Monday 19 March 2018

Half measures do trick for Leinster

Schmidt hails 'best 40 minutes' as champions display class

A game of one half, then. Leinster had the bonus-point victory wrapped up at half-time and forgot to play in the second half. Glasgow bucked the trend by skipping the opening act, deigning only to appear effectively after the interval.

A curate's egg for all concerned then, but few of the 17,924 at the RDS would have minded as the unseemly early kick-off allowed them to sit down for the Sunday roast by mid-afternoon.

The five points were the primary boon and few could quibble with the ease with which they were secured, thanks largely to two tries from emerging star and latest Brian O'Driscoll stand-in, Eoin O'Malley, his brace book-ended by seven-pointers from Rob Kearney and Gordon D'Arcy.

"We got that bonus point, which is such a bonus as it can be important in competitive pools," said Leinster coach Joe Schmidt. "That's probably the best 40 minutes we've played this season since all the guys have been back together.

"We're where we wanted to be. Seven points. It means we'll have our nose in front no matter what happens today."

O'Malley's performance in particular would have pleased Schmidt, so too Sean Cronin's flawless afternoon from touch, Jamie Heaslip's definitive return to his barnstorming best and the all-round increase in physicality compared to last week's often numbing experience in Montpellier.

Less pleasing was the extended siesta in an appalling second-half display, when a raft of stellar substitutes had palpably little impact. But then, with a 25-point lead at half-time, it's difficult to retain a competitive edge with such a large swathe of trash time at your disposal.

"I think in the second half, the breakdown became a lot more muddled," said Schmidt. "It was messy and we didn't get the pace and continuity we wanted. There were a lot of our own errors in contact and (we) missed a few set-pieces. I thought they played well in the second half and they put us under good pressure."

It was Glasgow who made the opening incision into the scoreboard in only the third minute after a curious decision by Andrew Small to penalise Mike Ross after what seemed like an innocuous front-row implosion.


If Glasgow had hoped that Duncan Weir's 50-yard three-pointer would settle his side though, in fact it had the precisely opposite effect, arousing Leinser's pique sufficiently to see the European champions acquire the bonus point with the last play of the first-half.

From the restart, Glasgow's narrow defence was hopelessly exposed and the combined efforts of Peter Murchie and Colin Shaw were helpless as Jonathan Sexton's delicate cross-kick was offloaded by Isa Nacewa for the grateful Kearney to bundle over in the right corner.

With Leinster's ferocious physicality at the breakdown negating Glasgow's attempts to wrestle some semblance of supremacy on the floor, the Irish side's tempo and directness were simply too much for the visitors to handle.

An example of this arrived in the 16th minute when Small delivered another curious decision when John Barclay's quite legal attempts to set the ball up for his scrum-half were swept away by an avalanche of blue. Sexton's penalty made it 10-3.

Already, Glasgow were treading in quicksand, their lateral passing style easily absorbed by a blue wall of defence.

A brief glimmer of hope presented itself when sky-scraping lock Devin Toner was binned for interference at a ruck, from which Weir narrowed the gap to 10-6 in the 22nd minute.

Leinster were imperiously unruffled. O'Malley, O'Driscoll's latest substitute, hardened his case with the first of his scores, finishing neatly from close range as Heaslip turned on the power.

Eoin Reddan's quick tap had indicated Leinster's confidence that they could end this as a contest sooner rather than later.

Only Shaw's desperate paw prevented 17-6 becoming 24-6 just minutes later, as D'Arcy narrowly failed to exploit a glaring overlap.

Glasgow were on the ropes now, and Leinster's championship mentality sensed the weakness.

Just after the half-hour mark, Heaslip's direct running created a gaping hole, into which the impressive O'Malley burst at depth to take Sexton's pass for the third converted try.

Teams are normally supposed to gain a 10-point advantage when an opposition players is binned; the Scots' unwanted statistical quirk ensured that they had leaked 14 points instead.

The final three minutes of the half summed up the vast gulf between the sides.

Glasgow carried a dangerous looking maul just 10 metres short of the Leinster line but, when it sundered, they panicked and allowed Toner to steal. In the next breath, Glasgow were losing another battle of the breakdown.

With ominous inevitability, Leinster kicked to the corner, constructed a more meaningful maul; even when it broke down, it didn't affect their patience. D'Arcy ultimately ghosted in unchallenged to seal the bonus point.

From now, it was a question of how Sean Lineen's young Glasgow charges would respond to such a humbling opening act.

To their credit, they retained their composure and substantially altered their erstwhile redundant game-plan.

Playing more directly, and hence reducing the error count, Glasgow camped in Leinster territory and grew dominant in the scrum and on the floor. However, in the 13th successive minute in Irish territory, Heaslip's turnover lifted the siege.


It had said much for the opening half that Glasgow's best tackle was reserved for the referee, after Rob Harley accidentally crunched him at a ruck.

It rather left one wondering what may have transpired had Glasgow applied themselves with more fervour from the off.

Such a hypothesis was rendered academic by Leinster's enormous lead and they seemed content to endure a glorified defensive training drill for the rest of the afternoon.

Thoughts off the field turned to pints off the field rather than points on it, albeit the late consolation from Henry Pyrgos reminded us that Glasgow can still be a threat in this competition.

Pity they finished as they should have started, even if Leinster had the last word, with Shane Jennings' neat touch allowing Isaac Boss to run in for his first Heineken Cup try in blue colours.

LEINSTER -- R Kearney; I Nacewa, E O'Malley, G D'Arcy (F Carr 58), L Fitzgerald; J Sexton (I Madigan 62), E Reddan (I Boss 61); H Van Der Merwe (C Healy 48), S Cronin (R Strauss 61), M Ross (N White 57); L Cullen (capt), D Toner; K McLaughlin (R Ruddock 66), S O'Brien (S Jennings 54), J Heaslip.

GLASGOW WARRIORS -- S Hogg; T Seymour, P Murchie (T Nathan 67), G Morrison, C Shaw (F Aramburu 47); D Weir, C Cusiter (H Pyrgos 62); R Grant (J Welsh 66), P MacArthur (F Gillies 66), M Cusack (E Kalman 62); R Gray, A Kellock (Capt, T Ryder 54), R Harley, J Barclay (C Fusaro h-t), R Wilson.

Ref -- A Small (RFU).

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport