Tuesday 23 October 2018

Clinical Connacht crush abject Leinster to give John Muldoon the perfect send-off

Connacht 47 Leinster 10

28 April 2018; John Muldoon of Connacht following the Guinness PRO14 Round 21 match between Connacht and Leinster at the Sportsground in Galway. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
28 April 2018; John Muldoon of Connacht following the Guinness PRO14 Round 21 match between Connacht and Leinster at the Sportsground in Galway. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

John Muldoon enjoyed a fairytale farewell, kicking a conversion, the 47th point of a record inter-provincial win for his side, and a clean home sweep in the series for the season, in his 327th and final game for the province.

A fond goodbye, then and, mercifully for Muldoon and all present, one that didn't need to be delivered with any sense of meek embarrassment.

Leinster owned the rights to that emotion, hot on the heels of their Treviso humbling, a record caning in Galway serving to emphasise the vast gap between their star side and its shadow; none advanced their cause here.

Jordi Murphy was a late withdrawal after feeling 'tightness'; it may have been a knot in his stomach; certainly the rest of his colleagues were gripped by a violent form of travel sickness.

In every way, though, Leinster were a sideshow.

The last thing Connacht wanted was a damp squib on a dry day to spoil the party; as if designed by script, they chose the first-half to deliver their most clinical display of the campaign.

Leinster had just two touches in the first three minutes; first, when Tom Daly coughed up the kick-off and, second, when Ross Byrne kicked off himself after the concession of a try.

In between times, Connacht had benefited from Daly's blunder to retain the ball for multiple phases, before bursting through the middle when Shane Delahunt picked up and galloped away from an absent ruck pillar.

From the recycling close to the line, Connacht eventually spun the ball left to right, calmly through the hands – deftly by Tom Farrell in his case – before Niyi Adeolokun sprinted though Daly's despairing tackle.

Jack Carty's conversion launched the party in style; Muldoon's lineout steal released even more exultation for the sell-out crowd basking in the windless, sun-drenched atmosphere.

Leinster re-gathered their composure. That Muldoon was pinged for coming in from the side demonstrated that referee Andrew Brace would not be making allowances for the day that was in it.

Joey Carbery assumed the kicking responsibilities and banged over a penalty from inches beyond the 10-metre line to reduce the margin to 7-3 in the 14th minute.

Leinster succeeded in dimming the early manic pace of the game with some judicious territorial kicking; a scrum penalty gave Carbery a second scoreable chance but, from a wide angle on the right, he pulled his effort.

He quickly punted them into strong field position from the restart though, shoehorning the home side into the Bohermore end, his side then picking and jamming through the guts of the green shirts. A Connacht offside created a real opportunity from a lineout maul but they were undone by one of their former players, Gavin Thornbury manfully stemming the juggernaut, then snaffling a ball on the deck, as his side lifted the mini-siege.

A lost lineout during a rare sortie into Leinster territory seemed to undo the good work but, as James Lowe attempted to shift the ball in midfield, his impetuous pop pass was gobbled up by the advancing Tiernan O'Halloran, who completed the 40-metre run the line unmolested.

Suddenly it was 14-3 after 28 minutes and Leinster's apparent dominance was mocked by the sullen scoreboard.

Carbery hoiked his restart directly into touch as the crowd, regaining their spirits, sensed blood, the red stuff coursing through Finlay Bealham as he screwed Jack McGrath in the subsequent scrummage.

From the lineout possession on the 22, Leinster's tactic of standing off rucks was punished once more by the ever-alert Delahunt, who poached another ball and gambolled into vacant green grass; Kieran Marmion offered support and, despite the attentions of a trio of blue shirts, managed to career his body beneath the posts, confirmed by the TMO.

Dreamy stuff, really; 21-3 ahead with the kettle on the boil and all with the impression of not having to be too industrious for the total but the ultra-clinical edge, that had abandoned them all season, had to be admired.

That impression was confirmed when Leinster lined up a five-metre linoeut in the last play; they threw beyond blood sub Devin Toner and Thornbury intercepted the danger to secure his side's lead.

It couldn't last, could it? Of course it could. And how.

Less than two minutes after tea-time, Delahunt was central to his side's bonus point try, the pick of the quartet so far.

His fingerprints were all over it; from the steal deep in his own half, ripping the ball off Max Deegan, before trailing Tom Farrell's mazy run, ending up on the right-wing and popping a delicious off-load out the back door to Adeolokun, who did the rest.

It was 26-3 now and the Leinster shadow side were already retreating for the gate.

The home side opened them a bit wider in the 50th minute; Jack Carty's wonderfully disguised chip over the defence finding O'Halloran who passed to Marmion for another run-in, untouched.

Abject Leinster were now 33-3 as they emptied the bench, for all the world merely an exercise in deckchair arrangement.

Connacht's enthusiasm got the better of them but who could blame them? Barry Daly scorched the earth down the right wing like one of the hounds from trap six in a damage limitation exercise as Carty's cross-kick was over-egged a tad.

Bundee Aki added a sixth after some more sumptuous inter-play with ten minutes left, extending their record margin of victory to 40-10.

Then Caolin Blade effected a late dummy – aptly, faced by dummies in blue. He didn't have the last word though.

That was left to Muldoon, who held court in the centre circle after the final whistle, before making the final walk to the dressing-room, head held high, his final feeling the warmest glow of victory.

 

CONNACHT - T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, T Farrell, B Aki, M Healy; J Carty (C Ronaldson (64), K Marmion (C Blade 64); D Buckley (P McCabe 68), S Delahunt ( T McCartney 68), F Bealham (C Carey 61), G Thornbury, Q Roux (E Masterson 56), E McKeon, J Butler, J Muldoon (capt). .

LEINSTER - J Carbery; B Daly, T Daly (J Larmour 55), N Reid, J Lowe; R Byrne (A Byrne 70), N McCarthy (J Gibson-Park 52); J McGrath capt (C Healy 52), J Tracy (S Cronin 52), A Porter M Bent (53), R Molony, M Kearney (D Toner 35-40), M Deegan (C Doris (62), P Timmins, J Conan.

Ref - A Brace (IRFU)

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