Regrets, They’ll Have A Few

The champions are out of Europe at the pool stages.  If that sounds pretty ignominious, then it probably is.  Sure, there were mitigating circumstances in a hefty injury list and a tough pool, but them’s the breaks and they weren’t the only team with injured players or good teams to contend with.  It’ll be especially gut-wrenching that the team to edge them out of the knockouts are their arch rivals, Munster, a team they would believe themselves to be better than.  Harlequins will be happier to be facing Munster than a rejuvenated Leinster that has belatedly sparked into life since getting a proper backline on the pitch.  But, hey, that’s Heineken Cup rugby.

Leinster can at least console themselves that they kept up their half of the bargain by securing the 10 match points they needed in the final two rounds.  That they did so in a swashbuckling style reminiscent of the last two seasons is reason enough to believe that they are not a busted flush yet, and that  their premature exit should not be seen as a serious demise.  But to be entering the final rounds relying on the middle-tier French clubs for favours – especially once their own fates have been sealed – is never going to be a recipe for success.  Leinster have only themselves to blame.

While it’s tempting to look at the possibility that they left a few tries out there against both Scarlets and Exeter, in truth the damage was done in rounds one to four.  Again, many will look to the double-header with Clermont, but given the backline Leinster had out in both games (Goodman at 12, and every other player from 11-15 playing out of their best position) and the nature of Clermont’s sense of unfinished business, it is understandable that they should lose both games.  Just one more point would have left Leinster’s fate in their own hands, and the opening week fiasco, where they sleepwalked to a fortuitous, tryless win over an Exeter which conceded seven tries at home to Clermont the following week was the one that got away.  To look at it more thematically, Leinster will rue that a misfiring lineuot proved expensive right through the pool stages.

No such concerns on the face of it for Ulster, but in having to go away to Saracens, they have made their possible passage to the final more difficult than it should have been.  They, too, will have cause for regret, in particular in taking their eye off the ball against Northampton in round four.  Having slaughtered the Saints in Franklin’s Gardens it looks as if Ulster may have got a bit carried away with themselves in the build-up to the return leg, and paid a heavy price.  Even still, a single extra point would have reversed the quarter-final match venue and as such, the awful third quarter in which they allowed Glasgow to dominate in Pool 5 left them one try short of what would have been a crucial bonus point.

By contrast, Munster will reflect that they are happy to be still in the competition after somehow squeezing out of a pool in which they never really impressed.  They can look back on the ten minute salvage operation against Edinburgh at home as the point that made all the difference to their campaign.  With one try on the board after 70 minutes, it looked set to be a disappointing afternoon at Thomond Park, but Paddy Butler’s introduction provided a spark and they manufactured three tries in the dying minutes, against admittedly hapless opposition.  They’re unlikely to do much in the knock-out stages, where the Anglo-French axis look set to dominte, but how Leinster must envy them.

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  1. montigol

     /  January 21, 2013

    While they will obviously have regrets from Exter at home and in particular, Clermont away, I wouldn’t describe the campaign as ignominious by any stretch of the imagination. Sure it was disappointing but getting eliminated by 1 try when your rivals know exactly what they need to achieve is a difficult situation to be in.

  2. 2 Irish teams still in Heineken Cup and the mouthwatering prospect of a Leinster-Toulouse Amlin final in the RDS. Its not all bad! Would fancy Ulster vs Sarries (injury-permitting) but cannot see this Munster side beating this Quins side at the stoop.

    Leinster lost control of their fate in December…leaving a point (at least) behind against a Clermont side that were unusually cagey at home – they could rue the lineout or Jonny’s fear of the mud. They gave it their all in the last 2 rounds though.

    You mention the issue of their fate essentially being sealed by two uninterested French sides in the final round, with nothing to play for (Toulon had nothing to play for in reality after the Ulster match as home drawn all but certain). This is something that merits a full post IMO.

    How can two French sides in the same pool still be allowed to play out a potentially decisive fixture in the final round? Given the history of French stitch-ups and no-shows, surely this should be prevented…all the more if they are now going to get more teams in the Heineken Cup. Its impossible to say Toulon threw the match (despite some GUBU decision-making and really incredible erros – Jonny Lions2013 Wilkinson take a bow) but they certainly had no reason to play rugby. Ditto Racing, who did at least make a half-assed effort for a while despite being down to 14 men.

