Stop Press: Paul O’Connell and Rob Kearney Really Important

Is it time to start getting worried about Leinster?  They’re three from five in the Pro12, which doesn’t sound all that bad, but the performance levels have been poor.  Friday night saw them lose five tries in Galway, and truth be told, they made a Connacht team which hasn’t started the season especially well look like world beaters (as only Leinster can).  It’s their second shellacking on the road after an opening day hammering in Llanelli.  In their other away match, with a strong line-up against Treviso, they were decidedly lucky to get out of jail with a late, long range drop goal by Johnny Sexton.

It’s eerily reminiscent of Schmidt’s first season in charge. Leinster have been leaky in defence, losing 18 tries in five matches.  That’s the worst in the league, three more than Zebre.  In attack they’ve played in fits and starts, and have been prone to throwing the ball forward with great regularity and they’ve been powder-puff in contact.

Leinster fans won’t be panicking just yet, because they remember what happened two years ago, when the team seemed to click into gear once the season proper got under way.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll happen the same way again.  In Schmidt’s first season, many were happy to put the upswing in fortunes to a sudden getting-the-hang of what Schmidt wanted them to do.  This was true, but the real reason was that they got their best players back.  Leinster’s season was transformed the moment Sexton and Reddan entered the pitch as substitutes against Munster, instantly picking up the tempo and securing a match-winning try for Brian O’Driscoll.

The concern this year is the lengthy injury list.  Sean O’Brien, Rhys Ruddock, David Kearney, Eoin O’Malley, Dom Ryan and Luke Fitzgerald are all long term casualties and Gordon D’arcy and Rob Kearney left the field of play on Friday, while Richardt Strauss continues to recover from his head injury picked up against Treviso.  Both Isaac Boss and Eoin Reddan are also missing.

Leinster’s back three looks particularly stretched, and if any of Kearney, D’arcy and Reddan were to be ruled out this weekend, it could leave Leinster badly exposed in a couple of positions.  Fionn Carr up against Doug Howlett and George North?  No thanks.  Rob Kearney would be an especially grievous loss, as he is the only big back Leinster have and the back-line would be pint-sized without him.  And the rumour mill on Leinsterfans has shifted into gear, and it’s not good news…

Meanwhile, in the red corner, some of the feel-good feeling associated with Rob Penney’s positive start was knocked out of them this weekend.  Once again, Ospreys laid bare full scale of the job in hand.  They bullied Munster out of the game (as an aside, how good is this Jason Tipuric fellow?).  While Munster’s work with the ball is much improved, the game underlined our one overriding concern about them – a lack of heft in the pack.  The sight of their maul being shunted backwards at a rate of knots will have been chastening for fans of a team which has long prided itself as being expert proponents of this attacking weapon.  The scrum was no better and served as an important reminder that anytime you hear a tighthead prop described as being ‘good in the loose’ you should be very suspicious of him (cf. Tony Buckley).  While Archer can truck the ball up for good yardage, it’s all for nought if he cannot stabilise the scrum.

Removing Archer from their team is therefore necessary, but that only compounds another problem – a lack of ball carriers.  With James Coughlan out injured, who is going to make the hard yards?

It was their second beating of the season, and as well as they played for much of the game against Ulster in their other defeat, there was an uncomfortable reality about elements of proceedings: after the first 20 minutes, Munster barely touched the ball (when they did, it was admittedly very incisive). As Gerry is prone to saying, they were living off scraps.

The trip to a bruising (if hardly inspiring) Racing Metro team looks a lot more difficult after saturday, although Racing have problems of their own.  Donnacha Ryan and POM made their comebacks from the bench this weekend, and are fine and important players, but neither have shown themselves capable of bending a match to their will.  It all serves to underline the vast importance of Paul O’Connell.  It’s been obvious for eons to anyone with half a brain that O’Connell is the key man in red, and without him, it’s genuinely difficult to see how they can beat the best teams.

There, we said it – Paul O’Connell and Rob Kearney are really, really imoprtant, and will be badly missed if not fit.  It might be obvious, we felt the need to say it anyway.

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12 Comments

  1. Len

     /  October 1, 2012

    Reading the Leinster fan site is fairly sickening. There are guys talking about RK being 6 – 12 week turn around which would be a disaster. Darcy was clearly not ready to come back after the knock he took against Edinburgh the week before and I’d really question the logic in throwing him back in so quick. I know others will say the coaching staff obviously wanted him match fit and with some proper game time ahead of next weeks crunch game against Munster (which has become the real start of the season for Leinster in recent years) but this is a case where player welfare should have come first. His leaving and the subsequent demolition of Leinster point to one obvious and worrying gap in the current squad – the centre. Basically we can afford to loose Darcy or BOD but not both or at least not both while playing McF on the wing. I think for the sake of Leinster McF needs to be moved back inside to plug the gap especially for this Saturday as I don’t think Macken is ready for that level just yet. The back three is a real worry. While I don’t worry overly about full back as Mr Leinster can just move back from the wing it does leave us with fairly fast but light and defensively less solid wings in Carr and Conway. You could even see Mads used at full back as a stop gap solution. One possible choice on the wing though a bit risky would be Leo Auva’a who has played there before and is no slouch.

    Injury has properly kicked leinster’s ass this year. I’m not panicking just yet but might be after the weekend.

