David Kelly: Leinster weather Connacht storm to ramp up revival
Van der Flier try seals sixth straight victory as Westerners suffer third defeat on bounce
Published 02/01/2016 | 02:30
And so Leinster continue to turn a corner - this marked their sixth successive Pro12 win on the trot to move them upon the shoulder of defeated leaders Scarlets.
Leinster13 Connacht 0
For Connacht, the contrasting sense of running into a brick wall: four defeats in five, a hat-trick of league defeats and the first blank in terms of match points in the last dozen attempts as their winless streak in Dublin stretched into a 15th calendar year.
In horrendous conditions, Leinster played them better and, even though Josh van der Flier's decisive score on the hour may have had a touch of fortune, their nous, particularly at half-back, where Eoin Reddan excelled, was more than enough to bank the win in front of 14,297 bitterly cold and wet customers.
Connacht were happy to trail just 3-0 at the break but as the weather dominated, the game needed a game-changer and cometh the hour, in his 100th game for the province, Sean O'Brien's timely introduction lifted the tempo.
His beautiful inside offload allowed Dave Kearney to go on a zig-zagging run from out to in and, after more than 20 phases of close-in jamming, Van der Flier crashed over as referee George Clancy, in the spirit of pantomime season, landed on the seat of his wet pants, forcing him to refer to the TMO.
A 10-0 margin on a night like this was massive and Leinster eased home.
Connacht had won the toss and elected to field possession against the wind; they were forced on the back foot from the kick-off and an early spillage reflected the difficulty of the conditions. They would struggle to adapt all evening; Leinster would have to wait to punish them.
Connacht were forced to defend three early lineout mauls but they managed to repel them all, Andrew Browne winning a scrum turnover when smashing Jack McGrath in the tackle.
Yet the scrum, far from bringing relief, renewed the pressure as Leinster wrestled possession against the head and, as Connacht conceded their fifth penalty in the opening 13 minutes, Clancy implored captain John Muldoon to restore some order.
Leinster did so too, opting for the discretion of a three-point lead in the 15th minute from Jonathan Sexton's boot, as disappointed not to have earned more as Connacht were relieved not to have conceded the ultimate seven-pointer.
When Reddan punted a 50-yard clearance kick to touch from the restart, the extent of the wind advantage was clear to all those who had braved the first night of the year to attend.
Many of them did so to see the emerging star of Irish rugby, Garry Ringrose, and he responded with a dazzling run, ball in two hands, feigning to shift before twice stepping Connacht wing Niyi Adeolokun.
Connacht were struggling for territory and, even when they did have a chance, thanks to a halfway line scrum after Rob Kearney had kicked dead, Nathan White conceded the advantage by strong-arming Mike McCarthy at an ensuing ruck.
Ironically, Leinster produced their best maul from the 22 lineout, rumbling to within five yards but when the ball spilled loose, Muldoon sacked Jordi Murphy and, once more, they cleared the danger, to the 10-metre line, at least.
In truth, it was a Somme-like battle of trench warfare in each ruck; Leinster were just as culpable as their visitors with their indulgence of sloppy turnovers. It was grim and gritty.
Connacht rarely threatened the opposition 22; when they did so, Mike McCarthy, playing as if he knows a Six Nations squad berth may await, thieved the returning Tom McCartney's throw.
McCarthy undid his work in the same place just seconds later, though, taking Andrew Browne out in the air; now Connacht were halfway between the 22 and the goal-line, their furthest advance yet.
Sadly, Muldoon would have needed to be hoisted upon a nearby Funderland rollercoaster to receive the throw; the chance was lost.
Then out of nowhere came a better one; Tiernan O'Halloran skidded a grubber into Dave Kearney's corner, Adeolokun bundled him over and seemed set to gather and score until Kearney recovered to tackle him into touch.
Still, 3-0 was an encouraging interval scoreline but an immediate Rhys Ruddock turnover indicated how difficult it can be to carry even with the wind.
It is even more difficult to kick into the wind, but Leinster did so on four occasions, only to see the pill boomerang behind their heads each time.
When they did carry, changing the ball from out to in close to the ruck, Murphy set Ringrose on another dazzling run but he knocked on after being eventually brought to ground 10 metres out.
Connacht were naturally, though, having more possession but weren't imposing enough pressure and their tactical kicking was also below par. Then the hammer blow on the hour.
Connacht huffed and puffed - they hardly needed to as the gale still swept from behind - but Leinster held the barricades with the sternest of resolves to leapfrog their rivals in the standings, a late Ian Madigan penalty into the howling gusts proving once more just what his side will miss when he departs for France.
Leinster - R Kearney (Z Kirchner 75); F McFadden, G Ringrose, B Te'o, D Kearney; J Sexton (I Madigan 73), E Reddan (N McCarthy 75); J McGrath (P Dooley 70), R Strauss (J Tracy 62), M Moore (M Bent 70); D Toner, M McCarthy (R Molony 69); R Ruddock (capt), J Van der Flier, J Murphy (S O'Brien 52).
Connacht - T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, B Aki, C Ronaldson, M Healy; J Carty (AJ MacGinty 65), K Marmion (I Porter 65); F Bealham (R Loughney 65), T McCartney (D Heffernan 66), N White (R Ah You 54); A Muldowney (U Dillane 63), A Browne; J Muldoon (capt), J Heenan (S O'Brien 53), E Masterson.
Ref - G Clancy (IRFU)