    If we have more French sides in the H-Cup, there is an even greater risk of these unsporting spectacles in the future surely?

    • solidalarry

       /  January 21, 2013

      Think you’re on a total flyer here. Any knock-out tournament will have teams with nothing to play for in the final round. There’s no way to change that, plus I don’t really buy the idea that any team would issue compatriots a favour – certainly not this weekend.

      I thought Montpellier were superb, clearly playing for the recently departed Béchu, and were too hot to handle for Toulon (who can look pretty average when they’re not issuing a beating up front).

      As for Racing – don’t think they could have done any more with 14 men for 75 minutes.

      • Why do the French want more sides in the competition when half the ones they already have don’t care about it after the first round?

        Didn’t mean to do a disservice to Montpellier, who were great: very intense performance…and without Oeudrago. Also nice to see a new club in the knock-outs of the Heineken Cup (that isn’t simply a bankrolled franchise).

        Toulon’s performance was just so abject that it was hard to believe. Notably, Johnny Lions2013 Wilkinson: missing touch with penos; kick-offs over the dead ball; tapping the ball over his own tryline for Paillaugue to score; opting to kick posts from a penalty with 10 mins to go and 20 points down…and missing from in front of the posts; going for – and obviously missing – a 60 metre dropgoal with 5 minutes to go and 20 points down). It just made for a pathetic and unsporting spectacle.

        Of course there will always be games with nothing riding on them in pool competitions. The French sides are just particularly bad at not showing up. Look at how Exeter played. Look at how Connacht play. It is only French sides that really don’t show up for dead rubber.

  3. I didn’t think Racing were as disinterested as some people claim. They certainly seemed interested in kicking lumps out of the Munster players, if not actually in playing rugby. Munster played well yesterday but it’s always hard to tell exactly how well against 14 men. There were great individual efforts but more importantly a cohesive team performance which is the biggest thing they’ve been missing this season IMO. This seemed to be helped by Keatley over Radge & James Downey sparking to life. Huge call as to who plays 10 at The Stoop and although I can’t really see them overturning Quins, to the brave & the faithful…

    It’s hard for Leinster but they did spark to life too late. Yes they were extremely unlucky with injuries but them’s the breaks unfortunately, especially in the professional era when you are extremely lucky to have your first choice 15 on the pitch at any one time. I cheered for them on Friday because I’d rather Munster, or any other Irish team played their way into the knock-out stages rather than merely rely on favours from other teams. Leinster came close to doing so but huge credit must go to exeter, who have been such an admirable team throughout this competition.

    Was sad to see the resurfacing of nasty provincial biases this weekend. I’m not ok with Munster fans singing Molly Malone any more than I’m ok with Leinster fans wishing injury on Munster players. Rivalry is great but can we not keep it a bit classier than that?

    PS My mother has decided Ulster won’t win the cup so that’s their chances gone. Result are now irrelevant

    • I am referring to Toulon in particular. With all due respect to Montpellier – who delivered a strong performance – Toulon’s no show was just pathetic. Totally unsporting. Does a disservice to the Heineken Cup as a sporting competition – and does not bode well for a future with more mediocre French teams.

      Agreed on the Thomond Park Molly Malone singing: capped off a very unsporting weekend from a Leinster perspective. Munster fans clearly have a massive chip on their shoulder about Leinster’s success, which Ulster and Connacht fans don’t seem to have. Petty and sad.

      • We can run Toulon’s name into the mud if we like, but they had 23 points from their first five games, so unfortunately for Leinster, they had earned the right to adopt whatever approach they wanted for the game.

        As for Racing, Kate’s right, they did show a bit of interest early on. French ‘disinterest’ isn’t as clear cut as some think. Racing’s performance was quite typical. They were keen early on but once the game started going against them, they more or less gave up. The opposite happened in the first match-up. Racing looked unmotivated, but were gifted a freakish try that gave them something to go at and they sprang to life.

