Friday 23 June 2017

Leinster dish out cruel dose of reality

Leinster 30 Connacht 8

Dave Kearney scores Leinster's second try at The RDS last night. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Dave Kearney scores Leinster's second try at The RDS last night. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile


As an illustration of how justice sometimes can be hard to find in the rugby world, last weekend we had Connacht losing a game they should have won.

Never mind the miraculous introduction off the bench of Wian du Preez, they should have been given a penalty try just before that -- and then last night they were inches away from a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, only to end up losing by what looks like a landslide.

Life is never easy in the lower reaches of the Magners League, and now, for the second time this season, they have been handed a five-day turnaround with their trip to the Dragons. "Yeah, it's frustrating," Eric Elwood said afterwards. "We had the perfect start to the game and dominated for 20 minutes and had only three points to show for it. If we had scored then it would have put a different complexion on things."

Yes it would, for no sooner had Leinster lifted the siege than they went in front. And once there, you couldn't see the situation changing for the home side who have lost only twice in the last three months, and even then they took bonus points from the defeats. Naturally enough, Joe Schmidt was happy with a bonus-point win that saw Kevin McLaughlin complete a successful return having been out since April after a shoulder operation.

Remarkably, the flanker lasted the 80 minutes. The plan had been to call him ashore at half-time but by then Sean O'Brien had gone off with a cut over the eye and McLaughlin ploughed on.

He was part of a good Leinster pack for whom Richardt Strauss again was busy -- he produced a lovely pass out of the tackle for David Kearney to score the second of his two tries -- and replacement Stephen Keogh also had a fine game. There's not much wrong with Leinster's depth in the back row, or indeed the backline, where replacement Eoin Reddan was the only first-choice player on the field at the end. So Schmidt has plenty of talent to work with and it will be interesting to see if Declan Kidney comes calling.

At this rate Fergus McFadden brings so much to the table that he has to be selected in the World Cup squad.

He started at inside centre last night and as well as diving over from close in for Leinster's third try, he produced a perfect chip for replacement Niall Morris to seal the bonus point. "It was a bit of a muddled performance," Schmidt said afterwards. "Credit to Connacht, they put a lot of pressure on us but some of the tries we scored were top drawer. I'm delighted with the result, though perhaps less delighted with the performance."

He knows it would have had a different complexion had Connacht been more clinical with all that ball in the first quarter when they were all over Leinster. Ian Keatley got them off to a flyer when he whacked over a penalty from half way but then Brett Wilkinson was done for dropping a scrum under the Leinster posts -- the Connacht scrum was looking pretty good. Minutes later, Johnny O'Connor lost the ball forward when Leinster were defending their line, and it was followed by two knock-ons by Keatley and Cillian Willis within sight of the line.

The aggregate of all that was ominous -- you can't pass up a heap of possession and expect to get more of it. And sure enough on maybe the third visit to Connacht territory McFadden put David Kearney over in the corner. Simple as that, Connacht's lead was gone, never to be regained.

It wasn't until the end of the game that they scored again, with Eoin Griffin getting over. In between, they suffered at the hands of a team high on confidence. Leinster were 8-3 ahead at the break, and Kearney's second try, on 56 minutes, looked like the clincher. Quickly for Connacht the issue was if they could salvage a bonus point -- all of which was a long way from their dominance of the opening quarter.

Instead they suffered some more, from McFadden and Morris, and were left with that empty feeling again. The injustice was nothing like the scale of the Munster game the previous week, but you felt for them all the same.

Scorers -- Leinster: D Kearney 2 tries; I Morris try; F McFadden try, con; I Nacewa 2 pens, con. Connacht: E Griffin try; I Keatley pen

Leinster: I Nacewa (N Morris 65); A Conway, E O'Malley, F McFadden, D Kearney (I Madigan 75); S Berne, P O'Donohoe (E Reddan 51); H van der Merwe, R Strauss (T Sexton 70), C Newland (M Ross h-t), N Hines, D Toner, K McLaughlin, S O'Brien (S Keogh 13), S Jennings

Connacht: T Nathan; E Griffin, I Keatley, K Matthews (capt), B Tuohy (F Carr 56); M Nikora (N Ta'auso 64), C Willis (F Murphy 56); B Wilkinson (D Rogers 77), A Flavin, J Hagan (R Ah You 52), M Swift (B Upton 64), M McCarthy, A Browne, E McKeon, J O'Connor

Referee: J Lacey (IRFU)

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