Leinster's young guns embrace the challenge
Leinster 17 Connacht 0: Connacht had a genuine opportunity here to send Leinster into crisis territory. Then again, having witnessed the unrelenting ferocity of this young Leinster pack, once they got a scent of blood in their nostrils, maybe the early exchanges were just a mirage.
The late withdrawal of Shane Jennings (ill) seemed to actually work in their favour.
It would have been an easy pep-talk for Jonno Gibbs to give a backrow with the combined age of 65: “Who’s going to step up and take the captain’s place?”
Dominic Ryan answered in the opening seconds, flinging his entire body into Johnny O’Connor with such impact that his 12-time capped opposite number knocked on. Marker laid, Rhys Ruddock, Jordi Murphy and Ben Marshall queued up to be the next carrier or next to land the next king hit.
It’s about a culture in Leinster. Has been for years now.
Back after injury, Ryan may yet become a Test standard number seven himself. Andrew Goodman was another constantly seeking contact in that inside centre channel. The Kiwi’s mini-rampage laid the groundwork for Ian Madigan’s individual try on 32 minutes.
When John Lacey awarded a penalty seven metres out, Madigan’s body language indicated his intention to kick the game’s opening points. But, noticing a few Connacht defenders momentarily avert their gaze, he tapped and charged for the line, twisting between a tangle of bodies. The TMO confirmed the grounding.
Up to that point, it had been Connacht’s night; their scrum had the hosts in serious bother with Nathan White popping Heinke van der Merwe’s head skywards on 13 minutes. Dan Parks missed the 42-metre effort despite a gale behind him.
Third choice he may be but Aaron Dundon’s lineout throwing was accurate while Devin Toner impressively called the plays with Leo Cullen rested.
Connacht came again but a reckless pass by Eoin Griffin, his third handling error in quick succession, saw the ball trickle into touch. They should have registered some points in those opening exchanges and Eric Elwood knew it.
“When you have that much possession, territory and you are in the ascendancy you’ve got to make it pay . . . We slipped off tackles in those last seven, eight minutes of the half.”
This young Leinster platoon began playing with genuine urgency and aggression. But on their first foray into the Connacht 22, after 28 minutes, Toner spilled Fergus McFadden’s offload.
Still, you knew they would come again. And again.
“The speed of their ball was so quick it gave them the opportunities,” Elwood conceded. “To be fair to them, they controlled the breakdown area. That was the key.”
Isaac Boss was the official man of the match but Kieran Marmion’s passing range and vision for a 20-year-old scrumhalf marks him out as a future international. Robbie Henshaw is another genuine Connacht find. The Marist College teenager outshone opposing fullback Andrew Conway who sustained a dead leg a minute into the second half which ended his night.
Connacht’s scrummaging kept them alive though Mike Ross replaced Mike Bent after 53 minutes. Off the next scrum, Boss scurried over the gainline and Lacey blew for a blue penalty which Madigan kicked to give them a two-score lead.
Connacht had a chance to make it 10-3 with 15 minutes remaining but Dan Parks elected to kick for touch. The plan back-fired badly. Having bombarded the Connacht line, Jack McGrath eventually powered over for only his second career try. Madigan converted and that was it. Leinster got what they deserved. So did Connacht.