Matt Healy oozes class, Leinster's passive defending and other talking points from Connacht's famous win
In the end, Connacht saved their brilliant best for last as they stayed true to the heads-up rugby that has endeared so many on the way to an unforgettable 20-10 win over Leinster in the Pro 12 final.
A triumph of skill over brawn
There was a looming, nagging feeling that Leinster’s rugby IQ, nous and considerable previous in such heightened confines would subdue and then derail the plucky upstarts.
And, in the early goings of the first half and a belated purple patch in the second, that’s precisely what transpired. Though, ultimately, it proved of little consequence.
Connacht simply out-thought - and when it was required - out-fought a frequently rudderless outfit.
The Westerners took contact on their terms, did not get embroiled in an ill-advised arm-wrestle and, to be frank, were often in a different class to Leinster.
All three tries – all of which came from the back three - were the result of the expansive brand of rugby they have espoused all season. Bravo.
Leinster at low ebb
Just one week ago Leinster produced their standout performance of the season in beating Ulster in the semi-final. In the RDS, inspired by Johnny Sexton, they were brutal, intense and accurate.
It felt like a watershed moment with all the composite parts clicking together in the perfect moment. As such, few would have been surprised had Leinster capped off a disjointed season with their fifth league title.
Instead, they reverted to the turgid, shapeless fare that has pock-marked Leo Cullen’s nascent tenure.
In stark contrast to their opponents, the once kings of Europe looked without identity or unity of purpose. The future looks uncertain.
Matt Healy oozes class…again
At this stage it would be decidedly trite to call Joe Schmidt a conservative selector. However, when it comes to choosing wings, the Kiwi can be downright mind-boggling.
The exclusion of Matt Healy and Craig Gilroy from the squad to tour South Africa was not mitigated by its predictability. They are, after all, the league’s top two try scorers, and in receipt of the acceleration and dynamic running Ireland sorely lack.
Healy, in the most impressive fashion, took it upon himself to break the game wide open after 13 relatively tentative minutes.
Retrieving a clearing kick, Healy slalomed through the Leinster cover - with the help of prudent block from John Muldoon- then took contact on his terms, allowing an efficient recycle.
Bundee Aki’s weighted pass found Tiernan O’Halloran who crossed over in style. Connacht were on their way.
Just before the hour, Healy, with the help of AJ McGinty, conjured a little more magic. McGinty dispatched a sumptuous grubber into space, and Healy was on hand to kill the game with his 10th try of the competition.
Leinster’s passive defending proves costly
Of all the mud slung Leinster’s way this season, there has rarely been a cause to question their defending. Leo Cullen’s side finished the regular season having conceded the least tries of any side in the league.
Yet in the opening 40 minutes they were unacceptably porous. In the face of Connacht’s exceptional handling, intelligent running and guile, Leinster looked positively beguiled and, in the process, missed 18 tackles.
O’Halloran’s opening touchdown was augmented by Niyi Adeolokun, who raced in following a beautifully triangulated wave of improvised passing.
Leinster, for all the pedigree and experience, looked out of their depth and really quite average.
Pat Lam project the benchmark for Irish rugby
It would be forgivable to attribute this incredible achievement to whimsical, sentimental notions. With Leicester City winning the Premier League, Connacht’s victory at Murrayfield sustains the plucky underdog narrative.
The fact is, that Connacht were crowned Pro 12 champions on the back of three years of careful planning, development and an unwavering group cohesion.
Lam has fostered a familial dynamic that has been wholly imbibed by all those beneath him. At Murrayfield, their unblinking commitment and wonderfully refined fundamental skill sets shone through. When Leinster rallied in the second half, they did not flinch.
Mr Connacht, skipper John Muldoon, was rightly awarded man of the match. They will have to forge ahead without a considerable list of departing stalwarts, most notably the Leinster bound Robbie Henshaw.
Ally Muldowney and AJ McGinty will be acutely missed, however, the foundations at the Sportsground and its surrounds are well-laid.