All in the scrum
Barnes's supervising of the scrum does Leinster few favours
Leinster, in particular Mike Ross, appeared to be outscrummaged by Clermont props Raphael Chaume and the renowned Georgian Davit Zirakashvili on Saturday.
Seán Cronin explained afterwards that it was a breakdown in communication with referee Wayne Barnes.
The hooker arrived after just 11 minutes, when Richardt Strauss’s medial cruciate ligament buckled under a Nathan Hines tackle, leaving him well placed to notice the large gap between the frontrows before engagement.
“Yeah, it was a bit of deja-vu from last weekend. We thought the gap was a bit too big and we discussed it with the ref before the game and agreed that it works for both teams if you have it as a close hit and a close gap.
“It didn’t really seem to go that way today and obviously if you have a big gap like that and two packs colliding, you’re going to get fellas on the ground.”
The penalty count was 14-12 in Clermont’s favour. The official statistics don’t provide much clarity as they state both teams only lost one scrum each.
“Our scrum was superior last week,” said Joe Schmidt. “It’s incredibly disappointing to have the scrum controlled the way it was. We have to live with that but once a very strong team like Clermont had a ready supply of ball it is very difficult to stop them, with the size and strength of their ball runners.
“You could talk about angles, you could talk about binding, loose forwards joining the front row, all those strategies are pretty effective.”
Leinster also lost two of their 12 lineouts and as Leo Cullen admitted: “They got quick ball, it was very difficult to slow that down.”
Trouble under foot at the Aviva
The Aviva Stadium ground staff are under scrutiny as players have repeatedly complained about the state of the pitch. And not just this weekend, when it was so evidently patched together and breaking regularly under foot, but dating back to September.
It appeared to deny Jonathan Sexton a shot for three points. When a scrum in the first-half tore up the area, Sexton was unable to call for the kicking tee, instead punting for an attacking lineout.
“The pitch was very, very hard to kick off unless you’re in range,” said Schmidt. “If you’re in range then on balance it wasn’t too bad, but to get any traction there was times where it was just impossible to get a really good plant foot and then you’re a little bit compromised when you’re kicking.”
“We expected exactly what we got from the pitch. The last time we were here against Munster it tore up in a similar fashion and the lads who played here during the autumn internationals had the same opinion. There’s not a lot of really close-rooted grass holding it together, therefore it tends to get very loose, very friable and as a result it’s very hard to get traction and it made scrummaging very difficult.”
Surely, something will be done about this unacceptable surface before England visit on February 10th. “Well, I guess, you can’t just grow grass if it’s not growing,” said Schmidt.
The weekend may have been a write off for the Irish provinces but delving into the statistics reveals some positives. For example, it looks like Seán O’Brien is inching back to his former self, having undergone hip surgery last summer.
O’Brien got his mitts on the ball 15 times against Clermont, more than anyone else, while Clermont’s Jamie Cudmore led the way with 11 tackles.
Eoin McKeon stood out, statistically speaking, in Connacht’s 17-0 defeat in Biarritz with the 25-year-old leading the ball carrying (12) and tackle (15) count.
Tommy Bowe had the best Ulster figures before his serious injury in Saturday’s surprise 10-9 defeat to Northampton at Ravenhill. Bowe made 95 metres from 11 carriers. The last metre proved the most damaging as he badly jarred his knee.
The chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union, Roger Lewis, says they will consider using an artificial pitch in the Millennium Stadium for matches during the 2015 Rugby World Cup.