      • Maybe Toulon ‘earned the right’ to turn in an unsporting performance but I just don’t see Irish or English sides doing that, which I guess is what makes tougher to accept. Ain’t nothing you can do about it though, that’s for sure.

        Fair play to Montpellier anyway.

      • L2B2

         /  January 21, 2013

        CE you seem to have a deep routed issue wih Munster fans, many of whom have cheered Leinster on over the last few seasons. The attitude amongst most is that if Munster are not doing the business then we would love to see any of the other Irish sides doing well and winning trophies. Obviously it hurt when Leinster/Ulster directly knocked us out at various stages over the years but the Molly Malone was a bit of tongue and cheek. Not the most tasteful, however not any less so than your regular comments demeaning Munster players and fans.

      • My regular comments demeaning Munster players and fans? I think you have the wrong poster. I challenge you to find any comment I have posted ‘demeaning’ Munster players or – particularly – Munster fans (and I certainly don’t count criticising the petty, gloating Molly Malone chant as ‘demeaning’). As someone who was schooled and played rugby in Munster, I have far too many friends who are Munster fans to demean (including my father – much to my chagrin). I just don’t have time for gloaters. It is not something I do, and not a charateristic I like. Respectful rivalry on the other hand is great in sport.

    • Amiga500

       /  January 21, 2013

      Huge call on 10?

      Its a no brainer, it has been all season. Its just amazing that neither Penney or the Munster support have seen it.

      At the start of the Pro12, Munster were playing some pretty decent stuff, with a 10-12 axis of Keatley and Downey. Then Radge comes back and starts handing Downey the ball 15 metres off the gainline with 2 or 3 defenders (1 of which is a back-row forward) able to converge and kill the move.

      Yes, Radge’s ability to kick for corners is still good – but there is so-so-so much more to controlling a game than kicking to corner every time.

      Penney has to have the courage to stick with Keatley-Downey for a bit and see how it goes… when it works, he also has to have the courage to keep Radge on the bench. Ironically, a Kidney call-up for Radge (while leaving Keatley and Downey out) could be the best thing that happens to Munster this year.

      • Xyz

         /  January 22, 2013

        I had to groan after Keatley put ball up and the Racing 15 dropped it to the delight of the crowd – Frankie: “O’Gara must have told him to do that.”

        • Cue audible groaning. Frankie has become far and away the worst, most agenda-driven and least credible commentator in rugby, or indeed any sport.

    • ABROG

       /  January 21, 2013

      Is it possible that the fans were lauding the rampant dubs playing ten, twelve and fifteen? Sure Leinster had less dubs playing in their own backline 😛

    • Kate McEvoy

       /  January 24, 2013

      I meant it’s a huge call in that we have yet further evidence that Radge’s reign is over but it’s up to Penney to man up & drop him to the bench. I know who I’d start.

      Regarding this Munster Leinster business from the safety of the twitter machine I observed people from both sides slinging mud. The sooner we all admit there’s the both of us in & work on being better fans ourselves rather than giving out about the other province the better.

      And it baffles me how Frankie Shehan can be hired to commentate on players he represents as an agent. It’s completely unethical & let’s face it, he’s not a great commentator at the best of times.

  4. Leinsterlion

     /  January 21, 2013

    Surely the abysmal refereeing during the Leinster match warrants a mention. No sour grapes, we were done when we failed to beat Clermont at least once. However the shocking refereeing had a large say in how Leinster played and how many tries we got.
    Not signing a lock in the summer was a gamble and it hasn’t paid off. Toners gangly frame and utter lack of power/aggression was shown up, and for a 6’10 guy he plays well under his height come lineout time.
    I think Schmidt should use the Pro12 to see what his squad has got and see do any of the younger guys leap forward with more gametime, its a meaningless competition to win. Its time to focus on discarding players and bringing guys on with next year in mind.

    • ABROG

       /  January 21, 2013

      Quinn Roux?

      • Leinsterlion

         /  January 21, 2013

        Cmon, Roux was/is still a developmental project, Denton’s a championship player(another Ed O’Donoghue methinks). A lot of guys were rumored to be signing even when Roux/Denton was signed, Issac Ross was one. An experienced(eg HC standard) lock was needed, and for whatever reason one was never signed(until the McCarthy deal), we pinned our hopes on Browne/Toner at least matching the visibly declining Cullen. The lineout completely imploding against Clermont was a big reason why we are out, forget injuries.

