Wednesday 24 January 2018

Ryan try adds gloss for wasteful Leinster

Connacht 6 Leinster 18

Leinster's Devin Toner in action against Connacht's John Muldoon during a lineout at the Sportsground yesterday
Leinster's Devin Toner in action against Connacht's John Muldoon during a lineout at the Sportsground yesterday

BRENDAN FANNING at the Sportsground

You'll have to go a long way to find an experience as harrowing as this one must have been for Connacht last night.

Having stayed in the game on the back of their own selfless defence, and Leinster's reluctance to go for the kill when offered penalties close-in, they had one hand on the package that contained the losing bonus point only to see it pilfered.

It was the last play of the game, when Connacht should have been pulling the shutters down and settling for their lot -- they were 30 metres from their own line and without a prayer of scoring the try they needed to tie the game up -- when replacement Dominic Ryan latched onto a pass from Frank Murphy and raced over to score.

Much earlier in what was a one-sided contest played in good conditions before a crowd of 4,582, the fatigue in the Conancht defensive line was evident. Still they kept it together to keep Leinster out. And then that happened.

A setback like this will take Eric Elwood a while to sort out for the mental and physical toll will be huge. We await the tackle stats with interest. So not for the first time the story of Connacht was of last minute disaster -- of their own making. Maybe next time they are in this position they'll kick the ball 50 metres clear of the dog track, or wherever else they find themselves.

Joe Schmidt being the nice bloke that he is will feel for the losing team but then he will turn his attention to what his own lot were like. With two minutes left his heart must have skipped a beat when Sean Cronin chipped and chased down the wing. When Cronin gets the ball things happen, and most of them are good. Had it finished in a try Leinster would have been basket cases such had been their dominance of possession.

They ran through the phases and without creating too many clean breaks, and their set piece was good enough to sustain the trend. Their creative lineout in particular kept Connacht guessing all night where the ball was going to go next and at what height. The issue was what happened when they got in close. Twice Sexton nailed tricky enough kicks in the second half from penalties awarded five metres out. Both times Connacht were gasping and you expected Leinster to take them through another set-piece.

Instead they went all conservative and took three instead of seven on each occasion. You could almost feel the relief in the Connacht camp when Sexton pointed towards the sticks. The first of those took them 8-3 clear, on 49 minutes, and the second made it 11-6 just after the hour, Ian Keatley had interrupted the flow with a Connacht penalty.

On the scoreboard they didn't have much to build on for they had turned over just 5-3 ahead at the break despite owning the ball into the breeze for most of the first period. Their try had come from man of the match Isaac Boss. His duel with Eoin Reddan has been one of the more interesting aspects of this Leinster squad and he had a great game here.

He carved through a hole at the tail of the Connacht lineout after 13 minutes and did brilliantly to set up Isa Nacewa who stepped inside the covering Darragh Fanning to score. At that stage you felt there was a lot more to come from the away side but despite all their ball they couldn't break a well organised and willing defence.

You thought then that if they sickened that defence with those close-in penalties in the second half it would have been less willing and more disorganised thereafter. Connacht should actually have turned over in the lead after Keatley cut the deficit to 5-3, and then missed a handy enough shot at the tail end of the period.

There was no way that Connacht could buck the trend in the second half. They will be able to live with falling short on the goal of three home wins in a row over this opposition. Failing to take anything from the game will be a whole bigger issue.

Scorers -- Leinster: I Nacewa, D Ryan try each; J Sexton 2 pens, con; Connacht: I Keatley 2 pens.

Connacht: G Duffy; D Fanning (T Nathan 69), N Ta'auso, K Matthews, F Carr; I Keatley (M Niikora 59), F Murphy; B Wilkinson, S Cronin, J Hagan, M Swift, M McCarthy (B upton 77),. J O'Connor (E Taylor 69), J Muldoon, R Ofisa

Leinster: R Kearney (G Darcy ht); S Horgan, E O'Malley, F McFadden, I Nacewa; J Sexton, I Boss (E Reddan 64); C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross (S Shawe 66), L Cullen (N Hines 58), D Toner, S O'Brien, J Heaslip (D Ryan 69), S Jennings

Referee: G Clancy (IRFU)

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