Five things we learned from Leinster's comprehensive victory over Castres
Leinster stormed to a massive 50-8 win over Castres to keep their hopes of qualification for the last 16 of the Champions Cup well and truly alive. Here are five talking points from their win.
Leinster’s pedigree comes to the fore
The opposition must be taken into account and this Castres team came to Dublin with very little ambition but whatever ambition they did have was wiped out inside three minutes.
Matt O’Connor has come in for plenty of flak this season, some of it unjust but in recent weeks, Leinster have showed more and more signs of playing the style of rugby that the supporters have come to expect in Dublin 4.
Some of the backline play was sublime at times with Ian Madigan again impressive at inside centre. Outside of him, Luke Fitzgerald reminded us of his quality while Michael Bent put in a decent shift in the absence of Cian Healy and Jack McGrath.
O’Connor had the luxury of resting several key players early on in the second half and when you consider that the likes of Healy and Sean O’Brien are still to come back into the side, this victory means that they’re now more likely to be returning to a side who will be competing in the last eight of the competition.
A timely return to form for Dave Kearney
Having sat out Ireland’s November series, Dave Kearney was always going to be playing catch up ahead of next month’s Six Nations.
Rarely have Ireland been blessed with such strength in depth on the wing but Kearney’s industrious performance will surely have pleased Joe Schmidt.
Hungry for work at every opportunity, he put in an assured defensive display while going forward he was Leinster’s most potent attacking threats and was probably unlucky to be edged out of the man of the match award by Devin Toner.
Kearney got Leinster going inside three minutes when he took Ian Madigan’s sumptuous inside, reverse pass before showing a brilliant turn of pace to leave three defenders behind him to finish off a vintage Leinster move.
He faces stiff competition but Schmidt has shown faith in Kearney in the past and is clearly an admirer. If he stays fit and continues in this kind of form, he’ll give Schmidt a very pleasant headache in what is a huge year.
Clinical Leinster hold their nerve
O’Connor spoke immediately in the aftermath of last weekend’s win over the Cardiff Blues that Leinster would be going in search of the bonus point against Castres.
Not that those tactics was ever in doubt but it was in some way refreshing to hear the coach speaking honestly.
Leinster set their stall out from the off in declining the three points on offer on two different occasions but it paid off when Marty Moore crashed his way over from a powerful rolling maul off the a well-worked lineout.
Prior to Moore’s try, there had been sighs of frustration amongst some sections of the home crowd but they were soon silenced when Leinster bagged the bonus point on the stroke of half time.
Castres may be a declining force but Leinster managed to ruthlessly get the job done to firmly keep alive their hopes of topping the pool.
Scrum shows up well
Question marks were posed prior to the game about how well the Leinster scrum would hold up but without Healy, McGrath and Mike Ross, the front row went about their task very well.
The first scrum came inside the opening minute and when Leinster drove Castres off their own ball, the tempo was set for the rest of the game.
Leinster lost just one of their own scrums and won all six of their others. Bent has had his critics in the past but along with the returning Marty Moore and the electric Sean Cronin, the front row impressed.
Tadgh Furlong further enhanced his reputation from the bench with a well taken try and although tougher challenges undoubtedly lie ahead, O’Connor’s faith in his squad as a whole must be that little bit stronger after tonight.
TMO’s tiresome woes
The television match official unquestionably has its uses but the time has surely come for referees and touch judges alike to take more responsibility upon themselves when it comes to decision making.
A ridiculous and indeed frustrating amount of time tonight was spent with the TMO running rule over decisions and when he doesn’t even come up with the correct one, you have to ask yourself what is the point?
Castres had two tries ruled out – both of which looked like legitimate scores. Marcel Garvey was left perplexed when it was ruled that he had made a double movement when crossing the try line. Not even the staunchest of Leinster supporters would have agreed with that one.
Handbags, and make no mistake about it, it was nothing more than handbags between Richie Gray and Fergus McFadden took up at least three minutes of play for an incident that occurred right in front of the touch judge.
But not to be out done by his opposite number, the second touch judge was somehow unable to rule over a potential Castres forward pass that happened about a metre away from him.
Finally, Italian referee Marius Mitrea consulted the TMO once again for Luke McGrath’s try. Having seen several replays, it still remains unclear what exactly he was checking for.
It’s time for referees and their assistants to trust in themselves more and not have 80-minute rugby games last far longer than they should be.