Leinster leave it late to plot a course past Connacht
The distance from Dublin to Galway doesn't change, it just feels that way if your trip home comes after a game you should have won.
Connacht have cornered the market on near misses, and this was another to add to the list. They played lots of good rugby, finished with 13 men, and went home with no more than a bonus point. In a hard, results-driven business they might feel bad but they didn't close the deal when they had their chances.
There is another side to the story. This one goes along the lines that they warped the laws out of shape to such an extent in depriving the home team of some comfort that they were the villains of the piece.
"It was brutal – the conditions make it hard," said the winning coach, Matt O'Connor. Clearly he wasn't talking about a near-perfect night for rugby in front of a crowd of 16,780. "It was just that the lack of sanctions for negativity make it harder," O'Connor continued.
Well Connacht had two men in the bin so clearly the issue for O'Connor was the amount of time it took the referee to act, for the away side weren't reduced to 13 until the last four minutes. Of those two cards, the first was for Ronan Loughney who wasn't long off the bench and had the misfortune to be up against a pack that had Marty Moore and Mike McCarthy on the tight head side rather than the starting eight which included Michael Bent, getting his first run of the season, and Quinn Roux.
That decision by referee David Wilkinson – who penalised the away team on a ratio of more than 2:1 – clearly put them in real trouble, and then Kieron Marmion was binned for hopping on Isaac Boss when the Leinster scrumhalf seemed to have the ball in his hands. At any rate it was a close call. As for Pat Lam's take on the claim that his team topped the negativity charts?
"Every coach has his opinion," he said. "But I think the neutrals would see that we were the only team to score a try (he's discounting the penalty try as something that is scored). We played some rugby but rugby is also about defence and against a team that scores a lot of tries we needed to get in their faces and we did that very well."
Indeed they did. For all their industry, especially in the first half, Leinster struggled hugely with the Connacht defence.
Worse still, it was away team who got off to a flyer with two Dan Parks' penalties inside eight minutes before Ian Madigan responded. If Conancht were to have any chance they needed that tonic and they looked comfortable everywhere – including the scrum.
The highlight of their half, and perhaps the game was Marmion's try when he pounced after Jamie Heaslip lost control of the ball at the back of a defensive five metre scrum. Two penalties from Madigan left Connacht leading only 13-9 at the break but they were good again in the third quarter.
The warning signs came when Parks hit the post with a handy shot after a lovely cross kick from the outhalf to Tiernan O'Halloran had set up the position, and then a few minutes later the forwards lost control of the ball just when they seemed sure to score.
That was greeted with huge relief by the home team, for whom Dave Kearney was man of the match in one quarter (another went for Connacht number eight George Naoupu) and they came back with venom. They looked a bit over confident when putting a penalty into the corner instead of over the bar.
"We had dominance and the way the game was going you had to get pay out of your dominance," O'Connor said. "I think that sequence led to the scrum pressure which led to us getting penalised but ultimately that changed the mentality of our blokes and their blokes. They got a couple of blokes in the sin bin, led to the penalty try and that wins you the game."
Well kind of. Anyway, it left Connacht with only a bonus. So it goes.
Scorers – Leinster: pen try; I Madigan 3 pens, con. Connacht: K Marmion try; D Parks 2 pens, con
Leinster: R Kearney (Z Kirchner 71); F McFadden, L Fitzgerald, N Reid, D Kearney; I Madigan (J Gopperth 71), E Reddan (I Boss 71); J McGrath, S Cronin (A Dundon 77), M Bent (M Moore 55), D Toner, Q Roux (M McCarthy 46), K McLaughlin (R Ruddock 550, J Heaslip (capt), S Jennings
Connacht: G Duffy; T O'Halloran, R Henshaw, C Ronaldson, M Healy; D Parks, K Marmion; B Wilkinson (JP Cooney 61), S Henry (D Heffernan ht), R Ah You (R Loughney 61), M Swift (capt)(A Muldowney 51), C Clarke, M Fifita (A Browne 63; P O'donohoe 76), G Naoupu (R Ah you 72), J Heenan
Referee: D Wilkinson (IRFU)