    • ABROG

       /  January 21, 2013

      I think Leinster deserved to be facing 14 men a lot more than they have recently. While a pro12 game the Edinburgh prop who tackled BOD around the neck deserved a red. Poite could do with reading up on the laws of the scrum too (exeter flankers breaking early, scrumhalf acting the bollox) but ensuring the feed was straight deserves to be recognised. And he clearly hasn’t a notion about a maul.

  5. Sorry fellow Leinster fans but you have to suck it up this weekend. We were always up against it after losing the head to heads with Clermont. As for the level of interest from various teams, that’s part and parcel of the HEC in it’s current form. Arguably the whole ranking points system and group selection is a bit of a lottery (pity anyone who had to sit through Cardiff v Sale at the weekend) but that’s also the fun of the HEC. If you lose twice to your group rival you are in big (generally fatal) trouble.

    I can’t see how any Leinster fan can be upset (or surprised) that many Munster fans celebrated as they did yesterday. They have watched with envy for 4 years (as we did for the previous 4 years) and any Munster supporter worth his salt would have enjoyed the knock-on effect of putting us out yesterday (one of them was on the phone first thing this morning to me to “commiserate”)….it’s called rivalry, sure it gets out of hand from time to time but that’s the minority who are largely band wagon fans!

    As for Leinster, this was a tough season from the outset and our second row problems compounded with injury put us in a tough place. We’ve looked like a team that just needed a bit of breathing space all season and unfortunately we are going to get that now. If the whole J10 contract mess gets sorted and we can stay relatively injury free, the next four months may actually give Joe and the coaching team a chance to put together a team to challenge next year for what would be a fitting swansong for Joe.

    Best of luck to Munster and Ulster…genuinely!!

    • Don’t hand in your season ticket yet! We could still become the first Irish side to win the Challenge Cup. Doing so in the RDS would be a nice bonus too. Pretty sure Connacht will be rooting for us too.

      • Leinster68

         /  January 21, 2013

        Oh I won’t and every chance we could do a double. I would never say that missing out on the QF was a blessing in disguise but in a way the intense pressure that’s been on the team since the opening weekend of the Rabo is relieved. We’ve struggled all season to implement our game until the last two HEC matches. If we can build on that then the rest of the season may well surprise.

        Having said that another downside of our exit will be the Thornbird’s defence of Deccie if we lose in Cardiff. How could an Irish team win with Leinster failing to make the QF’s and Munster scrapping through?

    • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

       /  January 21, 2013

      Personal slagging between friends and colleagues over who the other supports is good fun and part of a spirited competitive rivalry.

      Collective on mass rejoicing at the demise of the other is disgusting and fuels a hatred that has no place in sport. It is vile and unhealthy and will continue to get worse from generation to generation. Mob mentality is for the cowards that stand behind it.

  6. toro toro

     /  January 21, 2013

    I thought Molly Malone was funny, even as I cheered the possibility of a Leicester-Toulouse seven-pointer. People get far too precious about this stuff.

    • Leinster68

       /  January 21, 2013

      Agree 100% …..we should lodge it in the memory banks in the event that we ever get the chance to reciprocate with “The Fields…”

    • Gloating is just something I don’t get and have never gone in for. At best, it lacks class and grace…it also generally comes back to bite you. It’s not soccerball toro!

  7. Bushmills

     /  January 21, 2013

    It is worth saying that all 3 Irish teams still with something to play for we’re involved in truly absorbing games of rugby. Winning ugly, winning with style and winning with heart made compelling television.

    Perhaps you intend to discuss this in a later article but it is worth stressing that Ulster won three away games this year. Think about that. Long derided by the Irish press because they could never do it away from “fortress Ravenhill”. Only serious contenders win away from home, right?

    If you analyse the season so far Ulster are our best team and whilst a home fixture against an English team would be a treat for the punters, this XV will have no fear going to Saracens. They are a match if Saracens physicality. The Ulster pack is immense and their performance in Castres demonstrated that. John Afoas demolition of his opposite number was a particular highlight (especially after the commentators had early-on described him as the best loose head in France). Also worth highlighting how impressive Henderson seems to get with every game. He may look like someone sitting at the front of your geography class but he is ridiculously strong. A couple of 1-on-1s with old favorite Wannenberg were almost scary to behold.

