| 13.4°C Dublin

Blues reward Joe's faith!

THE trust of coach Joe Schmidt has been the thrust behind Leinster's drive towards the summit of the PRO12 League with three matches left to play in the regular season.

The New Zealander solved his selection headache by holding back some of the heavy artillery in what turned into a try-less double-scores 18-9 victory over injury-hit Munster at Thomond Park on Saturday evening.

Schmidt's trust in all his players was best reflected by the decision to trigger the entry of Ian Madigan at out-half for Jonathan Sexton, nursing a calf niggle, as Leinster held a slender 12-9 lead on the hour of a game that could have gone either way.

This was a move that spoke volumes for Schmidt's very Warren Gatland-like attitude of rewarding young players for maturing performances and for his increasing belief in his back-up 10.

Synch

Madigan repaid the faith shown in him by his coach by smacking over the decisive 75th-minute drop goal that took Leinster out of Munster's reach in Limerick.

This was a match not without significant set-piece problems. Munster hooker Damien Varley was out of synch with his lineout jumpers.

Worse than that, the agonising delay at scrum time was stretched out to 18 minutes and 14 seconds from 12 scrums over the official 80 minutes.

From the dozen scrums, half of them resulted in penalties for needless technical infringements. Props Marcus Horan and Mike Ross were sin-binned and Munster forced one penalty from a pulverising scrum.

It was a central factor in stunting the flow of a match as the clearly overmatched Munster veteran Horan could not withstand the weight of pressure coming through from Leinster's Ross.

Welsh referee Nigel Owens took an uneducated view of what was happening. Despite singling out Horan for special warning, he chose to yellow card both men early in the second-half when Owen's frustration got the better of him.

It once again highlighted the paucity in scrum options as Munster will surely go with Wian du Preez at loose head in the Heineken Cup quarter-final.

For Leinster, Jamie Hagan didn't look all that convincing when he was introduced for Ross, who has been on the receiving end of a pounding time at the set-piece in his last few weeks.

In terms of the PRO12 League, there is now a 10-point chasm, what Schmidt called "a buffer", across to the second-placed Ospreys.

The Welsh club moved into the home semi-final berth ahead of Munster by virtue of their 41-10 shellacking of Benetton Treviso at the Liberty Stadium, also on Saturday.

Munster drop to third on points difference from Glasgow Warriors with Ulster just one point out of a play-off position. It is getting sardine-can tight at the top end.

Berth

It would appear relatively safe to presume that a convincing home win over Edinburgh in the third last round will secure Leinster a home semi-final and, if they qualify, a home final.

From the best of the rest, the Ospreys are turning it on at the right part of the season with two likely 'five pointers' at home to the Dragons and away to Aironi on the last two weekends making them favourites to secure the other home berth in the final four.

Indeed, Ulster have the most difficult run-in against all three Irish provinces as Munster and Glasgow look destined to travel to the Ospreys and Leinster, respectively, in the semi-finals.


Privacy