independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

O'Driscoll and Kearney ready for Saints trip

LEINSTER 36 SCARLETS 19

Sione Timani tackles Leinster’s Lote Tuquiri in the incident which led to the Scarlets player being shown the yellow card at the RDS.

THEY'RE going to need an extra order of aspirin at UCD this morning as Matt O'Connor and his coaches begin plotting for Leinster's back-to-back meetings with Northampton Saints.

O'Connor expects to have Brian O'Driscoll and Rob Kearney available for this weekend's trip to Franklin's Gardens.

Apart from Fergus McFadden, who broke a bone in his hand during the defeat to Australia, the Pro12 champions should have all of their Ireland contingent available after resting several for the bonus-point victory over the Scarlets at the RDS.

Selection headaches are supposed to be what every coach dreams of but they are not easy. As the Australian said: "16 doesn't go into 15."

The Pro12 champions carried out their business well during November, with the lesser lights and the imports collecting 13 points from a possible 15 to keep the show on the road and the team in second place.

Captain Leo Cullen came through his first game unscathed and got 70 minutes under his belt, while the bulletin on the walking wounded from the battle with the All Blacks is positive.

Zane Kirchner did enough here to suggest that the Springbok was a clever signing, but he plays in Rob Kearney's position. The Louthman's return could see the South African moving on to the wing, but that would mean two of Luke Fitzgerald, Dave Kearney or Lote Tuquiri – who may be out of the equation if the province can't convince the IRFU to keep him – missing out.

The back three may be the most contested area, but there are battles elsewhere. Isaac Boss and Jimmy Gopperth started both the pool wins so far, but Eoin Reddan and Ian Madigan played well against the Scarlets, the latter kicking five from six including a pair of superb touchline conversions.

DOMINANT

Up front, Jack McGrath capped another dominant display in the scrum with a try, while Martin Moore looked formidable for 24 minutes before coming off injured. In the back-row, Rhys Ruddock, Shane Jennings and Jordi Murphy all did well with Kevin McLaughlin, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip looking on from the sideline.

"It's a good problem to have. A lot of blokes played very well for us during this international period," O'Connor said. "A lot of blokes who went away and represented Ireland have played good footie so it will be a tough call.

"When it rains, it pours. You don't have 20 blokes for the last few weeks and suddenly you have too many. Certainly, it's better than the alternative."

This was a good night for the Leinster coach. Nobody wants the perfect display a week before the big one, but the positives were plentiful while there was also plenty to work on. There were signs that the backline is starting to click with the fluency improving, while the scrum remains a potent weapon regardless of who is in the eight.

The Scarlets were missing eight of their key men and don't possess Leinster's depth, but they managed three tries to the hosts' five, though their scores all came after the Blues had raced into a 22-0 lead. There were also two yellow cards, enough to put discipline on the agenda.

Even if they can score beautiful, length-of-the-field tries, the Welsh region are not the All Blacks, there was no coming back and the bonus point was secured on the hour mark.

The concession of three tries will set the tone in the video review, while the players will know a step up is needed.

"We have got to be better across the board than we were tonight," O'Connor said. "Heineken Cup is a different level totally, you won't get away with inaccuracies and not taking your opportunities against a team like Northampton.

"They're a good side, they performed very well in the Premiership and had a good result against the Ospreys last time out. We will have to be at our very best to beat them."

When he is looking for positives the coach will turn to the opening 28 minutes in which Leinster ran in three tries to effectively win the game.

The Scarlets were missing seven Wales internationals involved in their meeting with Australia and their lack of depth was clear. They were game, but couldn't cope with Leinster's firepower.

Madigan got the scoring under way with a penalty, before Kirchner created the opening try by attacking an understaffed short side and releasing Fitzgerald down the left wing.

Murphy and McGrath carried hard before Madigan shifted the ball to Brendan Macken, who stepped outside Adam Warren and backed his pace to go in at the corner.

The fly-half missed the conversion, but got an easy second chance minutes later after Kirchner had been held up in the corner by an excellent Gareth Maule tackle. The pack took over and a succession of scrum penalties was followed by referee Ian Davies heading for the posts to award a penalty try.

The Scarlets were showing some signs of their potential with a Gareth Davies forward pass ruining a certain try for John Barclay, but they couldn't cope with Leinster's forward power. After Gareth Davies was penalised for a crooked feed at a scrum forced by good work from the impressive Macken, the home side attacked from the scrum and McGrath powered over from close range.

They took their foot off the gas to an extent after that and the men in red took the initiative, finishing the half on top and with Cullen in the sin-bin for a ruck infringement. They couldn't get over before the break, but Davies capitalised on a Jennings spill to score soon after the resumption.

Cullen returned and, almost immediately, the Scarlets were reduced to 14 as No 8 Sione Timani foot-tripped Tuquiri.

Leinster pressed, but got hit on the counter by a flowing move by the Welsh region, started by Jordan Williams who was stopped short by Kirchner, but Maule got over from the next phase.

STIRRED

Aled Thomas reduced the lead to 10, but that stirred Leinster into action and they replied almost immediately with Reddan crossing in the corner after strong work from Sean Cronin.

That secured the bonus and, although Kirchner and Warren crossed for a try each before the finish, the game was up and minds had turned to next week and the daunting trip to Northampton.

O'Connor is happy with his lot as he prepares for a week in which selection is sure to dominate the agenda.

"Pretty good, we've got a full panel," he concluded. "The boys have played really well, the blokes who have been away have played really well for Ireland. The blokes who have been here have done a fantastic job, you couldn't be in a much better place to be fair.

"A bonus-point win, a couple of away wins, undefeated in Europe – it's a good launchpad for us. But you have to be at the top of your game to get a result at Franklin's Gardens and we'll have to make sure that we are."

LEINSTER – Z Kirchner; L Tuquiri, B Macken, G D'Arcy (J Gopperth 60), L Fitzgerald (D Fanning 63); I Madigan, E Reddan (L McGrath 63); J McGrath (M Bent 63), A Dundon (S Cronin 60), M Moore (M Ross 24); L Cullen, M McCarthy (T Denton 68); R Ruddock, S Jennings (capt) (D Ryan 56), J Murphy.

SCARLETS – G Owen (J Williams 24); N Reynolds, G Maule (J Lewis 60), A Warren, F Climo; A Thomas, G Davies (A Davies 60); P John (capt) (R Evans h-t), K Myhill (E Phillips h-t), J Adriaanse (H Pungea h-t); J Ball, J Snyman (R Kelly 60); A Shingler, J Barclay, S Timani (J Turnbull 79).

REF – I Davies (Wales)

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