Fans vote with their feet as Leinster dismantle Kings
First Pro14 match in South Africa attracts sparse attendance in Port Elizabeth
The Leinster players before the game at the Nelson Mandela stadium in Port Elizabeth. Photograph: Ryan Wilkisky/Inpho
Southern Kings 10 Leinster 31
The debate about the merits of the inclusion of the South African franchises in the newly minted Guinness Pro14 league will be reconstituted after this match played in front of a handful of spectators in the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium in Port Elizabeth.
There didn’t look to be more than a couple of hundred people in the stadium and on the evidence of the performance that the Southern Kings mustered it’s hard to blame those who stayed away. The general standard was awful at times.
Mitigation was offered for the Kings in playing their first couple of matches away from home but the optics on their home debut in the competition looked dreadful. The home side was a liability in possession for most of the match against opponents that only discovered some attacking cohesion in the second 40-minutes.
It is worrying for the Kings and the tournament that a Leinster team shorn of so many front-line players can produce a fitful performance, largely based on their post interval efforts and still romp to victory.
The Irish province won as they pleased in the end and could have tagged on a couple more tries but it won’t camouflage a display that only really got going after the interval.
Leinster relied heavily on individual performances, James Ryan, Rhys Ruddock, Luke McGrath, Jack Conan, Noel Reid and Andrew Porter conspicuous in their work but from the team collective there is much work to be done.
The consolation will come in that a young, inexperienced side, didn’t succumb to the distractions of the build-up and managed to squirrel away the five points but the standards will have to rise appreciably if they are to get past the Cheetahs next weekend.
Leinster had significant problems at the breakdown in the opening 40-minutes, the ball-carrier getting isolated and this was compounded by some poor clear-outs that allowed the Southern Kings to either poach possession or force penalties for not releasing.
It meant that the visitors lacked continuity and this prevented them from being able to build pressure. The slightly disjointed nature of their back play could be partially attributable to some new units within the team but some of the handling was nevertheless shoddy.
The Leinster coaching team will also be disappointed with some of the first-up tackling and against a better side than the Kings it might have been more costly; the visitors missed a whopping 18 in the first half.
Slipshod handling undermined the attacking gambits of the home side and despite dominating in terms of possession and position on the pitch they simply made too many errors.
They were also a little one dimensional, taking contact when there was space on the outside against a Leinster side that got a little narrow at times. The general standard of fare was poor for the most part.
A number of Leinster players were playing their first match of the season and it showed, particularly in the substandard rucking. When the visitors did secure possession, they frittered it away with some ropey passing and questionable decision-making.
They did score the only try of the half on nine minutes. It would have come slightly earlier if Joey Carbery had timed and directed his pass to Adam Byrne a little better but from the ruck Reid showed good strength and appreciation to force his way over. Ross Byrne added the conversion.
The Kings had taken the lead earlier when fullback Masixole Banda landed a penalty from 28 metres after just three minutes. The home side continued to dominate possession for the most part, Leinster reduced to some sporadic moments of clarity and execution but never enough to threaten adding to their points tally.
Ryan provided some nice offloads to augment his work at the lineout. Conan carried powerfully, captain Rhys Ruddock worked hard, while McGrath was superbly aggressive in the tackle and made a couple of nice breaks; but these were largely individual moments.
Two minutes after the restart Leinster showed what they are capable of when they upped their accuracy. Jordi Murphy won a turnover penalty at a ruck and from the lineout, a succession of Leinster players carried aggressively supplemented by precise clearing out.
Sean Cronin made a half-break in the shadow of the posts and then Rory O’Loughlin picked his way past some dreadful tackling to dot down; Ross Byrne could not improve upon the try with the conversion but at 12-3, the visitors had the early momentum they craved.
They claimed a third try within five minutes, Conan barging past an insipid tackle after some excellent work in the build-up by Andrew Porter. Byrne posted the conversion and did so again on 51-minutes, this time from the touchline as Leinster racked up a four-try bonus, when Carbery crossed in the corner.
Leinster might have had another try and a second for Carbery, following a Reid interception but Cian Healy was correctly pulled back for a knock on in the build-up.
What followed might end up on a bloopers reel as the Kings contrived not to score when on three separate occasions it looked as if they must; handling errors letting them down each time.
The game had become disjointed with the raft of replacements, the error-rate spiralling. Leinster crossed for a fifth try, Cathal Marsh, running a nice line on a wraparound and Dave Kearney finishing smartly in the corner, the visitors’ slickest passage of play of the match.
Scoring sequence - 3 mins: Banda penalty, 3-0; 8: Reid try, R Byrne conversion, 3-7. Halftime: 3-7. 42: O’Loughlin try, 3-12; 47: Conan try, R Byrne conversion, 3-19; 51: Carbery try, R Byrne conversion, 3-26; 71: Kearney try, 3-31; 75: Nel try, Coleman conversion, 10-31.
Southern Kings: M Banda; Y Penxe, B Klaasen, L Vulindlu, S Sithole; K Coleman, R van Rooyen; S Ferriera, M Willemse, L Pupouma, S Greeff, D van Schalkwyk, K Majola, V Sekekete, A Ntsila. Replacements: G Masimla for van Rooven 50 mins; M Dreyer for Pupuma 54 mins; B de Wee for Skekete 58 mins; J Nel for Vulindlu 58 mins; P Strauss for Ferreira 61 mins; O Zono for Mbanda 71 mins; S Mdaka for Majola 71 mins; S Coetzee for Willemse 74 mins.
Leinster: J Carbery; A Byrne, R O’Loughlin, N Reid, D Kearney; L McGrath, R Byrne; E Byrne, S Cronin, A Porter; R Molony, J Ryan; R Ruddock (capt), J Murphy, J Conan. Replacements: C Healy for E Byrne 54 mins; M Bent for Porter 54 mins; J van der Flier for Murphy 54 mins; C Marsh for R Byrne 58 mins; J Larmour for Carbery 58 mins; J Tracy for Cronin 54 mins; M Kearney for Ruddock 61 mins; N McCarthy for McGrath 68 mins.
Referee: B Whitehouse (WRU).