Thursday 21 November 2019

Ronan Kelleher stars as powerful Leinster destroy Connacht

Connacht 11 Leinster 42

Rónan Kelleher of Leinster is tackled by Eoghan Masterson of Connacht during the Guinness PRO14 Round 6 match at the Sportsground in Galway. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Rónan Kelleher of Leinster is tackled by Eoghan Masterson of Connacht during the Guinness PRO14 Round 6 match at the Sportsground in Galway. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

As inter-pro derby wins go, this was about as convincing as it gets.

Leinster were at their brilliant best and Connacht had no answer to the power of the visitor's pack as they stretched their lead at the top of Conference A.

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This demolition job ensured that Leinster maintained their 100pc winning start to the season, which now includes five from a possible six bonus points.

It's an ominous warning for the rest of the PRO14, particularly considering the calibre of players Leo Cullen still has to welcome back.

It was a victory that summed up Leinster's strength as a ruthless performance was delivered by a perfect blend of youth and experience.

Connacht's cause wasn't helped by suffering further injuries throughout what was a poor display in front of a sold-out Sportsground.

Robbie Henshaw was a late withdrawal due to illness, which denied the Athlone native a chance to play his home province for the first time since leaving Connacht three years ago.

It didn't knock Leinster off their stride however, as they offered up another reminder of why the champions are once again the team to beat this season.

They had the bonus wrapped up inside half an hour and added two more tries for good measure as the visitors demolished Connacht up-front.

The Westerners struggled to contain the front-row as the returning Cian Healy and Andrew Porter showed no signs of a World Cup hangover, alongside man-of-the-match Ronan Kelleher.

After the disappointment of Japan, Irish Rugby needs some fresh blood to break through and help lift the doom and gloom.

Right now, Kelleher is leading that charge as he once again delivered an outstanding performance that added further weight to the growing feeling that he is Ireland's next long-term hooker.

James Lowe of Leinster on the way to scoring his side's sixth try during the Guinness PRO14 match at the Sportsground in Galway. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

The 21-year old has a bit to go before that but he has thrived in the opening weeks of the season and six tries in five games is an impressive return for a player who is still finding his feet at this level.

Even if Sean Cronin is fit enough to return for next weekend's Champions Cup opener, it is difficult to see how Cullen can leave Kelleher out of the starting XV.

The former U-20 international was central to Leinster's opening try after seven minutes which came off the back of a clever power-play that involved each of the front-row.

Kelleher tore through a gap before brilliantly offloading to Healy and Porter did the rest from close range to cancel out Jack Carty's early penalty.

Ross Byrne who was also superb in scoring 17 points, bisected the posts with the touchline conversion and did so again from the opposite side six minutes later when Kelleher scored from a powerful rolling maul.

Leinster were purring and after Darragh Leader added a second Connacht penalty, Cullen's men turned down an easy three points, Kelleher crashed over again after another unstoppable maul.

Not to be outdone by scoring a brace, Porter got in on the act by pouncing from close range to wrap up the bonus point.

Byrne maintained his 100pc record from the tee and did so again on 33 minutes when he converted his own try for a remarkable 35-6 half-time lead.

Andy Friend must have read the riot act at the break because Connacht came out flying. They finally gave the home fans something to shout about as Stephen Fitzgerald brilliantly gathered Carty's low cross-field kick and finished well.

Carty added the extras to give his side a glimmer of hope of mounting a comeback but they were immediately up against it again when replacement Sean O'Brien injured himself just after coming on as he joined Finlay Bealham and Niyi Adeolokun on the casuality list.

To make matters worse for the hosts, Leinster wheeled Rob Kearney and Rhys Ruddock off the bench for the remaining 20 minutes.

James Lowe was having one of his quieter evenings until the winger intercepted Heffernan's pass before running clear from all of 70 metres to rub salt in the wounds.

Byrne slotted the easy conversion, but by that stage both teams had already turned their attention to the start of the Champions Cup next weekend.

Connacht: D Leader; N Adeolokun (K Godiwn 64), T Farrell, P Robb (B Aki 11-19, 63), S Fitzgerald; J Carty (K Godwin 17-29), C Blade (S Keirns 70): D Buckley (M Burke 63), T McCartney, F Bealham (D Robertson-McCoy 3); C Gallagher (S O'Brien 17-23), J Maksymiw (O'Brien 50) (D Heffernan 52); E Masterson (C Fainga'a 51), J Butler (capt), P Boyle.

Leinster: H Keenan (R Kearney 60); A Byrne, J O'Brien, J Tomane (C Frawley 70), J Lowe; R Byrne, L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 60); C Healy (E Byrne 51), R Kelleher (J Tracy 51), A Porter (M Bent 51); D Toner (R Molony 64), S Fardy (capt); J Murphy (Ruddock 60), W Connors (R Ruddock 26-38), M Deegan (Murphy 71).

Referee: S Gallagher (Ireland)

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