Friday 13 December 2019

'Rush of blood' costs Connacht historic win

Leinster 21 Connacht 18

Max Deegan stretches to score his side’s first try despite the efforts of Connacht’s Niyi Adeolokun. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Max Deegan stretches to score his side’s first try despite the efforts of Connacht’s Niyi Adeolokun. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Winning in Dublin has never come easily to Connacht, so when Ultan Dillane ran over Rory O'Loughlin and surged towards the line during injury time, at the end of a pulsating interprovincial clash at the RDS, history beckoned.

They couldn't answer the call and so the 2002 victory in Donnybrook remains the western province's only away success over Leinster in the professional era and a defiant defensive effort from the home team kept it that way as they lasted five-and-a-half minutes of injury time, enduring 28 phases to drive their visitors back outside their 22 and finally force a penalty.

Max Deegan had the final say, getting over Conor Carey and on to the ball until Ben Whitehouse blew his whistle. The Welsh referee didn't spot the youngster's knee touching the ground, but as Dillane ruefully acknowledged: "We shouldn't leave it up to that.

"It should be on us to keep our shape. You should never rely on the ref to win a game," the second-row continued.


"It was more heart than brain in the end, we just went for it and lost shape for the last 10 or more phases even.

Leinster's Rob Kearney beats the tackle of Connacht's Conor Carey. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Leinster's Rob Kearney beats the tackle of Connacht's Conor Carey. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

"It just wasn't going to go our way with that, we didn't keep our composure and help each other out to shake that 'D'."

It was, coach Kieran Keane agreed, one that got away.

"Certainly, yeah. It certainly felt like that," the New Zealander said.

"We're all pretty disappointed we didn't get the result, but it was a very brave performance. A lot of character within the team was shown tonight again so we could construe it as one that got away, yeah.

Connacht's Bundee Aki is tackled by Leinster's Rory O’Loughlin. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Connacht's Bundee Aki is tackled by Leinster's Rory O’Loughlin. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

"I think the emotion took over of the event, the boys had complete control of aspects of that but we didn't really take the right options and to be honest we didn't really shape the defence well enough to give us our plan As and Bs.

"So, from my perspective, I think that the boys had a rush of blood and it took over which is a learning for us and we're learning every day."

It was a fitting finish to an entertaining game.

With James Lowe and Johnny Sexton combining well, Leinster played plenty of cracking attacking rugby but Connacht hung in there, dominating possession for long stretches and staying in the fight to the bitter end.

Matt Healy's try 11 minutes from time put them within range, but they would rue Jack Carty's missed conversion which would have made the drop-goal a runner.

The out-half also missed touch with a penalty during the final 10 minutes, compounding a similar earlier effort that led to Leinster's all-important second try. Luke McGrath's score looked to have settled it and Leo Cullen was frustrated to be watching what was, from his perspective, a needlessly stressful end-game.

"We were eight points in front with a strong breeze behind us in the second half and would have liked to have kicked on from there," he said.

"Credit to Connacht, we couldn't quite shake them off, but it was good spirit shown by the lads at the end.

"When we were eight points in front I'd rather we then went 15 points in front and got out of sight.

"These games are tight, provincial games. Conditions are poor, it's difficult to play. You arrive here today and the wind is blowing 45kmh.

"It's starting to lash rain even though it was forecast that it wasn't going to rain.

"I just had a feeling that it was going to be one of those really tight, difficult days today.

"We looked a little bit flat. It can be difficult this time of the year. Because we have made changes this week. Connacht have a lot more settled look about them and the way they played.

"But it was good to get away with the win, I think we got away with it. Four points and on we go to next week. At least we don't have a long time to wait."

Immediate statistics can sometimes be unreliable, but according to Opta Josh van der Flier accounted for 31 of Leinster's 167 completed tackles.

"He put a huge hit there towards the end on Ultan Dillane," Cullen said.

"Ultan Dillane caused a lot of trouble for us today, he was very strong in the contact, he's really good at fighting through and there was one outstanding hit in particular on our try-line where he drives him back five metres.

"So yeah, Josh has been a really good performer for us earlier in the season, before he got injured, then you go away and have surgery and work hard to get back.

"But it's going to take a couple of weeks to get back up and running, but he gets through an immense amount of work and he's been fantastic for us this season, Josh."

He was one of the main men to shine from an Ireland perspective, with Bundee Aki edging the battle with Garry Ringrose and Dillane impressing with a physical display.

Sean Cronin's throwing was a little wayward, but he was excellent around the park, while Sexton enjoyed his return to action and his combination with Lowe is very promising for Leinster.

The finale was a game within the game, but what had gone before was entertaining in its own right.

Sexton had nudged his side 6-3 in front before a brilliant Lowe offload created Max Deegan's try, but Finlay Bealham crashed over from close range on the stroke of half-time and Carty's conversion made it 13-11 to the visitors at the break.

The Ireland out-half restored Leinster's lead before Lowe and Cronin helped set up McGrath's score.

Healy hit back to create the opportunity for Connacht to end their long streak without a win in the capital, but despite having the ball in the right part of the pitch, they couldn't make it happen as Leinster held out.

LEINSTER - R Kearney; F McFadden, G Ringrose, N Reid (R O'Loughlin 62), J Lowe; J Sexton (capt), L McGrath (N McCarthy 73); P Dooley (E Byrne 51), S Cronin (B Byrne 65), A Porter (M Bent 51); R Molony, I Nagle (M Kearney 65); D Leavy (S Fardy 40), J van der Flier, M Deegan.

CONNACHT - T O'Halloran; C Kelleher (N Adeolokun 27), B Aki, T Farrell, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; D Coulson (P McCabe ), T McCartney (S Delahunt 61), F Bealham (C Carey 61); U Dillane, J Cannon; E Masterson, J Butler, J Muldoon (capt) (N Dawai 71).

REF - B Whitehouse (Wales).

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