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Friday 18 April 2014

Leinster put in hard yards to send Connacht packing

Leinster 17
Connacht 0

Leinster's Fionn Carr is tackled by Connacht's Eoin Griffin during their Rabo Direct Pro 12 encounter at the RDS.

Faced with the prospect of being cast adrift in mid-table of the Pro12, so far offshore as to be virtually beyond rescue, Leinster put in a hard night's work at a bitterly cold RDS to come back into range



.

The result doesn't edge them back into the top four but they are just a point off it, and with Edinburgh next up on Friday night in Murrayfield – defeat at home by Glasgow yesterday leaves Michael Bradley's side with just four wins from 12 games – Leinster may well be back in the play-off places by close of business next weekend.

Moreover, they expect to have Luke Fitzgerald, Brian O'Driscoll and Rob Kearney all back on deck for that game, just in time for their rescue attempt in Pool 5 of the Heineken Cup.

And to cap off the good news on the injury front, Dominic Ryan – who was a late addition to the squad for the ill Shane Jennings – came successfully through his first league game since September. In the process he reminded us just how physical he can be.

Across the corridor, the mood in the Connacht camp wasn't as good. Given the team selections they had a great chance of doing a unique double over Leinster, but couldn't get the scoreboard moving in the first half when they desperately needed it.

To come away from the experience with nothing will have been hard to take.

By the end of the first quarter, their coaching staff will have been concerned that they had gone through 50 per cent of their allotted use of the elements and still had nothing to show for it. If everything had gone right it may have been a 10-point lead but when it mattered most, nothing had worked.

For example they worked a lovely move out the back to Danie Poolman, starting with a neat quick throw at the line-out to the excellent Denis Buckley – a prop of uncommon skill – only for the South African to put the blinkers on when he raced into space behind the Leinster defence. What could have ended in seven points, with even basic awareness of those around him, ended in nothing.

Soon after that the dynamic Robbie Henshaw made a burst into the home 22, but in the process of recycling the ball at the tackle Connacht were penalised. Then on 13 minutes they actually had an uncontested opportunity, through a Dan Parks penalty from the 10-metre mark, but it went wide.

You know the way it works: when you have chances and spurn them, then the opposition get theirs. It wasn't quite as dramatic as Leinster scoring the first time they got into Connacht's 22, but it wasn't far off it.

From the outset Andrew Goodman had been putting himself about in the middle of the field and again he was central to Leinster making headway into the wind. Next they got critical go-forward with man of the match Isaac Boss setting up Dominic Ryan nicely off a ruck.

Referee John Lacey whistled Connacht when Ryan was tackled, and with most of the away team expecting Ian Madigan to take three points, the out-half tapped quickly and squeezed over for five. His own conversion made it seven, and with that the home team had struck a huge blow.

Leinster had worked extremely hard to hang on to the ball, they were mostly accurate passing it into the wind and the only area where they were outgunned was at the scrum, where Connacht looked very comfortable.

On another night and with a different referee they would have got more from this phase.

Turning over seven points down and into the stiff wind gave Connacht no margin for error. Madigan punished them on 57 minutes with three points, but the away team had a decent chance of doing something after more great work from Kieran Marmion, only to leave a ruck unguarded and losing the ball.

Wretched discipline from replacement Ethienne Reynecke didn't help their cause.

Leinster took value and Jack McGrath got over close to the posts after a long period of pressure on the home run. They deserved what they got out of it.

Scorers – Leinster: J McGrath try; I Madigan try, pen, 2 cons

Leinster: A Conway (N Reid 42); F McFadden, B Macken (A Byrne 74), A Goodman, F Carr; I Madigan (J Cooney 78), I Boss (capt); H van der Merwe (J McGrath 57), A Dundon (S Cronin 57), M Bent (M Ross 54), B Marshall, D Toner, R Ruddock, J Murphy, D Ryan (L Auvaa 71)

Connacht: R Henshaw; D Poolman, E Griffin (T O'Halloran 57), D McSharry, M Healy; D Parks, K Marmion (P O'Donohoe 71); D Buckley (B Wilkinson 61), J Harris Wright (E Reynecke 61), N White (capt), (R Loughney 55), M Swift (M Kearney 64), G Naoupu, A Browne, E McKeon, J O'Connor (E Grace 60)

Referee: J Lacey (IRFU)

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