Connacht swashed and Leinster just buckled
Old foes Munster offer the perfect opportunity for the province to get their mojo working again
LITTLE DID I realise last week discussing isolation and exposure of space that the heavens would open in The Sportsground with a five-try feast. How big is that pitch? That the home team dominated is cause for celebration and possible concern. How do the IRFU view the result? How do the European champions, the driving force behind Northern Hemisphere rugby, view the result? And how do Eric Elwood and the Tribesmen view it?
The danger for Connacht is last week’s result could do more for Leinster than for themselves and last week would be nothing but a marvellous one-off.
Parking the obvious squad injuries (on both sides – David McSharry was the only Connacht back from the previous week) Connacht’s result was built on tangible core principles that can be replicated against any opposition. This, of course, does not guarantee positive results but it does increase the chances.
I was initially taken by the symbiotic nature of Leinster’s play as the phases evolved. Total confidence oozed where pods and lines were preparing for future events, resulting in a hum of activity off the ball, all controlled, all comfortable. But Connacht brought infinitely more to the table, which nullified Leinster. It started with Michael Swift hunting down and then smashing Fionn Carr as Connacht poured over the carcass. Leinster struggled physically and more worryingly, displayed an ebbing interest in the contest. Swift went on to make a monumental 22 tackles.
With Ulster in mind, Connacht didn’t limit their play to smashing Leinster; when on the ball, they consistently tested the Leinster tackle. Numerous turnovers favouring Connacht were treated with great ambition, organisation, testing weak shoulders and carrying in both hands as both young fullback Robbie Henshaw and winger Tiernan O’Halloran managed to create indecision in the Leinster defence.
The danger for Connacht is possibly over emphasising the influence of Dan Parks, who provided so much stability and guidance to his team. Yes he was important in spotting Leinster running out of the line and knew when to kick or hold but he is but a part of the team and not the team. I can’t wait for tonight!
Leinster have a golden opportunity tomorrow to get back that crucial physical edge they lacked terribly in Galway. As always it must come from the secondrow and blindside; as Swift has done for Connacht so now must the walking wounded in Leinster.
To see them concede two set-piece tries within minutes is extraordinary. The first, brilliantly scored by McSharry, was a shambles in the 10, 12 and 13 channel where the trinity was all bent out of shape with no aggressive line, inviting trouble.
Top marks to the Connacht scrum and to scrumhalf Kieran Marmion’s very flat pass to Parks, and indeed to McSharry’s line, but Leinster were at sea in defence, which was simply numbers on space. The second, although a yellow-card-man down, was also poor, with O’Halloran going over way out wide.
Turnovers apart, a worrying aspect was how Isa Nacewa conspicuously maintained his work ethic and professionalism even as the game ebbed away, with many of his team-mates struggling to keep up. His breaks from deep became one man shows, where the support of yore wasn’t there.
At the controls, Ian Madigan continues to intrigue; on 64 minutes he had a great chance to put Noel Reid away into a hole under the posts but his instinct was to search for a break and the chance was gone before firing a hopeful pass to Leo Auva’a, who dropped it. An opportunity missed.
They couldn’t have a better team to refocus on. Not because they are Munster (which is a help) but because Munster’s new methodology is crying out for a very aggressive in-your-face defensive line. As Munster continue to attack from their 22, severe pressure can be placed on their skills; offering Leinster a physical target.
This will suit Leinster especially as they are leaking tries. Best solution: a very aggressive attacking “d” from Leinster to achieve two things; to get physical and attack Munster in their own half.
Munsters new found width in attack makes them very vulnerable when turned over in possession. A weaker line has less chance of slowing down the turnover at the subsequent breakdown. Although playing below themselves, Leinster remain the best side for many reasons but one of them is their ability on turnover ball, which makes Munsters error count crucial. Leinster must find the balance between an aggressive defensive line and conceding offside penalties. Both Ronan O’Gara and Ian Keatley are lurking.
For Munster the visit is intriguing, not to mention the selection at 10, 12 and 13, but also at 6. Once again can their backrow add to their midfield under real testing conditions? Will Munster continue their evolving methodology and remain patient as the errors may evolve? I do have sympathy for tighthead Stephen Archers substitution, although under pressure last week at scrum time, he is learning and has a lot to offer around the pitch.
Finally as Ulster return in full from their mighty win in Cardiff with all the emotion of tonight’s home game I wonder how will Connacht approach the much stiffer challenge when the opposition aren’t Leinster and contain none of their former players?
PS: Limerick rugby great Diarmuid O’Malley and friends are doing a charity marathon in the Arctic in two weeks time check it out! www.polar-circle-marathon.com