Connors puts up his hand as more records fall for Leinster

Leinster 36 Cheetahs 12

Leading way: Leinster’s Luke McGrath with Will Connors in support during their PRO14 victory over Cheetahs at the RDS. Photo: Sportsfile

Brendan Fanning

Whatever The Gnoll has to throw at Leinster on Friday night against the Ospreys, it can hardly be worse than conditions in the RDS against the Cheetahs.

Though your sympathy was more for the visitors, for whom these conditions - driving wind and incessant rain - were utterly alien, Ruan Pienaar at least could have warned them. His seven seasons with Ulster gave him lots of exposure to the RDS. He must hate the place by now.

Leinster's Will Connors is tackled by Cheetahs' Chris Massyn (left) and Jasper Wiese. Photo: Sportsfile

This result means Leinster are on their longest-ever winning streak - currently at 22, including this season's friendly programme, and stretching back to May last year with the win over Munster in the Pro 14 semi-final.

For all involved it was a challenge, but if you're on the periphery of the Ireland side as Will Connors is, then challenge represents opportunity.

Two tries in Leinster's five-try performance reflected the flanker's current form. How would he feel if injury to Josh van der Flier might open the door for him?

"I've been working hard at training and I've been drilling myself into match scenarios. I'd love to get out there and I feel like I'd be ready for it. I suppose you always have to be ready to be called on.

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"There are a few of us there that have been in the background drilling ourselves, like Jack O'Donoghue.

"We're working hard behind the scenes. We're ready to go whenever."

The coach was pretty happy with the way Connors was able to make an impact in conditions where footwork was a steep curve.

"Unbelievable, his ability to hit through the contact," Leo Cullen said.

"He does a huge amount of work with Hugh Hogan - you can see how that pays off in the games.

"Some of the back-rowers - some of the work that they do in that contact area, even Caelan (Doris), Max (Deegan), guys who have been involved in Irish camp, it's important.

"He has benefitted from that (work). Josh van der Flier is another one. It's a competitive spot. I think they can see that Jack (Conan) and Dan Leavy are making decent progress as well in the background. That window is getting tighter for the challenges that lie ahead."

Connors was part of a Leinster pack that found life a bit harder when the Cheetahs cleared the bench in the second half - which they started 22-0 down.

Which is not to say the home side were not dominant for much of the game against a side struggling to find warmth. It helped Leinster that Luke McGrath never let up. Currently outside the match-day squad for Ireland he played like a man mad keen to change that picture.

"Even at the start of the second half Lukey makes that break, takes the line on himself - he is that threat," Cullen said of his scrum-half. "Overall how he manages that close scenario, through that pick-and-go game you need in this wet weather rugby, you know, when to play out of some of those drives as well.

"It's very easy to go that yard too far in some of those drives. Suddenly, you get held up when you should have played the ball out of it earlier. I thought that balance was good and Lukey managed the game well with Ciarán (Frawley)."

Leinster got the balance right between grunt and giving the ball some air, so the bonus point was always going to be sorted well before the finish. Unlike the Cheetahs they have more players operating at an international level.

"It's nice to be in and around that," Connors said of his experience as the Ireland apprentice. "But, you don't want to drift too far away from here. You want to still be playing games for Leinster."

Leinster - R Kearney; F McFadden, J O'Brien, J Tomane, D Kearney (R Kelleher 60; C Kelleher 70); C Frawley (H Byrne 64), L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 64); P Dooley (M Mlne 64), R Kelleher (S Cronin 52; yc 60-70), M Bent (R Salanoa 64), R Molony, S Fardy (capt), (R Baird 52), R Ruddock (S Penny 70), M Deegan, W Connors.

Cheetahs - R Smith; C Blommetjies, W Small-Smith, BJ van Rensburg, R Maxwane (B Venter 32-39); T Schoeman, R Pienaar (capt); C Marais (yc 29-39; B Venter 47), J Dweba (W Arnoldi 47), J Coetzee (L de Bruin 47), W Steenkamp, JP du Preez (A Davies 68), C Massyn, J Wiese, J Pokemola.

Ref - B Whitehouse (Wales).