    • @Completebore

       /  January 21, 2013

      Regarding Ulster, a lot might depend on how they spin the campaign so far mentally. They had two very good oppurtunites to secure the home QF – either one of the win against Northampton or the BP against Glasgow would have done it for them with a visit from Leicester being a more attractive prospect than going to test out Saracens new carpet (possibly, venue not set at time of writing). But the positives are five wins from six – as you said all three out of three away victories, including a first French away win and they’ve gone fairly deep into the squad and not been found out yet. Which will be the abiding feeling they take over to London.
      Maybe I’m over-estimating momentum in a tournament that shuts down for three months, but they have been visibly limping for a few weeks and the rest will do them good as will a couple of guys getting out of the treatment room. Hopefully they can get some of the early season spark back as with the SF draw they have a much better chance of getting to the final than Munster do. Quins top seeding may have something to do with the group they came from, although they’ve looked a well-balanced side the few times I’ve seen them this year and if Munster go and win there and France then newspaper columnists could be forgiven for allowing the hyperbole to flow freely.

      • A great analysis of Ulster there Completebore, and Bushmills too. Bushmills – you are right in anticipating a more in depth look at Ulster this week. So we’ll hold off adding our two penn’oth until then.

  8. Connachtexile

     /  January 21, 2013

    I think Leinster were undone this year with injury. If you look at Leinster the last two games with BOD, Fitzgerald and Kearney back the difference they made was huge. Suddenly Leinster went from a team having problems scoring trys to a team doing it for fun. Really think they’ll they’ll run away with the Amlin this year. Which as a Connacht fan we really want!

    As for Ulster injuries played their part as well. You look at them vs Castre were they had so many injuries and then lost Wilson after 30 mins. I think it shows what an impressive performance it was to beat them.

    • Injuries, and in particular their concentration, really hurt Leinster. Last season, they had to get out of their group without BO’D but they managed because Eoin O’Malley and Fergus McFadden were able deputies. This year, though, Leinster not just their first tier of core backs (Rob, BO’D and Luke), but the second wave of players who can come in and provide cover (O’Malley, Dave Kearney) got injured too.

      The Six Nations break comes at a good time for Ulster. Their squad is now creaking a bit and the win in Castres – ugly and all as it was – is a highly commendable result considering the names missing. They put in a big final quarter, and Chris Henry showed his value. When leadership was needed, he was irrepressible. What a terrific player!

      • @Completebore

         /  January 21, 2013

        The Ulster game showed the complete pointlessness of MotM awards when it wasn’t given to Henry.

  9. The pain of the HC exit yesterday is still there but starting to fade, I’m also a bit sore about the Molly Malone singing in Thomond but again I’ll get over it. I’m actually really looking forward to rest of the season. To win the Amlin this year, irrespective of how this trophy is regarded in some quarters, would be a great achievement, just looking at the 1/4 final line up I think it must be the strongest last 8 in the Amlin in some time, Bath, Wasps, Leinster and Toulouse all previous HC winners and Biarritz and Stade former runner ups! To win the Rabo though would be the real tonic for yesterday given what’s happened in the last 2 years, last years final especially hurt!

  10. mondoman

     /  January 21, 2013

    That’s what we like to see…people writing Munster off…this season reminds me of the 07/08. Hark back to the quarter final in 2008 against Gloucester, who if memory serves me were leading the Premiership at that time. Munster went into the game from the pool stages W6 L4 on 19 points. Sound familiar? As the flag says, “To the Brave and The Faithful, Nothing is Impossible”. if there was any other coach in Harlequins than Conor O’Shea, I would say that Quins would be writing Munster off, however, I think O’Shea is the consummate professional and won’t let his team drift into those types of mistakes.