  2. KeithEarlsisnota13

     /  October 1, 2012

    I think your highlighting the smallest(pun intended) area of concern,”pint sized backs” are not the issue,pint sized 3rd choice physically weak centers are. Macken(technically average and weak) and as for Reid…..all I can say is I hope he enjoys championship or AIL rugby.Once Darce and Drico come back everything will be gravy.
    My main concern is that our pack isnt doing the dog work around the field.Jennings is slow ,our second rows looked woefully underpowered(this has to be last chance saloon for Toner,he has been shocking).I think our second row and injuries to our first choice back row are of massive concern,you can get away with crap backs If you have a good pack(Munster won two HC’s with that formula),but Leisters pack looks decimated due to injuries and age(Cullen has looked like Bob Casey did last season at LI…….finished,hopefully the week off has given him some energy for the HC though).
    Our pack being bullied and not providing a platform for Cooney is a worry.Cronin doesnt bring it a ruck time like Strauss and until Mclaughlin is back in the fold doing the donkey work at 6, quick ball will be an issue.
    I wouldnt worry too much about Carr in the back three,he has the wheels to get himself out of trouble and still has a future.Can you say the likes of McFadden would be a better option.Schmidt is right for persisting with Carr. We haven’t had a true burner on the outside since Hickey retired.
    If the likes of Sackey, Balshaw *shudders*,Sivivatu and every other limited stone handed winger out there can garner heaps of caps and forge out careers for themselves at top clubs, so can Carr.
    In summation,the forwards need to buck up their game and the backs need to get quick ball to Carr, so he can fulfill my prediction that hes the second coming of Dennis Hickey.

    • Len

       /  October 1, 2012

      Totally agree with you re Cullen. He’s still ok in the set pieces but has become a liability in the loose. If he was a horse i’d be thinking in terms of the glue factory. Toner from what I’ve seen so far this year is starting to look like he might finally reach his potential, if not then he’s 26 so is he really likely to?

      I also agree with you re Carr. I like having a starchild style winger who can burn people on the outside and he’s slippery when he gets going. If we have a solid defender at FB to provide support then I think he’s worth a shot. The back row of the pack is looking ever lighter. Jeno is putting in the work but does look slow this season. McG is work horse as always. Marshall and Murphy could be good but are still light on experience. Auva’a provides more energy and Heaslip is doing enough to stay out of trouble without really pushing himself. Any further injuries in that department and we could be looking for a Southern Hemispherer with time to kill in the off season. Have to assume that at least one Leinster player is going to get injured in the AI.

  3. Thanks for the comments, guys. Concerned voices, by the sounds of it.

    We’d consider ourselves fans of Fionn Carr, and would endorse what you say about pace in the backline (and it’s one thing Leinster don’t reall have much of). Here’s what we wrote when he signed for Leinster – https://whiffofcordite.com/2011/05/05/fionn-carr-returns-to-leinster – but it hasn’t really happened for him in blue. He played well against Embra but then regressed badly against Connacht. It’s all a bit one-step-forward-two-steps-back with him. I’d be nervous starting him in a Heineken Cup game.

    • B

       /  October 1, 2012

      Did any of the Leinster players really look good against Connacht at the weekend? I seem to remember Nacewa knocking on a high ball while under zero pressure at one point. Carr seems to have been working on his defence as much as possible lately although he’ll never become the guy you depend on to be the last man back who can stop a near certain try it at least shows a commitment to improving and playing for leinster.

    • I used to be a big fan of wingers who burned in attack but were defensively deficient.
      I am not sure they have a place in the game anymore. Every one of the fifteen needs to defend…and Carr cannot. He is an exciting runner but the thought of him defending George North is shudder-inducing.

      • It’s the old chestnut: do they give you more in attack than they lose in defence? When you’re dealing with a genius like Shane Williams it’s obviously worth it. In Carr’s case, when he was scoring double figures a season with Connacht it probably was too. But on current form, no.

  4. The Munster game went remarkably similarly to the last visit to the Liberty. An under-powered pack got shoved around and the Ospreys hard up defensive line drove ROG farther and farther behind the gainline. Munster obviously did better than that semi-final rout; continaing the Ospreys better and posing more threats but those two issues remain.

    Losing players the size of Denis Leamy and David Wallace from the backrow (along with gym bunny Flannery) in such quick succession was a big blow last season. Ireland just doesn’t produce those power athletes that much. Having said that, the Munster backrow on Sat was also probably the most lightweight combination that could have taken the field. O’Donnell, Butler and Ronan are all fine footballers but David Wallace they ain’t. I think we’ll see a much more physical combination next week and I hope O’Callaghan, Dougall and O’Mahony are started. That’s still not a giant backrow but it’s more physical and abrasive than the one that took to the field in Wales.

    In the spirit of your non-breaking news above; Ronan O’Gara does not like a hard rushing defense. It was a game much more suited to Keatley who does have a breaking threat and will play on the gainline.

  5. P.S. Tipuric was outstanding. A leadership vacuum is surely the only thing keeping Warbuton ahead of him in the Welsh team.

  6. zdm

     /  October 1, 2012

    Isn’t all of this merely a sign that the Pro12 is a much more competitive competition than the money-sharks in London and Paris would like us to believe?

    Leinster deserved to get beaten because they didn’t turn up for the game. Connacht have been knocking on the door for a few seasons (witness how close they pushed to overhaul Ulster in the league a few seasons ago) and have strengthened remarkably well – Dan Parks would not have looked out of place in any of the provincial teams and was an astounding piece of business for the westerners.

    Many of the players fielded in this Leinster second string squad were too much for Ulster in the HC final so it is surely a question of motivation. Leinster disrespected Connacht by sending their second string, still expecting a comfortable victory and got stung by a much more motivated and better drilled squad. Simple as that.

  7. Rava

     /  October 1, 2012

    Would you say a loss for either Leinster or Munster this weekend would effectively put them out of the running for a Top Two place in the Pro12 league and seriously dent confidence ahead of the HC kickoff?

    • Dent confidence? Yes. Out of the running for the top two? No. Leinster lost three of their first four games two years ago and still came second.

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