Tuesday 20 March 2018

Blues get scrum deal

Tighthead torment and ref calls ruin Drico return

A scrum. A Scrum. Our kingdom for a scrum.

The spectre of injury to Nathan White (facial) and Jamie Hagan (ribs), added to that of Ireland's Mike Ross (neck), could leave Leinster in a race against time to field a tighthead prop against Munster in what has suddenly become a crucial PRO12 League match in Limerick next Saturday.

Munster can close the gap at the top of the ladder to eight or even seven points if they can beat Connacht at The Sportsground tonight, with Leinster at home to come.

"We still control our own destiny. We got to Thomond Park next week and we know the magnitude of that challenge. We'll just have to turn ourselves around," warned coach Joe Schmidt.

The introduction of Wales cornerstone Adam Jones was the trigger for the Ospreys to end Leinster's 20-match unbeaten run with a controversial 78th-minute try by hooker Richard Hibbard and conversion by out-half Dan Biggar to nick it 23-22 at the RDS last night.

"In the end, it was all we could do to hang in there with the scrum problems," said Schmidt.

The always unflappable Kiwi was clearly bothered by two try decisions, one not given to Leinster loosehead Heinke van der Merwe and the other awarded to Osprey hooker Hibbard.

"I am really disappointed about the try decisions. It looked pretty clear to us that Heinke had scored. Maybe, it was the question that was asked. 'Try: yes or no?'," added Schmidt.

Worse than that, Hibbard's herculean 78th-minute effort looked to have been stopped by Isaac Boss. That one didn't go Leinster's way either, television match official (TMO) Alan Rogan decided the hooker grounded the ball.

"We've got guys who are pretty adamant they didn't get it down. Those are the fine margins. Dan Biggar kicked a superb touchline conversion to bounce it off the pole to get them in front," added Schmidt.

There was very much a feel of the first game of the season about this one, not just for the returning Brian O'Driscoll but a catalogue of unforced errors went viral in the first quarter.

The Ospreys made a hash of the kick-off and compounded that by drifting offside in the middle. Centre Fergus McFadden kicked three in the first minute.

But Leinster prop White did not convince referee Peter Fitzgibbon that he was making sufficient effort to roll away from a ruck. Biggar's penalty put them back where they started.

White soon repaired the damage by putting renowned Paul James in a difficult position at a scrum that earned a penalty, smacked home by McFadden in the 21st minute.

McFadden was back for more in the 26th minute when the Ospreys' heads-up approach worked against them. A knock-on was turned into a penalty when touched by a player in front of the handler.

Then, fly-half Ian Madigan flashed onto a loose Leinster lineout on the 22 to steam inside wing Willem Dirksen for a try out of nothing.

McFadden squeezed the conversion just inside the right upright to make it 16-3 in the 32nd minute.

Where White had drilled James for two penalties in the first quarter, his replacement Jamie Hagan conceded one to the same man for Biggar's second penalty in what was the first of many flashbacks to Twickenham.

On resumption, the Welsh needed something to happen fast if they were to get back into it. Instead, flanker Tom Smith infringed and McFadden struck from the left for a 19-6 advantage.

Full-back Richard Fussell worked the oracle down the left and Hagan fell foul of James at another scrum for Biggar to shoot his fourth penalty in the 50th minute.

Within a minute, Leinster were light on numbers on the short side and the Ospreys exploited it to the full for number eight George Stowers to ramble over.

Biggar's conversion narrowed it to three points. It was game-on.

The reaction was immediate. McFadden thundered forth. Dave Kearney offered himself to Luke Fitzgerald on the switch. Damian Browne tidied beautifully from a ruck to supply Van der Merwe for what looked like a certain try.

The video evidence was inconclusive. It wasn't given.


Sadly, prop Hagan was soon removed on a stretcher just before McFadden threaded a penalty. He was succeeded by Jack McGrath, a loosehead by trade.

Referee Fitzgibbon then binned Justin Tipuric for a textbook tackle on Kevin McLaughlin. Justice was served when McFadden's penalty dropped short.

It proved costly. Ryan Jones nearly got away with devilish work off the ball.

Madigan failed to find touch from a penalty, returning the pressure to his forwards.

They came up trumps, Dominic Ryan powering out of defence for Fitzgerald's delicate grubber to force a five-metre penalty. The scrum disintegrated then and again for the Ospreys to gain a foothold.

From there, centre Ashley Beck came on an inside line. Tipuric took it on.

They had momentum and hooker Hibbard on the outside to take contact and make the whitewash.

Biggar's conversion landed on top of the upright and Fitzgibbon controversially signalled the winning points.

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