Saturday 1 October 2016

Leinster winded as huff and puff ends in painful defeat

Published 28/03/2016 | 02:30

“We have four games left, three at home and if we win four we will be in the top two,” says Cullen. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
“We have four games left, three at home and if we win four we will be in the top two,” says Cullen. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

Quite the reversal of fortunes compared to the RDS in December. It had been gusty there, too, but after turning around at just 0-3 with the wind to come, Connacht ran out of steam.

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Leinster completed a sixth successive win then; Connacht were mired in a run of losses; and yet just over three months later, the Westerners have now won six in a row while their vaunted rivals were unable to take advantage of the elements.

Leinster were arguably just as windy, too; it seemed as if the only thing they won was the toss.

So many of their players under-performed, the half-backs were utterly outplayed, the team's tactical kicking was abysmal and their midfield was anonymous.

Denis Buckley claimed the scrum contest but Leinster coach Leo Cullen cried foul; as they belatedly huffed and puffed to move within striking distance of the rarely visited try-line with just a couple of minutes left, he was expecting more than the effort to fizz out with Dominic Ryan's spillage a few phases later.

"When we got held up over the line, I thought we had dominance in the scrum at that stage," moaned the Leinster coach.

"We had a couple of scrums on the line that went down. I'd have to have a look back at it again but I was hoping for a penalty at the end but we didn't get one. I'll have to look at the tape and see what we can do better."

He will have his work cut out this morning; the temptation will be to fast-forward rather than rewind.

Once more, Leinster bemoaned the fact that they have to integrate internationals - their vast contingent only returned to work on Thursday - but that is the reality and they must adapt better.

Tactically, the direction on the field, or from off it, was questionable and, as much as Cullen praised his side's "comfortable defence", it took just one uncomfortable moment to carve it open, with Garry Ringrose and Richardt Strauss getting their reads all wrong as Connacht pounced for a 7-0 half-time advantage.

"We probably bit in a little bit in defence when we didn't need to," said Cullen, for whom Ian Madigan added two penalties in the second half as his side drifted further behind Connacht in second place of the Guinness Pro12.

"That's probably a consequence of guys not being together in the system for that long. So that was frustrating but at seven points we thought we were definitely in the game.

PHASES

"After 7-3, we probably lost our way a little bit. We didn't hold on to the ball for decent phases, it was only towards the end of the game that we got some decent phases in.

"I thought we were in the game all the time. It just felt we ran out of time a little bit."

Jonathan Sexton will return when "it cranks up again" for Munster at rugby HQ next Saturday evening although they will fret about their regular pair of injury-tortured twins, Luke Fitzgerald and Cian Healy, who both limped from the fray in severe distress.

"We have four games left, three at home and if we win four we will be in the top two," says Cullen.

"That is the way I am looking at it. It's reasonably simple." Assuming, of course, the coaches and players don't complicate matters further.

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