September 22, 2016
Leinster needed a result from their trip to Murrayfield after the previous week in Glasgow. They welcomed back a few senior players like Jack McGrath, Cronin, Toner, Heaslip and Nacewa. However what those players added in terms of leadership they also lacked in terms of continuity having not played yet this season. Add to that Lancaster only just starting as defence coach the previous week and it was going to be very difficult for Leinster to just pick up where they left off the previous week.
Leinster started off poorly. Slipping off a few tackles put Edinburgh on the front foot and after 3 minutes former Ulster winger Michael Allen got on the end of a chip through to put Edinburgh 5-0 up. Another 3 minutes later and a fairly harsh penalty against Mike Ross allowed Weir make that 8-0. It was starting to look like Leinster were going to make tough work of this one, as has often happened in Edinburgh. However Leinster settled and managed to secure the TBP in under 30 minutes. While they weren't showing the same attacking flair as they did against Glasgow, they kept the pace up and showed the kind of accuracy that had been lacking in the last few years. They also actively looked to fix defenders when they could, another crucial element that had been missing in recent times. That was most evident in Nacewas try where first Kirchner and then Cronin ensured that they tied down a man to free up Isa on the wing for a straight forward run in.
However after the break Edinburgh came back into the game. On initial viewing Leinsters performance was very frustrating in that half, however on review it wasn't as bad as it initially seemed. The big issue was that Leinster simply couldn't get their hands on the ball. On the rare occassions they did (and they didn't kick the ball away) they made huge headway into Edinburghs 22. Leinster did slip off tackles somewhat in the second half, but a large proportion of the reason that Edinburgh enjoyed such territory and possession was because of some very questionable refereeing.
Now we normally don't like pointing at the officials as their job is an incredibly difficult one and it is far too easy to be hyper critical of them. However in this case I feel that they did have an overly negative effect on the game. Huge inconsistencies in how the laws were applied (the gap in the line out being the most inconsistent) and some downright incredible decisions made things very difficult. The decision to penalise Gary Ringrose for a deliberate knock on when he charged down a clearing kick was top of the list of mind boggling calls. And 3 of the officials were involved in that one! However other decisions also really helped Edinburghs attempt to get back into the game. A refusal to call a crooked line out almost led to an Edinburgh try, and did lead to a line out 5m from the Leinster line. In this situation Leinster did not help themselves by turning over possession, but they should never have been down there in the first place. Immediately before the 3rd Edinburgh try Dan Leavy clearly got into the perfect jackal position and had his hands on the ball, but somehow Wilkinson deemed the ball was unplayable and gave Edinburgh a scrum inside the Leinster 22. Leinster didn't help themselves with poor defending in the aftermath, but again they should have been 30m downfield throwing into their own line out.
In general Leinster defended well. There were issues with people falling off tackles, but the linespeed was generally very good and a lot of the tackles that did stick were dominant ones driving the ball carrier back. All the issues in that part of the game are fixable, and issues are to be expected when bedding in a new coach during the season.So from that perspective we wouldn't be worried. However the set piece was once again an issue at times, especially the line-out when Byrne came on. We've never noticed his darts being an issue before this season so he could just be going through a run of bad form. That bad form however will likely keep him out of the match day squads for a while. The really big stand out for Leinster on the day though was Dan Leavy. Two tries, powerful carrying, turnovers, good link work, busy at ruck time and even filling in as scrum half on occasion. It was an eye catching performance from the big man. It is hugely encouraging to see yet another young player stepping up to the levels required.
Others who impressed were Gary Ringrose, who seems to be maturing into the role of outside centre really well. Noel Reids defence seems to have improved a good deal as well which is a relief. He's great going forward but there have been question marks over his defence for far too long. It's about time he sorted that out. Sean Cronin made a very positive season debut while Devin Toner was getting used in the loose a lot more and seemed very comfortable on the ball. Jamie Heaslip had a typically influential day with some really important moments at crucial times. At scrum half Jamison Gibson-Park kept the temp up throughout, although his pass can sometimes look a bit unorthodox. Isa Nacewa was in fiery humour and while he played well he was also guilty of coughing up a few penalties.
With more senior players coming back into the set-up for the Ospreys game, including the return of Jonny Sexton, Leinster may struggle with their continuity a bit more. However with the squad that was named earlier today we could be in for a good game. Leinster are obviously looking to nullify the Ospreys threat on the deck and will be using the 6-2 split on the bench to make a big impact in the second half. That split isn't as big a deal as it might traditionally be seen as given that Leinsters forwards seem very comfortable on the ball this season. But Ospreys are in very good form right now and Leinster will need a full 80 minute performance for the first time this season to get the win. Hopefully they have it in them to deliver. They certainly have the personnel for it.