Young guns keep Leinster afloat
WHEN you throw a host of young players in at the deep end, you are hoping that they will swim rather than sink.
Leinster's lions -- or more to the point, their cubs, are a case in point. Denied the services of 22 players, who are either in New Zealand or on the treatment table, Joe Schmidt has put together a scratch side that has somehow found itself third in the Pro12 League, despite some early-season turbulence.
"We have our heads above water -- but are paddling frantically underneath," said Schmidt after Saturday's Jekyll and Hyde performance against Aironi. "We have some really young guys who needed a bit of a boost. But having won three games, they have created their own boost now and will be able to fight."
That is something they will need to do this Saturday when Connacht come to the RDS fully intent on reclaiming that third spot. "There is no chance they will give us anything easy," Schmidt conceded. "They will have a little bit of a chip on both shoulders and those shoulders will be warmed up early in the week to knock us over."
That was precisely what Aironi did for 40 minutes on Saturday, going into half-time seven points in front, courtesy of old foe from Munster, Nick Williams, who scored a try four minutes before the break.
Yet even though his side had underperformed, Schmidt refused to hit the panic button. "With a young team, you have to choose your words carefully," he said.
"So, I opted to just pass off the information and be measured in my words. Subsequently, the players were measured in their performance."
They certainly were. Four second-half tries followed, two (Rhys Ruddock's and Isa Nacewa's) coming off rehearsed moves from the base of the scrum, one from a Luke Fitzgerald intercept and a fourth from young Ian Madigan, who was introduced at half-time and made an immediate difference.
"Ian was able to play his natural game," said Schmidt. "It helped that the scrum got a little bit of dominance in the second half and subsequently we had a good stream of ball which allowed him to threaten. There are a couple of things he needs to work on, yet. Certainly in the 22, the long overhead passes are always a little bit nerve-jangling, but for a young guy, he is doing well."
One older guy, Cillian Willis, is also impressing in his audition for a lengthier contract than the three-month-deal he got at the start of the season. Schmidt is considering extending it, but will have to speak to the Leinster bean-counters first. In the meantime, he's happy to be counting on so many young players delivering precious points at this juncture.
LEINSTER -- I Nacewa; F Carr, E O'Malley, L Fitzgerald, D Kearney; N Reid (I Madigan h-t), C Willis; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, J Hagan, S Sykes ( D Browne 58), D Toner, C Ruddock (J Murphy 50), R Ruddock, L Auva'a.
Aironi -- R Trevisan; S Sinoti, R Quartaroli (D Giazzon 71), G Pizarro (R Pavan 59), G Venditti; T Tebaldi, T Keats (G Pavan 59); A De Marchi (M Aguero 59), R Santamaria, F Staibano (L Redolfini 67), J Furno, G Biagi (F Cazzola 78), J Sole, S Favaro (F Ferrarini 70), N Williams.
REF -- M Mitrea (Italy)