Plenty of early season rust for Leinster to shake off
Province scraped past Cardiff in opening game and were questionable in defence
Leinster’s Barry Daly is tackled by Cardiff Blues’ Matthew Morgan during their Pro14 encounter. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Leinster rescued a bonus point victory with 90 seconds remaining in Cardiff and while describing it as an act of larceny might be an exaggeration, it is only a slight one.
The win won’t camouflage several shortcomings in performance terms, ones that looked like being fatal for large tranches of the game but the impetus provided by the bench – Bryan Byrne’s brace of tries a focal point in the late triumph – injected just about enough momentum.
The Irish province were sloppy, very at times, and while missing a plethora of first choice players, it doesn’t fully excuse an off colour display. Flaws permeated most aspects of their patterns on both sides of the ball.
Outplayed at the breakdown, where they struggled to secure quick ball and had their pockets picked on occasion, they were also disjointed in defence and as a result were forced to box-kick far too often. Creativity in terms of back play was also rather scarce, largely predicated on slow possession.
A level of rustiness was to be expected in the first competitive outing of the season but some of the tackling was brittle and down to individual rather than system errors. It takes a while to build trust and understanding within units in the team and that was very much in evidence.
No one expects perfection in a first outing. Despite the issues there were a number of excellent individual display, notably captain Rhys Ruddock, who led a side containing only two players from the team that started last season’s final.
Scott Fardy was excellent, so too Adam Byrne and Dave Kearney, while the team cohesion and interplay sparked into life every now and again with some nice offloading and clever running angles. The replacements infused a vigour that drove the team to victory.
Pre-season training ground drills cannot replicate the rigours and intensity of the match environment and that was abundantly clear when some of Leinster’s unit skills were stress tested, particularly at breakdown and in the midfield defence.
Cardiff were sharper at ruck time initially in deciding when to commit numbers and the reward was turnover ball, while their forwards were physically superior in most collisions, an edge that was partially attributable to some upright carrying on the part of several Leinster players. Periodic clearing out at rucks by several Leinster players was technically weak and ineffectual.
The home side were handed immediate traction on the scoreboard, the state of affairs further facilitated by Leinster conceding the first four penalties of the match. However the visitors were punching holes when they managed to establish some continuity and the emphasis on offloading in and through the tackle was impressive at times.
Cardiff’s lineout disintegrated alarmingly – James Tracy’s try came from an overthrow – and the Leinster eight, despite giving away a penalty in the first scrum, enjoyed the upper hand in this facet of the game in that opening half.
The home side’s discipline became an issue giving away a raft of penalties and Leinster came from eight points down to lead 11-8 as the interval beckoned. Fardy’s decision to take a quick throw cost his side seven points, albeit that the scoring pass to Jason Harries was forward.
Leinster’s kicking game was poorly judged at times, a couple in particular costing the visitors the opportunity to score tries. The Irish province’s defence in midfield for Cardiff’s first try was porous and ditto for the home side’s third; the spacing, communication and alignment completely out of kilter.
The fourth try was another horror show defensively. Wandering concentration was also an issue especially on two or three re-starts.
It was apposite that Ruddock was in the van of the late rally, carrying powerfully several times and Leinster inched their way towards redemption, culminating in Bryan Byrne’s lunge, the replacement hooker touching down against the base of the post.
Leinster’s post match review will make for painful viewing in general and a huge improvement will be required when the Irish province returned to Wales to face the Scarlets next weekend.