Saturday 25 February 2017

Job done as Schmidt prepares for 'toughest test'

Aironi 8 Leinster 20

It was slow-paced, predictable and sorely lacking in a cliff-hanger ending, but Leinster's defeat of Aironi received a positive review from head coach Joe Schmidt.

Leinster travelled to Viadana on Saturday hoping to claim a victory over Aironi that would propel them back into second place in the Magners League table and, perhaps more importantly, manage to do so without picking up any knocks ahead of next weekend's Heineken Cup showdown with Toulouse.

In that regard, it was a case of mission accomplished. Leinster failed to register a single score in the second half but first-half tries from Sean O'Brien and Cian Healy, and 10 points from the boot of Fergus McFadden, proved sufficient to see off an Aironi side whose sole consolation for a spirited display was a late try from flanker Gareth Krause.

"It wasn't top drawer from us but it was a top result," said Schmidt. "We just wanted to get the four points. I don't think we've gotten any injuries either so that is something that will keep us pretty happy on the way home."

It had been evident from the off that Leinster had come to do enough and nothing more.

They initially struggled to get going but after McFadden and Aironi scrum-half Tito Tebaldi had exchanged early penalties, Brian O'Driscoll, as he so often has, provided some inspiration, the veteran centre putting O'Brien through to score with a terrific reverse pass.

Leinster added a second try shortly before the interval, with McFadden bursting down the right wing before off-loading to Healy, who broke two pitifully weak tackles before holding off Horacio San Martin to roll his way over.

Leinster should have put the game to bed when the hosts were reduced to 14 men after Nick Williams' shoulder charge on O'Brien.

By that stage the humidity was taking its toll on Leinster's players and even a spate of substitutions couldn't reinvigorate them, with Aironi earning just reward for their fourth-quarter dominance when Krause wormed his way over after a solid catch-and-drive.

"We did drop off a bit in the second half," Schmidt admitted. "So we've really got to make sure that that doesn't happen against Toulouse next week.

"I thought that if we'd scored in the five or 10 minutes after half-time that they might lose a bit of interest but as long as it stayed close, they were going to continue to fight pretty hard. And the bonus point wasn't something we were particularly chasing anyway.

"We're pretty happy just to get the four and come away with no injuries -- and also to have finally given Isa Nacewa his first weekend off this season.

"Jonny Sexton came and sat on the bench but he wasn't required so a few of the guys had the chance to refresh themselves ahead of what's going to be the toughest test of our season."

Toulouse will arrive in Dublin with their customary swagger. They are the reigning Heineken Cup champions, and go into next week's repeat of last year's semi-final full of confidence after their win over Bourgoin on Saturday.

Schmidt knows Guy Noves' side inside out from his time in France with Clermont Auvergne but said that didn't feel like much of an advantage.

"It almost creates a fear factor. It's just the depth of their squad that stands out and it makes it a little bit difficult to predict their side. They've so many options but we'll work on that this week."

AIRONI -- H San Martin; K Robertson (M Pratichetti 35), G Pavan, G Pizarro (R Bocchino 74), D Demas; J Marshall, T Tebaldi (P Canavosio 55); A De Marchi (S Perugini 55), F Ongaro (L Ferraro 65), F Staibano (L Redolfini 50); J Furro, M Bortolami (Q Geldenhuys 70); J Sole (N Cattina 62), G Krause, N Williams.

LEINSTER -- D Kearney; F McFadden, B O'Driscoll (S Horgan 65), E O'Malley, L Fitzgerald; I Madigan, E Reddan; C Healy (H van der Merwe 63), J Harris-Wright, M Ross (S Wright 58); D Toner, N Hines; R Ruddock, S Jennings (L Cullen 70), S O'Brien (D Ryan 63).

REF -- A McMenemy (Scotland).

Irish Independent

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