Wednesday 28 June 2017

Schmidt focus on positives as Leinster prevail

Treviso 20 Leinster 30

Ian Bransfield

It's unlikely that Joe Schmidt uncorked too many bottles of the locally produced Prosecco in celebration of what was, after all, an expected victory for the European champions against the Italian middleweights.

But given the youthful nature of his squad, combined with the memories of defeat in last season's corresponding fixture, he would certainly have been entitled to a tipple before boarding the plane home.

Eight of those involved in that infamously failed Italian job 14 months ago were back in harness for this one, and for a brief moment in the second half it looked as though a similar narrative was about to unfold.

Leinster, as they did last year, got off to a cracking start with tries by Leo Auva'a and Fionn Carr, but they were gradually reined in by the boot of Tobias Botes, whose five penalties induced some minor flashbacks for the Leinster support.

They were upgraded to fully blown panic attacks when Manoa Vosawai's 50th-minute try tied the game at 20 apiece.

But Leinster had enough in reserve, and pulled away soon after thanks to a penalty from Fergus McFadden and a third try in two games for Eoin O'Malley.

"I'm delighted, we needed to show some real character and I think we did that," said Schmidt in his post-match evaluation.

"I thought we looked really good on the ball early on, particularly some of the guys like Fionn Carr, who I thought carried really well.

"He got himself into the game really quickly, and it was great to get Fergus McFadden back on the field after the injury that he had. They were real positives."

McFadden was indeed something of a minor revelation, kicking five from five in an impressive vignette, and his wasn't the only one.

Devin Toner turned in a couple of big plays, most notably at the end of the first half when he stole two line-out balls to help lift a siege of pressure.

And while Luke Fitzgerald's selection at full-back might have raised one or two eyebrows, crass management it certainly was not -- he was exceptionally composed in his primary duties.

Then there was Ian Madigan, at the heart of it all in the No 10 shirt, pulling the strings with his subtle array of passing and orchestrator of the opening two tries.

"Ian is another player who is growing all the time," said Schmidt.

"It's good to have someone like Isaac Boss or Eoin Reddan inside him, so they can take some of the stress off him, and Gordon D'Arcy outside him, just to help him manage the game.

"But I thought he managed the game pretty well himself."

The Leinster management, though, will reflect on some less comfortable issues at scrum time, where both Jamie Hagan and, in particular, Cian Healy struggled for long spells, even if Schmidt chose to put a positive spin on their difficulties.

"We're still kind of getting our rhythm with Greg Feek coming back. He's still doing a lot of work with Jamie and it was good to see him get 50 minutes under his belt today against a good scrummaging team.

"And for Cian, I thought he got better and better as the game went on. I was really happy with him.

"All these guys are still finding their feet a little bit. Then we made a few changes, and it was great to get Jack McGrath out there.

"He's a kid really, but he came into a man's environment today in Treviso and showed up well. Nathan White did similarly when he came on."

Ultimately, Schmidt had far more positives to reflect upon than negatives, and the relative banality of the post-match press conference was a world apart from the minor hysteria that accompanied last season's defeat at the same stadium.

events

"I was asked if this was the beginning of the end of Leinster rugby," he recalled with a smile in recognition of events 14 months prior. To be honest, that game was at the early part of last season, and we dealt with it then. It was tough again at the start of this season, too, with two defeats from three, but the reaction wasn't nearly as hostile.

"Looking back, I think it was isolated to just a couple of people. I don't think it was any of the mainstream guys who reacted that negatively.

"But I am conscious that as soon as a game is lost, any game, that sort of reaction can gain momentum very quickly. People are impatient and don't tolerate poor performances because they have such high expectations of Leinster.

"I share those expectations -- so do the players. Sometimes it doesn't work for you, but you have to try and work a bit harder to turn that around."

Treviso -- L McLean; B De Jager (F Semenzato 39), T Benvenuti, A Sgarbi, B Williams; K Burton, T Botes; M Rizzo (I Fernandez Rouyet 48), E Ceccato (F Sbaraglini 48), L Cittadini (M Muccignat 60); A Pavanello (capt, F Minto 72), V Bernabo; P Derbyshire, A Zanni, R Barbieri (M Vosawai 48).

Leinster -- L Fitzgerald; F McFadden, E O'Malley, G D'Arcy (B Macken 73), F Carr; I Madigan, E Reddan (I Boss 62); C Healy (J McGrath 73), S Cronin, J Hagan (N White 50); D Browne (K McLaughlin 62), D Toner; R Ruddock, S Jennings, L Auva'a (J Heaslip 50).

REF -- G Clancy (IRFU).

Irish Independent

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