Wednesday 21 March 2018

We knew there'd be no glamour or glitz -- O'Connor

Connacht 8 Leinster 16

Connacht’s Mick Kearney attempts to get to grips with Leinster’s Ian Madigan SPORTSFILE
Connacht’s Mick Kearney attempts to get to grips with Leinster’s Ian Madigan SPORTSFILE
David Kelly

David Kelly

Ugly victory sets up Blues for Castres test

Connacht started Saturday night at the bottom and ended it there. In between, though, just like the live eagle mascot that was momentarily set free before the kick-off, Pat Lam's lambs soared gloriously.

The grim reality is that they remain rooted to the foot of the Pro12, the only available yardstick to measure success. If only there were a value to delineate intent and ambition.

When these are done a learnin', they're going to know an awful lot. There were heaps of lessons available here -- from knowing that you cannot stop playing rugby after half-time to relying on officialdom to bail you out when all else fails.

For their part, Leinster, of whom one expected a performance to scale heights of grandeur, bumped along the basement level in terms of the performance levels and intensity that should have been expected from lavishly paid and experienced operators.

That they pulled this one out of the fire in the final throes only served to further highlight the tactical ineptitude and individual laxity that had accompanied much of their evening's work.

But, as Connacht know to their cost, the result is king. Four points pushed Leinster into second in the Pro12 and hinted that a mirror image of this uninventive, if ultimately gritty, success would do nicely in Castres next weekend as the Heineken Cup hovers into view.

"You'd like to look at all the glitz and glamour of coming here and playing the style of rugby you like to play," said O'Connor. "But talking to people who've been involved in Leinster for a long time, it never happens in Galway.

"We were realistic in relation to what we had to do to get a result. It's all about the four points, it's all about getting the result this weekend and next."

Nevertheless, given the vast disparity in class and experience between the sides, Leinster's ultra-conservative approach in the first half, deservedly undone by Fionn Carr's classy team try to thrill 7,210 westerners, smacked of either indifference or indecision.

Jordi Murphy hinted at the latter when remarking that his side needed to hold on to the ball more in the second half, although O'Connor seemed to allude that he was not hugely taken aback by the surfeit of kicking as his side trailed 8-6 at the break.

He was concerned by the quality of it though and it was no coincidence that the change of halves helped steer Leinster home, with Isaac Boss box-kicking better and Jimmy Gopperth, bar one error, controlling expertly, nailing the three-pointers that ultimately sealed the deal, as well as sliding through to create his side's only try.

"We kicked poorly in the first half," conceded O'Connor. "We didn't kick it out when we had the luxury of the '22'.

"And when we kicked contestables, they weren't contestable and we invited them back into the game which was disappointing. By and large, we fixed that in the second half. We looked after the ball. We played in the right areas."

If we know our coaching lingo, this may mean bad news for Ian Madigan and Eoin Reddan when the team to face Castres is announced this week.

It was perhaps inevitable that Leinster would belatedly emerge with the win, but the tortuous manner in which they did so can't have thrilled many neutral hearts -- nor, perhaps, those of their supporters.

After being so vivacious and buoyant in the opening half, with debutants Jack Carty and Darragh Leader relishing the occasion, the fact that the hosts wilted so dramatically invited a response. Connacht, who were one from five in the place-kicking department themselves, dropped their discipline, lost their attacking shape and yet again failed to score in a second half of rugby.


True, they weren't helped by George Clancy's baffling clemency towards Jamie Heaslip's shoulder charge, then the player's knock-on at the base of a scrum before winning a vital three-pointer, not to mention the latest TMO mist surrounding the science of the forward pass. That's a whole pile of regret right there. Connacht added to the list themselves, though.

"Obviously some of the calls were disappointing, but our focus is what we can control and despite those calls we didn't look after the ball and we couldn't get out of our half," reflected Lam.

"Some of our kicking! Jimmy Gopperth came on and showed how to kick it down there. If we don't bring our shape and how we train then we are an average team and we are easy to defend."

Dan Parks, replacing eager debutant Carty, should have secured the three points from Heaslip's barge but he missed; the Leinster captain then won a penalty that edged his side in front before two carries from him were crucial in Gordon D'Arcy's winning try.

The former Ireland captain may have been a tad too prominent for the home faithful at times -- they roundly cat-called his every movement on Saturday, at one stage lampooning his contract talks -- but his ongoing importance to Leinster cannot be overstated, particularly in Sean O'Brien's enforced absence.

"He carried really well in those close channels," said O'Connor of one of the few positive displays in a side featuring an almost anonymous Brian O'Driscoll. "It's something we're going to have to look at with Sean O'Brien gone. He was big in those channels and got us good forward momentum."

As for O'Driscoll, O'Connor explained his limited contribution was "a little to do with their intensity. They came off the line, they were very good defensively.

"Brian was good for us defensively, he controlled that edge for us really well. But we didn't get that many opportunities with the ball and that limited his impact in attack."

That was the story of Leinster's night. As they eye Castres, O'Connor remains wonderfully detached, eyeing the numbers rather than the pictures.

"The thinking was to get a good week's training and a good hit-out to set us up for next weekend," he said, as if overseeing a training run. "It's about galvanising that this week and making sure we go over there and get the job done."

Few of his supporters could quibble with that bottom line.

Leinster -- R Kearney; Z Kirchner, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, D Kearney; I Madigan (J Gopperth 54), E Reddan (I Boss 54); J McGrath (J O'Connell 76), S Cronin (A Dundon 70), M Moore (M Ross 47), D Toner, T Denton (M McCarthy h-t), R Ruddock (D Ryan 54), J Murphy, J Heaslip (capt).

Connacht -- D Leader (T O'Halloran 67); F Carr, R Henshaw, E Griffin, M Healy; J Carty (D Parks 60), K Marmion (P O'Donohoe 71); B Wilkinson (D Buckley 57), J Harris-Wright (D Heffernan 74), N White (R Ah You 43), M Kearney (M Swift 70), C Clarke (capt), A Browne, J Muldoon, E McKeon (G Naupou 76)

Ref -- G Clancy (IRFU)

Irish Independent

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