    On the Leinster team, I think that they were definitely in top gear for much of the game, perhaps not all of it. However, I think one major problem that they face is that with BOD going, they have yet to find a replacement for him. You could argue that D’arcy doesn’t have much left in the tank either and must be near to hanging up his boots. With the two of them gone, Leinster would have big problems ahead. Leinster without BOD is a very pale shadow of the Leinster with BOD. I think Munster have had the same issue with Paul O’Connell, whatever he brings to the team, Munster are a different team without him. But the difference is that Munster have been without POC for most of this season and the new leaders have had to emerge, Look at how Peter O’Mahony and Donncha Ryan have come on this season. You could argue Tommy O’Donnell is growing into his role too. Leinster still have to go through this re-birth of leadership. I know Leo Cullen and Heaslip and Jonny10 are there, but they haven’t succeeded in filling the gap left by BOD.

    • Pretty hard to replace the world player of the decade – although he’s not quite off to the glue factory yet.

      In terms of his position, the player Leinster was grooming to take over (O’Malley) has had a bad injury (and is still not back), so that succession has not gone to plan and the other contenders are not there yet – ditto for Ireland at 13 (though you probably wouldn’t see it that way).

      In terms of leadership, Leinster is arguably fine if Sexton stays. With Sexton, Kearney and Heaslip they have 2 generals and one colonel from the Irish team (and that is not mentioning the club captain Cullen). Find it strange you seem to imply Tommy O’Donnell, Donncha Ryan and Peter O’Mahony are further ahead on the leadership curve. They’ve all come on further as players this season but to suggest they are more progressed as leaders than the Leinster trio you mention seems a tad optimistic.

      Don’t think anyone would write Munster off but it is quite a big ask. This Quins side is very impressive and the Stoop is a tough ground to go to. Its a totally different proposition to Saracens (even if there’s not much between them in the Premiership). Will be very interesting to see how Munster approach it. The temptation to revert to the 2008 game-plan will never have been stronger, and its easy to understand why.

    • toro toro

       /  January 22, 2013

      ‘As the flag says, “To the Brave and The Faithful, Nothing is Impossible”.’

      BWA HA HA HA!

  11. Injuries aside at Leinster there seemed to be an element of complacency in the opening rounds of the HEC. The lesson to be learnt should be that if you are in a group with a monster team like Clermont you really need to hit the ground running from round 1 and push on and look at bonus points against the lesser teams.

    Perhaps it stemmed from an element of over confidence in that we had beaten Clermont too many times in the recent past. However any casual observer of the Top14 would have told you that they have pushed on this year to another level and so any victory against them was far from certain.

    • Dave W

       /  January 22, 2013

      I don’t think there was an element of complacency against Clermont. We (fans) may have taken Exeter for granted, amongst some fans at least, but I think most Leinster fans were very apprehensive about the idea of taking on Clermont in the group stages. Most of the ones I talked with believed we’d be doing very well to get any sort of win against them – and wouldn’t have been surprised if we would lose both.

      This would probably be upheld by the way most would have bitten your hand off for a losing BP against Clermont in France – before the game. Afterwards, there was a sense that we let one get away there.

      • I agree on the Clermont game in round 3. I was at the game and Clermont were scared of us and their fans were delighted with the victory. We thought we might get the spanking and were delighted with the losing bonus and a renewed self belief that we would be ok at home. I was talking rather about the lack of intensity and urgency from Leinster in the first 2 group games. We won them but without firing and lacked the intensity we saw in rounds 5 and 6. Clermont had a handy lead after rounds 1 and 2 and I think we could have been better prepared. Well we live and learn.

  12. Rogocoko

     /  January 22, 2013

    Racing throwing away that lead and gifting Saracens a win in week 5 was the Killer blow for Leinster…. If they had won that mach.. no runner up in their group could have made the 20 points and Leinster would be in the Quarters!

    • Spot on. I always felt this was the only realistic ‘external’ assistance that was likely. When Hernandez missed touch with the penalty two minutes from time… well, I got a real sinking feeling.

  13. Xyz

     /  January 22, 2013

    Btw, did anyone else think that Leinster’s second row had a pretty good outing on Saturday? Was really glad to see Toner getting up in the air at the lineout so much, for instance.

    For Munster I thought that Kilcoyne and TOD were superb and Zebo is really starting to fulfill all that potential he showed.

    Missed the other games.

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