Friday 6 December 2019

Neil Francis: Leinster were dysfunctional, distracted and full of mistakes

Neil Francis

Neil Francis

Don't tell me about the labour just show me the baby. Yes, Leinster got their bonus point and they are still alive in this competition but my God what were they thinking?

This was a distracted, dysfunctional performance littered with imperfections, none more so than what took place off the park.

Leinster were good enough to bonus-point before half-time, but they were a little bit impatient and a little bit imprecise in the penultimate pass. If they had been clinical they could have got their main objective in the first half, regathered and refocused for what they required in the second half. Instead they were sloppy in defence and after 14 phases allowed Llanelli to sucker punch Leinster when Scott Williams cross-kicked to a wide-open Liam Williams.

Instead of being dead and buried, Llanelli were now back in the game and Leinster would rue the fact that the Welshmen were still making their tackles and more importantly were very competitive and even illegal at the breakdown. Mr Garces should have yellow-carded three or four Llanelli players for some of their crimes at the breakdown.

It was a difficult game to play. The fancy Dans would become desperate Dans because of their dependency on scoring tries, so a traditional game where Leinster would kick and press never came into existence.

Leinster, at one stage, had almost 90 per cent possession. This is something they are not used to and as they gorged on all this time in possession, they lost their sense of perspective as their ball-carriers were isolated.

Apart from Cian Healy and Jamie Heaslip, Leinster never really had enough quality getting on to the ball and that was a major problem and the side in the blue shirts really, really missed Sean O'Brien's influence. Rhys Ruddock is a bear of a boy, but for a guy with his physique and outward power he gets stopped easily, gets turned over and all too often gets put back on his arse, which happened with alarming regularity against a semi-committed Llanelli side.

There was sizzle but no steak in what was a less than meaty encounter. There was urgency but no patience in Leinster's efforts. Yes, there were waves of attacks on six or seven sorties near the Llanelli line, but the fundamentals were not always observed.

Once again Leinster were profligate at lineout time even though they managed to pick off two Llanelli throws in the first half. But indiscipline, yet again, and stupid penalties – a handicap that has needlessly and unfailingly appeared when Leinster are in control – frustratingly manifested themselves as tries looked on.

Luke Fitzgerald looked very sharp throughout and was the beneficiary of some surprisingly good hands from Devin Toner in the 32nd minute to get over. The emphasis for the remaining eight minutes was to push for a bonus try, which didn't come quickly enough.

Very early in the second half Heaslip was held up under the posts and, mercifully, it was too far to kick to try a lineout maul. Leinster seem unaware to the possibilities of what a scrum under the sticks presents. Heaslip picked and drove and flicked inside to Kearney who pirouetted out of a couple of half-hearted tackles to get the bonus point. They did not score again for 37 minutes.

A champions' quality – something Leinster have singularly failed to display this season – would have been to take this game by the scruff of the neck and squeeze the life out of Llanelli and put on a power performance that would extinguish all hope. Instead, Leinster foostered and faffed and lost their direction.

I'm sure considering what a bureaucracy Leinster have built up around their team, somebody would have been aware of what their best runner-up rivals' try counts would have been.

It remains to be seen whether Montpellier (19) have the cojones or the wherewithal to turn over Toulon, so the first runner's-up spot is theoretically still alive. Toulouse have nine tries, Leicester Tigers have 11, Munster have seven and the Saints have six. So with 37 minutes to play and with Munster, who I think will certainly nick one of the runners-up spots – most likely on tries scored – Leinster had a chance to ramp up their total by at least another three or four.

Whatever happens in Sandy Park next week, whether Leinster do indeed get a bonus point, the maximum amount of tries you could see them getting is four, which leaves them short.

What the hell was Joe Schmidt thinking? One of the reasons why Leinster lost their direction was because they cleared most of their bench. If you're chasing a game and you start introducing people like Tom Denton, Michael Bent and Aaron Dundon, all you are going to do is inject mediocrity and Leinster's forward efforts suffered.

Meanwhile, the gunslinger was sitting on the bench with his six shooter in his holster – it was very obvious that his introduction was required as Leinster began to plod.

It just hasn't been their season and that miracle that Joe Schmidt has been talking about might just not happen as a result of their flagrancy in the second half of yesterday's game.

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