Saturday 10 December 2016

Lam rues sloppy mistakes as Leinster gain sweet revenge

Leinster 24 Connacht 13

Published 30/10/2016 | 02:30

Leinster’s Barry Daly scores his side’s second try despite the tackle of Niyi Adeolokun during the Guinness PRO12 clash at the RDS. Photo: Stephen McCarthy
Leinster’s Barry Daly scores his side’s second try despite the tackle of Niyi Adeolokun during the Guinness PRO12 clash at the RDS. Photo: Stephen McCarthy

Leinster ensured that Connacht's 14-year wait for a win in Dublin went on as they exacted revenge for their PRO12 final defeat last May. It wasn't a performance that will live long in the memory of anyone who was at a sold-out RDS last night, but it was one that put Leinster top of the table.

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Connacht were uncharacteristically inaccurate and coming into the game off the back of four impressive victories, and Pat Lam was left to rue a host of sloppy mistakes. Time and time again the Westerners got into the Leinster 22 but they were far too wasteful and coughed up possession easily.

Adam Byrne of Leinster scores his side's first try
Adam Byrne of Leinster scores his side's first try

"I always talk about it, the outcome takes care of itself," a disappointed Lam said afterwards.

"When we were putting pressure on, we had a phenomenal amount of turnovers - which is disappointing because it affects our whole flow. Every time we tried to put pressure on, we made a mistake. Ultimately, we're disappointed with our own performance. Certainly at times, we didn't have the right shape in attack. That's when we become pretty average. Going into the close of play, we needed to be ahead and apply the pressure - but again, from our own mistakes, that cost us."

It wasn't until Adam Byrne's 49th minute try that Leinster unlocked Connacht's defence but it was the home side who always looked the more likely.

Earlier this week, Sean O'Brien spoke about wanting to get as much game time under his belt as possible before next week's trip to Chicago and, even though he was subbed off after 67 minutes, he will regret the 10 that he spent in the sin bin for a moment of madness.

Adam Byrne, centre, of Leinster, is congratulated by teammates Jamison Gibson-Park, left, and Sean Cronin
Adam Byrne, centre, of Leinster, is congratulated by teammates Jamison Gibson-Park, left, and Sean Cronin

The Ireland flanker caught Peter Robb with a shoulder charge just short of the half-hour mark and, after he consulted with his TMO, referee John Lacey brandished the yellow card. It was a rash decision on O'Brien's part and he will hope that no further is taken by the citing commissioner. Cullen, however, brushed off the suggestion.

"I actually thought prior to that we could have had a penalty, because I thought the Connacht players were off their feet," he said. "They got the scrum and he's chased into the ruck. I didn't think there was a huge amount in it."

While O'Brien was hugely industrious at the breakdown and won a crucial second-half penalty, it was his fellow flanker Dan Leavy that caught the eye with a man-of-the-match performance.

Cian Healy got through almost an hour and impressed at scrum time, which will serve him well ahead of the New Zealand clash but his indiscipline will have been a cause of concern for Joe Schmidt.

Barry Daly of Leinster is tackled by Bundee Aki of Connacht
Barry Daly of Leinster is tackled by Bundee Aki of Connacht

Craig Ronaldson had kicked Connacht into a 6-0 lead before he was forced off after 19 minutes with a head injury. Bundee Aki wasn't a bad replacement but even he too was subdued. His substitution appeared to disrupt the visitors' momentum and Leinster played their way back into the contest.

Three Isa Nacewa penalties ensured that Leinster went into the break 9-6 in front but it was far from a vintage display. Healy was pinged twice inside the opening 13 minutes, which allowed Ronaldson kick Connacht into the lead.

Mike Ross was the biggest causality of Schmidt's Ireland squad and he got the plaudits after a huge Leinster scrum won a penalty in front of the posts. Nacewa made no mistake. He would repeat the trick seven minutes later after a big Rory O'Loughlin hit on Aki.

Joey Carbery tried his best to create something but his floating pass for O'Loughlin was knocked forward by Robb. Lacey again went to his TMO and harshly showed Robb a yellow card. Nacewa compounded the error by slotting the penalty to put Leinster three points in front at the break.

Robb returned seven minutes after the restart but it was Leinster who continued in the ascendancy and their pressure eventually told when Byrne crossed for a try. Cian Kelleher should have collected Jack Carty's pin-point cross-field kick but instead he got his angles wrong and stepped into touch.

Leinster turned defence into attack but their try came off the back of another sloppy Connacht mistake. This time it was Carty who stepped out of play when attempting to relieve the pressure. Another big Leinster scrum followed which allowed Jamison Gibson-Park to fire a pass wide to Sean Cronin, who made life difficult for Byrne, but the winger brilliantly collected the poor pass and crossed in the corner.

Nacewa was wide with the conversion but he soon made amends when O'Brien won a textbook penalty at the breakdown with Connacht in possession. Connacht continued to try and run the ball from deep but they couldn't muster any kind of momentum to trouble the Leinster defence.

Instead they were creating problems for themselves and when Eoin McKeon was caught with the ball inside his own goal line, Leinster won the scrum. Despite a fresh front-row having been introduced, Leinster continued to dominate and the pressure eventually told again when Barry Daly got over for a second try on what was his first senior start. Nacewa's touchline conversion bisected the posts, but Connacht did manage to get over for a consolation try through replacement hooker Shane Delahunt, that Carty converted.

The champions have now lost four of their six league games but, for Leinster, their progression under Cullen continues as they ground out a victory that will go some way to easing the pain that Connacht dished out last May.

Scorers - Leinster: A Byrne, Daly try each; Nacewa 4 pens. Connacht: Delahunt try; Ronaldson 2 pens, Carty con
Leinster: I Nacewa (capt); A Byrne (R Byrne 77), R O'Loughlin (R Kearney 63), N Reid, B Daly; J Carbery, J Gibson-Park; C Healy (P Dooley 59), S Cronin (J Tracy 59), M Ross (M Bent 59); M Kearney (M McCarthy 46), I Nagle; D Leavy, S O'Brien (J vander Flier 67), J Conan.
Connacht: T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, P Robb, C Ronaldson (B Aki 19), C Kelleher (S Ili 69); J Carty, K Marmion (C Blade 77); JP Cooney (F Bealham 38), D Heffernan (S Delahunt 59), C Carey (D Robertson-McCoy 54); Q Roux (J Connolly 59), A Browne; S O'Brien (E McKeon 54), J Heenan, J Muldoon (capt).
Referee: J Lacey (IRFU)

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