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Defiant Leinster make a case for defence

THERE was something of a 'Caped Crusader' dust-up about the way Leinster bashed the Scarlets 20-13 in Pool 5 of the Heineken Cup at Parc Y Scarlets.

AT last, Leinster announced their candidacy to make a meaningful defence in the first 40 minutes, their best half of rugby this season.

It was not the all-singing, all-stinging spectacular show that has often decorated their previous European seasons. But, there was considered and consistent improvement in organisation and, most importantly, intensity to overturn the Welsh club.

"I thought we started the game pretty well, showed good intent and were pretty clinical off a few set phases," said captain Leo Cullen.

There was also a chasm in class between the prospective British & Irish Lions out-halfs, Leinster Jonathan Sexton - he was still nowhere near his best - outplaying a decidedly moderate Rhys Priestland.

Sexton's cross-field kick for Isa Nacewa to out-field George North in the 11th minute sandwiched by two penalties gave Leinster the 11-0 lead that ultimately proved to be the difference.

Coach Joe Schmidt will look for Leinster to stretch the first 40 into a full 80 when Clermont-Auvergne host the champions at Stade Marcel Michelin on the second Sunday in December.

The back-to-back, make-or-break encounters between these two European giants over the course of six days - Leinster take Clermont on at the Aviva Stadium on December 16th - look increasingly likely to sort out the identity of the top two in the Pool.

The French club were nothing short of merciless in absorbing everything Exeter Chiefs could throw at them at Sandy Park on Saturday before rebounding to stitch a power-packed, skill infused try-fest into a 46-12 warning to Leinster.

"We know a fair bit about Clermont following our recent meetings and they know all about us," said Schmidt.

"It's becoming such a regular game in Europe that we virtually pencil it in at the start of the season and being second in the Pool ahead of those back-to-back games is not our favourite position to be in.

"We will be going there chasing them rather than being in control of the Pool. Two years ago we went out there with nine points in the Pool to their six.

"So that meant after they won the game, we were both level on 10 points ahead of the return match back in Dublin. We're not in that same position this time.

"We have won two from two but I hope there is more to come from us - and there has to be more because we can't keep surviving these skinny margins."



Bated

Schmidt will wait with bated breath for the return of flanker Sean O'Brien and left wing Luke Fitzgerald, as well as fringe contenders in centre Eoin O'Malley and flanker Dominic Ryan.

Leinster had travel troubles before The Scarlets match, arriving later than planned for the game.

However, they faced few playing troubles during it. It was noticeable how Schmidt's men refused to be tempted into a high risk off-loading solution to their previous problems of inconsistency. They didn't force it.

Instead, they shelved the fancy playbook and kept their patterns nice and simple, limiting simple mistakes, keeping the ball away from The Scarlets strike runners.

It was in the forward exchanges and on the floor on the extremities of their defence that they completely overwhelmed the Welsh club, driving beyond the ball at ruck time to disturb and, often at times, destroy the home side's fluency.

"We performed really well and really love to put a really good performance together," said Schmidt.

"We did put a really good defensive performance together and to contain the sort of armoury The Scarlets can throw at you - we were delighted to keep them scoreless for so long.

"We were frustrated that we could not get the one extra score after going 14-0 up to give us a buffer for their heads to drop," continued Schmidt.



Superb

Just when The Scarlets threatened to spring into life through a superb individual try by centre Gareth Maule, the Leinster scrum took control of the game.

The front row of Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, just on for Sean Cronin, and Mike Ross cracked open The Scarlets scrum. Sexton split the posts to make it 17-10 in the 58th minute. It was back to the forward eight to steamroll another scrum - Heinke van der Merwe was in for Healy at this stage - for Sexton to make it four out of six from placed balls for a two-score lead (20-10) in the 73rd minute.

Leinster team manager Guy Easterby was a far more content man than his brother Simon, The Scarlets head coach: "It was difficult to take," said Simon.

"Ultimately, there was a lot of error count in our game and, when you play a team like Leinster, you have got to make sure your error count is low and you get a lot right in your game.

"In the first half, they won the battle of the breakdown definitely. So we hold our hands up there and we got that badly wrong," he conceded.


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