Leinster find form in time for crucial showdown with Wasps
Leinster 50 Castres 8
When you go on a turkey shoot and you bag your first bird with 2:50 on the clock, it's reasonable to expect that you'll be done and dusted before the temperature drops below zero.
Well for Leinster, on a cold, crisp night at a full RDS, the search for a winning bonus took less than 40 minutes. We're not sure exactly what the temperature was by that stage, but the home team were running hot enough to remind you of how they were when every team in Europe dreaded playing them.
So the target heading to the Ricoh on Saturday was achieved not just with minimum fuss, but with enough power and pace and accuracy - bar a short slump after that perfect start - to keep all concerned happy. It's a good time to be hitting form.
"Wasps will be very dangerous with the ball - you saw when they came to the RDS than when you're inaccurate they score tries," Matt O'Connor said of the task that awaits in England. "We'll have to manage the moments, but I think we showed we can score tries when we get it right - we're as dangerous as anyone."
Well they are when they're like this, and when they can bring players of impact into the equation. You can't see why O'Connor would want to change a lot in his 22 after this, which is not great news for Mike Ross who just a while ago was one of the first names on the teamsheet, with Gordon D'Arcy, another man now on the margins, not far behind him on the list of the disenfranchised.
At last the Leinster back three is also taking shape after long gaps without Fergus McFadden and Dave Kearney. "Ferg is as tough a bloke as I've coached," O'Connor said. "He gives you real steel on that edge, and Dave is getting back to some of the finishing that he showed last year. It's a good combination in the back three with Rob (Kearney) also there. They look very dangerous with ball in hand, which is really positive at this stage of the year.
Of course, it helped that Castres knew their role in the production. They were the assistants, and not even glamorous ones. And even when they managed a period of obstinacy in that opening period, they then undermined it with flanker Ibrahim Diarra being binned for lazy running, off a Leinster ruck, that abused the term.
It was 17-3 when that happened, after Dave Kearney and Marty Moore had provided the opening tries, and it was 24-3 when he came back.
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With 36 minutes on the clock, that pretty much confirmed that there was no upset coming. Sure enough, just before referee Marius Mitrea - O'Connor was delighted the Italian had been harder on cynical play than he had been here a few weeks ago when reffing Ulster - blew for half-time, Sean Cronin scuttled over at top speed to sort the bonus.
Naturally enough, the opposition had nothing to play for, but it was good to see Leinster prepared to play rugby for longer without putting boot to ball. And doing so accurately. They got off to an ideal start, taking the first scrum against the head. If that was a sickener for the French then so was most of what followed.
After a dodgy enough passing performance in Cardiff in the last round of the Pro 12, Eoin Reddan was on the money with everything, and he generated the perfect level of pace for the home team to get after Castres.
So too was Jimmy Gopperth very good - as indeed he had been last weekend. The Ian Madigan issue has probably meant that Gopperth never got the love he wanted from the Leinster fans, but by the time he leaves for Wasps next season he will have left a decent body of work behind.
As it happens Madigan was pretty good too, as was Rob Kearney at full back. Devin Toner got the man of the match award but the older Kearney was excellent in everything he did, and might have scored a contender for try of the season in the second half had he been a little less fatigued - or else blessed with an extra yard of pace. Either way, he did brilliantly to fetch a Daniel Kirkpatrick cross kick from the air, aimed at Romain Martial, and took off down the touchline only to be chased down in the French 22 by Marcel Garvey.
By then the musical chairs competition for man of the match was well underway. There was also a competition for best impact off the bench. Darragh Fanning may well have set a record for the fastest try for a replacement, just seconds after he came on for Rob Kearney, and Luke McGrath got over for his second try in successive games, as did Tadhg Furlong. McGrath may not be the biggest number nine on the circuit, but his basics are very good and he is developing all the time.
How far this Leinster team go this season on the back of this confidence boost will be interesting to record. They are in decent nick on the injury front, despite the Zane Kirchener set-back last week, and it will get better soon.
As the only Irish team left in the Champions Cup they will have an extra bit of pressure, and we won't have to wait long to see how they bear that load.
Scorers - Leinster: Kearney, Moore, Reddan, Cronin, Furlong, Fanning, McGrath try each; Madigan pen, 6 cons; Castres: Kockott try, pen
Leinster: R Kearney (D Fanning 68); F McFadden, L Fitzgerald, I Madigan, D Kearney; J Gopperth (G D'Arcy 63), E Reddan (L McGrath 58); M Bent (J Hagan 51), S Cronin (R Strauss 51), M Moore (T Furlong 51), D Toner, M McCarthy (K Douglas 63), J Conan, J Healsip (capt)(D Ryan 51), J Murphy
Castres: J Domora; R Martial, T Combezou, R Cabannes (capt)(R Tales 59), M Garvey (A Dupont 67); D Kirkpatrick (R Grosso 65), R Kockott; S Taumoepeau (P Fa'anunu 59), M-A Rallier (M Bonnelle 59), R Herrera (Y Montes 59), R Gray, C Samson, I Diarra (yc 27-37), J Beattie (B Desroches 50), J Bornman (P Faasale 50)
Referee: M Mitrea (Italy)
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