Leinster get the points but no prizes for style against Ospreys

RDS kick-fest fails to capture imagination

Leinster man of the match  Jack Conan evades the tackle of Ospreys’ Dmitri Arhip during the Guinness Pro12 game at the RDS. Photograph:  Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Leinster man of the match Jack Conan evades the tackle of Ospreys’ Dmitri Arhip during the Guinness Pro12 game at the RDS. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

Leinster 18 Ospreys 12

Leinster will be grateful for the result, which the grafted for in blood and sweat, but the performance, well that’s another matter entirely. The home side demonstrated grit and commitment but there was little to enthuse about. The final scoreline certainly wasn’t an overture for rugby.

There are days when a team must tough it out to win; that’s what Leinster did to some extent. Both teams were short-handed in personnel terms but it didn’t fully explain the grim kick-fest.

Leinster’s poverty of imagination, the largely pedestrian execution and the kick-orientated game plan that passed for an attacking structure was dour and for the most part ineffective. The Ospreys were marginally better in orchestrating line breaks but couldn’t convert the opportunities.

The home side have a great deal of progress to make in the next eight days ahead of their back-to-back clashes with Harlequins in the European Champions Cup. The victory wasn’t devoid of positives; Jack Conan continued to demonstrate what a superb footballer he is in a hard working backrow, Kane Douglas put in a shift, while Dave Kearney and Fergus McFadden looked sharp and hungry.

The scrum excelled, Ian Madigan and Jimmy Gopperth took their opportunities with the placed ball but Leinster look a little obvious in possession.

Leinster lost Ireland internationals Mike McCarthy, a starting secondrow, and Isaac Boss, who was named among the replacements. The pair presented with symptoms of flu/vomiting bug during the week and eventually succumbed to illness.

Tom Denton was promoted to the team, Ben Marshall came onto the bench, while Luke McGrath swapped Donnybrook, where he was due to lead Leinster A, earlier in the afternoon, for the RDS.

The first half was a turgid kicking affair, with both teams concentrating on exit strategies from their respective 22s. It amounted to setting up a ruck, usually with a backrow or a wing, and then either having the scrumhalf box-kick or the outhalf hoof it down the pitch, in pursuit of distance.

Second Captains

To say it was conservative in ambition would be an understatement but even when the punting was poorly directed, and that was a frequent occurrence, there was a reluctance to keep the ball in hand and challenge the chasing line other than running straight and hoping to batter a way through the tackle.

In light of the fare, it came as no surprise that all the points in the opening half came through the boots of Ospreys outhalf Sam Davies and Leinster centre Ian Madigan who shared six penalties to leave the sides level at the interval, 9-9.

The Ospreys had more moments of rugby clarity with Davies making a couple of neat breaks and they were able to generate momentum in the collisions, coming at greater depth and using their feet going into contact. They couldn’t sustain phases usually undermined by a loose pass, albeit under pressure from an aggressive Leinster defensive line.

Dave Kearney provided the home side’s brighter moments going forward because he invariably beat the first tackle, while McFadden was impressively physical in defence, one thunderous tackle on Davies, averting a potentially perilous scenario in the Leinster 22.

Madigan shipped a very heavy knock to his ankle – his excellent place-kicking all the more noteworthy given the handicap – early on in the game and didn’t re-appear for the second half, replaced by Gordon D’Arcy.

Leinster’s soporific start to the second half almost had them in serious trouble as Ospreys scrumhalf Martin Roberts squeezed between two would-be tacklers from a rolling maul but his pass to wing Aisea Nitoga was ruled forward by the television match official Alan Rogan having been consulted by referee Marius Mitrea.

The let-off roused the home side to the point where they produced their most cohesive and effective passage of play to that point in the game. Conan brushed aside a tackler and charged into the 22; two rucks later, Dave Kearney ran a great line onto Jimmy Gopperth’s pass and although hauled down a metre short, the home side looked odds on to score but Eoin Reddan was knocked as he passed and the chance was lost.

Conan was conspicuously involved again a couple of minutes later and this time Leinster did get a reward, in the shape of a penalty after D’Arcy was tackled without the use of arms by Tyler Ardon. Gopperth made no mistake from in front of the posts to nudge the home side 12-9 in front. It was a temporary respite as Leinster’s brittle defence resurfaced; it could have cost them a try, it did cost them three points as Davies kicked his fourth penalty.

The sense of frustration in the crowd was palpable as Leinster’s aerial bombardment continued, only to be temporarily relieved when Darragh Fanning ran a ball back and muscled his way past the first tackler: the cheer spoke volumes.

From the uncompromising position of a loose ball from a scrum in the Leinster 22, Gopperth gathered possession and raced 60 metres before trying to release Dominic Ryan who was straining every sinew to keep up. The flanker couldn’t hold the pass.

Leinster did get a chance to take the lead when replacement Marshall nicked a lineout and Ospreys transgressed at the ensuing ruck. Gopperth kicked his second penalty and the team’s fifth and added his third on the full-time whistle.

Scoring sequence - 6 mins: Davies penalty, 0-3; 9: Madigan penalty, 3-3; 15: Madigan penalty, 6-3; 21: Madigan penalty, 9-3; 30: Davies penalty, 9-6; Davies penalty, 9-9. Half-time 9-9. 52: Gopperth penalty, 12-9; 57: Davies penalty, 12-12; 72: Gopperth penalty, 15-12; 80: Gopperth penalty, 18-12.

LEINSTER: Z Kirchner; D Fanning, F McFadden, I Madigan, D Kearney; J Gopperth, E Reddan (capt); M Bent, B Byrne, T Furlong; T Denton, K Douglas; D Ryan, J Murphy, J Conan.

Replacements: B Marshall for Denton (34 mins), G D’Arcy for Madigan (half-time), R Ruddock for Murphy (54 mins), J Hagan for Furlong (64 mins), Murphy for Douglas (66 mins).

OSPREYS: D Evans; A Natoga, A Bishop, H Dirksen, T Grabham; S Davies, M Roberts; M Thomas, S Parry, D Arhip; L Peers (capt), T Ardron; J Bearman, S Lewis, D Baker.

Replacements: I Jones for Baker (27 mins), R Bernardo for Lewis (30-36 mins), S Otten for Parry (58 mins), C Griffiths for Arhip (50 mins), G Thomas for M Thomas (58 mins), D Howells (61 mins), J Matavesi for Dirksen (65 mins), Bernardo for Bearman (68 mins).

Referee: Maruis Mitrea (Italy).

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