Leinster are as cold as ice to crown a whitewash for the Irish
Premiership leaders Exeter put away with efficiency as Irish sides make their mark
Leinster’s Luke McGrath dives over for a try that was later disallowed against the Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Leinster completed an epic weekend for the Irish in Europe, a fourth win out of four for the provinces and their own third from three, to keep the English champions Exeter pointless with a down-and-dirty, sleeves-rolled-up 18-8 win at Sandy Park and so earn a six point buffer atop Pool Three in the Champions Cup.
That Exeter had to make 222 tackles to Leinster’s 94 said everything about the ruthless control they exerted for long stretches of this game, although they had to defiantly defend their line for two lengthy 20-plus phases themselves, before turning the screw with 32 and 44 phases attacks of their own.
The only blemish on Leinster’s night was that their scheduled 11pm flight out of Bristol Airport, along with others, was cancelled.
Given Exeter hadn’t lost at home in exactly a year and are the runaway leaders of the Premiership, it’s hard to think of a more professional and efficient away performance in Europe by Leinster for some time, although Leo Cullen would not go that far.
“Exeter is definitely a tough place to come. If you think back there has been some reasonably professional performances away from home. It’s important we get that set-piece, pack dominance. If you want to be successful in the tournament.”
“With the conditions, you could never be quite sure what they were going to be given the mixture of reports. The conditions were actually fairly good but managing away from home . . . you can’t give the ball away cheaply to Exeter. They are a team that are comfortable holding on to the ball for a very long period of time so we were able to deny them that. What are we at now? Half-time? It will be the same again against them next week.”
Cullen did not seem unduly concerned about the blow to the leg which led to Johnny Sexton having his right thigh heavily bandaged, and saw Isa Nacewa calmly assume the kicking duties. He did admit that Rhys Ruddock is a major doubt for Saturday’s rematch after being forced off with a hamstring injury.
With Montpellier back in the mix following their bonus point win away to Glasgow on Friday night, Cullen acknowledged that the Chiefs could provide an altogether different test at the Aviva Stadium.
“Definitely. Montpellier getting five points means they’ll be even more fired up to get another five points at home. Not that Glasgow will give it to them easy, I’d imagine, but we can’t do anything about that,” said Cullen.
“For us it is a short turnaround and we have to manage the group well over the course of the week so we give a good account of ourselves again. Exeter will be a different proposition. They’ll be a different beast.
“It’s always difficult for a team who have a lot of hype about them as well. I definitely think they’ll be a different beast next week.”
Ulster kept their hopes of qualification alive thanks to a disciplined 17-5 win away to Harlequins amid the blizzards at the Stoop, thanks to another try by the ever-dangerous Jacob Stockdale and four penalties from Man of the Match John Cooney. High-flying La Rochelle remain well clear in Pool 1 after a 49-29 thumping of Wasps, their third bonus-point win.
Outside-half Christian Lealifano said: “John [Cooney] really stepped up and controlled the game but our forwards were outstanding and they made sure we played in the right areas of the pitch. It was very cold and we had to change the way we had to play but we dug deep as it’s a tough place to come and win, and we will need to back it up next week at home.”
One of the inevitable consequences of these back-to-back meetings is that any residual bad blood carries into the re-match a week later. Certainly Matt O’Connor has upped the ante in advance of Sunday’s renewal of Leicester’s rivalry with Munster in the aftermath of the latter’s superb bonus point 38-10 win at Thomond Park on Saturday night. Coupled with Castres beating Racing, it leaves Munster atop an uber competitive Pool Four.
It was one thing for O’Connor to contend that Jerome Garces allowed Munster to play “cynical” rugby and were “killing the ball at every opportunity”, quite another to suggest that Andrew Conway was responsible for Telusa Veainu’s broken jaw, despite the Ireland winger seemingly suffering concussion in the accidental 45th minute collision between the two players.
Amongst a myriad of complaints about Garces’ decisions, O’Connor added: “Hopefully there is a reciprocal home game arrangement.”
Johann van Graan avoided responding to O’Connor’s accusations and said: “Look I never want to comment on the opposition, they played very well at stages tonight. We possibly took our opportunities a bit better that the opposition. I thought they brought it in terms of physicality; their kicking game was pretty good; they put us under pressure quite a few times and it was a massive battle at the breakdown.”
“I have been saying it the last few weeks every game has got a different character. We got ahead by a few points early on and that kind of changed the game, whereas it might turn out to be a totally different game next week.”
Connacht also cemented their place atop Pool Five in the European Challenge Cup with a fine, bonus point 38-31 win away to Brive, whom they host next Saturday afternoon.
Head coach Kieran Keane commented: “I think the whole team mentally lifted their game. I thought we were up for it. We had taken a bit of a ‘pizzling’ [whipping] from various sources, and I think it was a pretty emphatic answer actually. We needed it. We had lost a couple of tight ones, and had some tough calls along the way, but we didn’t bleat. I’m just pleased for the players.”