Monday 20 January 2020

Ferocious Leinster on course for third successive Pro14 title with victory over Connacht at the RDS

Leinster 54 Connacht 7

Leinster's Garry Ringrose scores his side's eighth try during the Guinness Pro14 Round 10 win over Connacht at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Leinster's Garry Ringrose scores his side's eighth try during the Guinness Pro14 Round 10 win over Connacht at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

A perfect ten for Leinster.

They did the same in 2001/02 when this Celtic League first started and that was enough to win the title then, too.

Few expect them not to repeat the feat and claim a hat-trick of titles.

The Guinness Pro14 champions' serene progress in a competition they appear to have almost out-grown continued as they romped to an expected victory against a dismal and depleted Connacht.

This was their highest-ever score against Connacht in the 102nd clash between the two provinces, beating the 53-8 result in Galway in the InterPro in October 1999.

If they didn’t sell beer in the RDS, you’d wonder how many might turn up when the result is already known by the time the teams are announced.

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Leinster's Max Deegan breaks through the tackle of Caolin Blade of Connacht during the Guinness PRO14 Round 10 match at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

The four-try bonus point was wrapped up by the 20-minute mark and Leinster scored a point a minute in an utterly dominant first-half display in which Connacht only entered Leinster territory with the restarts from the six home tries.

Max Deegan (2), Dave Kearney, Ciaran Frawley, Joe Tomane, Luke McGrath scored the six before the break; Garry Ringrose added a brace for himself after the break as Leinster compiled a record number of points in this fixture.

They never threatened their competition record of 70 but their 16th successive win in all competitions was arguably the easiest of the lot as Connacht finished the interpro festive season pointless.

James Ryan’s early departure, with a calf strain, was a minor worry but the discretion of the Leinster docs seemed to suggest that his withdrawal was only precautionary.

Leinster complete their extended playing window with two Champions Cup ties – against Lyon and Benetton – where similarly predictable wins will set them up for a home quarter-final in the spring.

Their next truly competitive contest may not arrive until early summer, at this astonishing rate.

Connacht have as much a chance of progressing in Europe as they had of winning here; their lack of depth is obvious but their lack of intensity and belief here was even less so. It has not been a good weekend for the fringe players of Munster or Connacht.

Leinster were ahead after just two minutes when Connacht decided, inexplicably, to opt for a subtle line-out throw to the front which ended up fooling all of their players but not James Ryan who intercepted the ball aimed for two.

Peter Dooley picked up the errant pill and soon served the visitors their deserved medicine, skittling a few defenders before off-loading to Max Deegan for his third try in a two games.

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Leinster's Dave Kearney is tackled by John Porch, left, Tiernan O'Halloran, centre, and Caolin Blade of Connacht during the Guinness PRO14 match at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

And so Ciaran Frawley began his procession of conversions; he would notch three of his first four as his side romped to a first-quarter bonus point.

Dave Kearney, whose recall to Andy Farrell’s first Irish squad confirmed his resurgence in form, swept in for Leinster’s second try in the 11th minute.

Leinster held the ball patiently close in front of the posts before Frawley almost seemed to instigate a set move as if from a scrum; avoiding a short inside runner to swing the ball behind for Garry Ringrose to sweep a looping ball to Kearney on the left wing; he deftly applied the finishing gloss.

Leinster’s pace was ferocious, their clear-outs brutish and precise; Connacht, who insisted on restarting long, were unable to get their hands on the ball and when they did they improbably gave it away.

Stephen Fitzgerald’s early effort was an example; a clinically precise boot... straight into the arms of Jordan Larmour; or Kyle Godwin, an aimless lump in the air leading to a knock-on.

It deserved penalty and received it with the third try in the 14th minute ; Kearney’s break was key before Frawley and Deegan combined for a give-and-go from the half-way line to allow the ten to score.

Joe Tomane, the returning Australian, had been an interested spectator during that move; he would score the side’s bonus point at the end of the first quarter.

Only the timing of the fifth match point had been in question; now the attention shifted to mere accountancy as Leinster ramped up the intensity, determined not to relax as they had done against Ulster before Christmas.

James Ryan was the only one allowed to ease off; understandably as he limped away from those celebrating the fourth try with what was later confirmed as a calf strain.

He still made a couple of tackles before being replaced by Ryan Baird, reminding us he is just as good on one leg as he is on two; Leinster won’t necessarily need him for Europe but Andy Farrell will for Scotland.

Leinster, in fairness, did release their vice-like grip but with Fitzgerald still punting restarts unerringly into opponents’ bread baskets, their ability to retain possession was hampered, not to mention losing a second line-out.

Normal service was soon resumed; Luke McGrath snaffled a typically poached try beloved of his brethren in the 34th minute before Deegan competed his second brace in three intrprovincials four minutes later.

Frawley converted both for an impressive return of five from six; his miss was the difficult second attempt out wide on the left.

Leinster fans had an agitated eight minute wait before cheering the first try of the second-half; Ringrose storming home after some wonderful work from Max Deegan, who ran a brilliant line before fending one tackle and side-stepping another.

He was now joined by Caelan Doris; their back-row spat of arguably more intrigue than the result of this game was ever going to be.

Connacht enjoyed some time in the opposition 22 for the first time all game near the hour mark but still couldn’t find any comfort; Leinster’s defensive steal on the whitewash engendering one of the biggest cheers from the mostly well-oiled crowd.

They would go from an attacking five metre scrum to defending one on their own line.

Frawley’s departure on the hour also earned more than a few plaudits; one might hope his injury will not be another of those which hampers his progress, particularly with the Byrne brothers (Harry came on this evening) continuing to make their mark.

Connacht got a modicum of consolation, enough to sustain them as far as the Red Cow roundabout perhaps, when Tom McCartney nabbed a consolation with ten minutes left.

Conor Fitzgerald’s serious looking injury – he was attended to by medics from both sides – rubbed salt in already gaping wounds. They may take some time to heal.

Leinster: J Larmour; F McFadden, G Ringrose, J Tomane, D Kearney (C Kelleher 51); C Frawley (H Byrne 60), L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 60; P Dooley (E Byrne 52), S Cronin (B Byrne 51), T Furlong (R Salanoa 64), R Molony, J Ryan (R Baird 24), R Ruddock capt, W Connors (C Doris HT), M Deegan.

Connacht: S Fitzgerald (T O’Halloran 24); N Adeolokun, K Godwin, T Daly, J Porch (D Horwitz 51); C Fitzgerald, C Blade capt (S Kerins 60); D Buckley (P McAllister 45), S Delahunt (T McCartney 45), D Robertson-McCoy (C Kenny 61), N Murray, G Thornbury (J Maksymiw 54), E Masterson (S Masterson 60), P Boyle, R Copeland.

Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU).

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