worse, it seemed to be a gameplan on the day for our exit-strategy kicks to remain in-field and usually kicked long to the most dangerous man on the field, Nodolo! However when we held on to the ball and got in to the ‘red-zone’, we took our chances with tries both times. The first was a beautifully worked try with Carbery accelerating into a gap and having the speed to beat Mogg to the corner. With Leinster being two tries up leading into half-time, things were looking comfortable. However just at the death, Montpellier had a 5 metre scrum, where Nodolo ran over with ease. This kept Montpellier in touch runningn down the tunnel for half-time.
The second half starting terrific pace again, this time with Leinster doing all the attacking. They got a fortunate try when Byrne’s crossfield kick was bounced off a few Montpellier defenders before Henshaw gathered and fell over the line. Soon afterwards Barry Daly scored a brilliant try when he raced down the touchline and showed great strength to ride two tackles and finish in the corner.
Leinster at this point should have closed the game off with a penalty or two to put them out of reach, however Montpellier with their star-studded side kept plugging away and got another try by Nodolo and penalty to get back within 7 points, with enough time on the board to have a stab at winning the game. When Adam Byrne got sent off for a deliberate knock-on, Montpellier should have scored a try. In fact they had a two on one overlap which they failed to convert in to a try. This eventually cost them, as they went on to lose the match but they do come away with a losing bonus point which may prove to be crucial as we near the end of the pool stages.
After months of not venturing out to the RDS to watch Leinster play, I couldn’t wait in the days leading up to the match to finally watch some live rugby again.
However despite my excitement and the general feeling of excitement of the crowd, the first half of the match quickly dampened this excitement. There were countless small errors on both sides, with the ball being spilt frequently. This was partly due to the wet grass, but also I suspect because of the players trying to get back in to the swing of things. The knock-ons from both sides lead to a very stop-start half where both sides struggled to build any sort of momentum. On top of this Nacewa was very fortunate to avoid a red card for a high-tackle which could have easily seen him going off for an early shower. Tracy managed to squeeze over from a maul for the only try of the first half.
The second half started where the second half left off, with errors still occurring from both sides. The Cardiff team defended doggedly and were proving very difficult to break down. However after 60mins, Leinster managed to find another gear. Croinin picked up a loose ball and raced past everyone (as only he can) to jot down. After this, Daly juggled magnificently from a cross-field kick to score in the corner and leave Leinster one try short of the bonus point. This duly arrived when a beautiful piece of play was finished by McCarthy. The try featured brilliant handling from forwards and backs and showcased some of the skills some of these Leinster players possess.
The bonus point and quick flurry at the end papered over a lot of the cracks in this performance. As to be expected, a lot of the players were very rusty after a summer break and this culminated in the first 60 minutes featuring numerous stoppages. However it was nice to deny Cardiff any tries and also to get the maximum return in terms of points. This means that Leinster have started the season with the maximum number of points in their opening two matches.
Next up will be very interesting as Leinster travel to South Africa to take on the two new teams in the Pro14. Leinster, it’s nice to have you back!