First off, Ian Madigan, produced an insane performance with all of Leinster’s 18 points coming from his boot. He covered nearly every position from where I was sitting. Everywhere you looked he was there cleaning up after a number of missed tackles, making crucial ones or creating opportunities. He was injured during the 2nd half, lying on the ground and up again a minute later even though he was clearly feeling the boot to the head he got. Something a bit superhero-esque about it, he had an “I’ll be injured later, my team need me!” kinda game. A superb display of his goal kicking came from six penalties, and other than a few off clearances that were still enough to relieve immediate pressure, he was definitely deserving of man of the match today. Madigan has been a cornerstone for Leinster this year and surely their player of the season. And his continuous growth as a big place kicker is exciting to watch. If it weren’t for Leinster’s inconsistent form. That said they have still managed to make it to a European semi-final which is always hard won!
Luke Fitzgerald showed some flair making a nice break and avoiding tackles. A good runner but wasn’t given many opportunities. Fergus McFadden was playing pretty well too before he left the field with a concussion, making one of the most bone crunching hits I’ve ever witnessed on Anthony Watson. Kearney’s game this season has left something to be desired for me. Going from world class to not great that quickly is raising some questions in my head about his place on the team. Perhaps the way Leinster are playing isn’t allowing him to shine in the way he has in the past 6/7 years but there’s no point in making excuses. The province have been struggling with player performances for one reason or another and it will not be good enough against Toulon. It’s all or nothing.
Yet again we saw Sean Cronin, bulldozing his way around the pit with amazing acceleration considering his size, he should be starting as hooker in every match he can in my opinion. Strauss is good but does not have the same presence as Cronin. Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy both performed well I thought. Healy barging through the Bath defence on more than one occasion. Martin Moore replaced Mike Ross and continued where he left off, even winning a penalty at the ruck. Mike McCarthy was much more involved and physical than usual, certainly a good thing as it was all hands on deck today. Ross later tweeted a picture of McCarthy with the imprint of a scrum cap on his shoulder, I didn’t see the massive tackle he must have put in to end up with that but I wish I had.
While I’m probably never going to be Matt O’Connor’s biggest fan, for all the complaining and doubt about his ability as coach and decision making at Leinster they are still in their first Champions Cup semi since 2012.
Bath were good but are still not quite the European force Mike Ford was looking for. George Ford’s performance was great, scoring one try and setting up another, but his kicking let him down. Anthony Watson was shown a yellow card for a clumsy challenge in the air on Rob Kearney in the 25th minute. Sam Burgess was “useless” in the words of the Bath supporter sitting behind me. This was the first time I got to see him play and I was unimpressed by him to say the least. Stringer received a deserved applause and ovation from Leinster supporters when he took to the pitch in the second half. I often think he was shelved too early when playing for Ireland and has proved since that he had a lot more to give.
Some will grumble and say Leinster weren’t good enough today and that they need to score tries but I disagree, they won and as Captain Jamie Heaslip said afterwards:
“It was a difficult game. We put ourselves in positions to take our scores and I’m not concerned at all that we didn’t score any tries. We played what was in front of us and we got into positions and then got penalties. I don’t care if we win by one or 10 points – just as long as we win”
Yes there’s always room for improvement but the better team on the day will win. Forget about form and previous games as when it comes down to it, turning up with the right attitude and determination is the making or breaking of a team. Bring on the French!