By going a little bit crooked with their feeds, Leinster broke the law and they won
The home side were in trouble in the scrum against Connacht until they started testing the refereee
Connacht put enormous pressure on the Leinster scrum. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Having been to Beamer’s wedding on Saturday I missed all the live rugby, so settled in on Monday to catch up. It was amazing to experience the Leinster-Connacht game knowing the outcome. With a massive 67 minutes remaining and Connacht ahead 13-3 , I searched for the reasons they lost.
Much of it was tough viewing. Leinster struggled in many areas but most notably with their buckling offence. I lost count of the times the ball was passed behind the receiver’s shoulder forcing him to check his run, stunting any creative rhythm.
Why Connacht failed to score for over an hour was rooted in many aspects of their game – most notably an ability to select the wrong option at the wrong time. This of course improves with experience. Either way, neither Leinster nor Connacht played consistently well, with Leinster searching for rhythm and Connacht confidence.
That said, the game came down to a few key moments; all in the scrum.
Several times this season I’ve noticed Seán Cronin and others having difficulty getting the strike away. The first time was against Cardiff, where the pressure prevented Cronin from lifting his striking leg. The result was a lonely, non-moving ball in the middle of the scrum channel with both hookers staring forlornly. In the end Matthew Rees flung a foot at the ball hoping to rebound it off the Leinster frontrow’s legs back into the Cardiff scrum.
Brett Wilkinson, Connacht’s loosehead has been doing credible damage to his opposition all season. Against Michael Bent last week he repeated this domination, with the knock-on effect on Cronin’s strike. For much of the game Cronin was unable to lift his striking leg when Eoin Reddan fed the ball.
Here’s where the new laws and developing tactics come into play. The opposition, Connacht in this case, placed enormous pressure the striking hooker – both Wilkinson and his hooker Seán Henry trapped Cronin down. The new laws give an unfair advantage to Connacht as, at this point, they are scrummaging eight against seven. Once this is achieved the ball will sit in the centre of no man’s land.
The next step makes the Leinster scrum extremely vulnerable. As Cronin attempts to swing at the ball, the opposition time a secondary snap right with Cronin at his weakest; hence destabilising the scrum enormously. Against Castres in similar circumstances Jamie Heaslip was magnificent in managing ball control in a retreating scrum.
With Bent under considerable pressure and Cronin’s strike becoming more vulnerable, Leinster made two significant changes – in personnel and scrum feed-in.
This is where the referee comes into play. His performance was bizarre at times but akin to a man learning his way at this level. No doubt under the IRFU refereeing management system he will improve.
Tighthead replacement Marty Moore made a significant impact, but conscious of the score and the crucial nature of these scrums Reddan’s feeds infuriated me no end. Needless to say it was extremely cute play from Leinster, and 10 marks for Reddan for testing the referee, especially as he became more and more interested in the frontrow scrummaging and less so with the scrum feed.
Where Cronin had originally attempted a strike from a straight feed he reverted to non striking, positioning himself in a scrummaging position. Now Leinster had eight on eight and Connacht, having enjoyed supremacy, were under pressure. The problem, according to the IRB laws is that “ the scrumhalf must throw in the ball straight along the middle line . . . over the middle line between the frontrows”.
Leinster broke the laws to their advantage, deserving credit for same. As the game ticked by and Leinster became more dominant in the eight on eight scrum, so too did Reddan’s scrum feed. At one stage his feed was so crooked that it went clean through the frontrow, secondrow and out the far side in channel four behind the openside’s feet. He simply ran around collecting the ball that had ghosted through his pack. Meantime Cronin et al were flat out scrummaging, causing Connacht untold damage which ultimately led to Kieran Marmion’s sin-binning and the winning try.
Now, the massive Leinster pack with Isaac Boss now feeding, with no need to strike, had all eight scrummaging against just seven for Connacht. Recall the Castres match where sub scrumhalf Julien Tomas was sin-binned for failing to feed the ball in straight. Leinster may have won either way but it’s consistency in a world gone mad!
PS: Considering the powerful performance from Conor Cusack on Prime Time this week I couldn’t help but remember Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all through him who strengthens me” and I love my mate Daragh Henehan’s question. Who would sponsor free book marks with Conor’s blog in all school books; the GAA perhaps?