Hugo Keenan keeps himself in Lions frame as ruthless Leinster cut loose
Fullback grabs hat-trick of tries in impressive display as Connacht are overwhelmed
Leinster’s Hugo Keenan scores one of his three tries during the Guinness Pro 14 Rainbow Cup game against Connacht at the Sportsground. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
A “chaotic” start, but eight tries later Leinster departed the Sportsground having succeeded in applying some salve to their recent European wound.
Amid concern for new Lions’ player Jack Conan who was forced off with a HIA, Andrew Porter added his name to the impressive try tally, while fullback Hugo Keenan, despite his recent arrival on the international stage, continued to stake a claim for Lions’ selection with a hat-trick of tries.
And Leinster’s Leo Cullen believes there could be more of his players heading to South Africa with Warren Gatland’s Lions.
“Keenan has been excellent this season – the mainstay of the Irish team really after making his debut in the Autumn – so for a lot of our players who have played international rugby and missed out on selection, they just need to keep playing well.
“We’ve a game against Ulster and lots of guys can put their hand up,” Cullen says.
“It would be amazing to think that all 37 [Lions] players selected during the week will be the same 37 getting on the plane because there are so many games to be played between now and take-off, including one in Scotland against Japan, so everyone needs to be ready is the important message.”
On the back of two defeats, including their exit from the Champions Cup, Leinster had crushed any Connacht hopes of backing up their January victory at the RDS by half-time.
Andy Friend did not see that coming after his team had taken a promising 16-0 lead, but when Leinster bagged three tries in an eight-minute spell, he knew Connacht were on “skates”, having gone into the game believing it was a “real opportunity to be the first team in Connacht to win home and away”.
“The way we started was what we wanted to do, but compliments to Leinster, and that is why they are the champions. Their own self-belief and ability to fight out of that hole was incredible.
“We gave them access, and if we want to compete against the likes of Leinster, Munster and Ulster – the top three teams in the competition – we have to make sure we make it harder for them to get across the whitewash. When they got in the ‘A’ zone, the were really clinical.
“How do we fix that? We have to become more ruthless in that area, more physical, more clinical, be absolutely dogged when they are coming across the line, and that was the area where I felt they got the dominance. When they got in there, it was too easy to get across the paint.
“There is belief we can mix it, and we did for periods of the second half, but at the end of the day, we’ve had 50 points scored against us to our 21. It doesn’t look good, but I don’t think the scoreline is necessarily reflective of the total game. There were a lot of good things we did out there, but we hold our hands up, we’ve been touched up by 29 points and it’s not good enough.”
Connacht had opened with two early penalties struck by outhalf Conor Fitzgerald within six minutes, and it got even better when scrumhalf Caolan Blade intercepted to race through from the 22 for the first try. Fitzgerald’s conversion and a third penalty looked promising for Friend’s side.
But that was as good as it got as Connacht then conceded 33 unanswered points from five tries in the opening half with a Keenan brace, James Tracy from an unstoppable maul, and one each from Ross Molony, and Cian Kelleher helping Leinster carve out a 33-16 lead at the break.
The rout continued after the interval. Newly-selected Lion Andrew Porter added his name to the try tally from a driving maul, as did Scott Fardy, while in between Connacht’s Dave Heffernan was held up, and a Connacht five metre lineout went awry.
Despite Abraham Papali’i’s efforts to inject some go-forward ball, Connacht could only muster a 70th-minute try from Peter Sullivan as Leinster eased home to a 50-21 victory. Appropriately it was man of the match Keenan who bagged his hat-trick at the end.
Scoring sequence – 2 minutes: Ftizgerald pen 3-0; 5: Fitzgerald pen 6-0; 7: Blade try, Fitzgerald con 13-0; 13: Fitzgerald pen 16-0; 14: Keenan try, Byrne con 16-7; 18: Keenan try, Byrne con 16-14; 22: Tracy try 16-19; 28: Molony try, Byrne con 16-26; 38: Kelleher try, Byrne con 16-33. Half-time: 16-33. 45: Porter try, Byrne con 16-40; 52: Fardy try 16-45; 69:Sullivan try 21-45; 78:Keenan try 21-50.
CONNACHT: J Porch; P Sullivan, S O’Brien, T Daly, M Healy; C Fitzgerald, C Blade; D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham; N Murray, G Thornbury; E Masterson, C Oliver, J Butler (capt).
Replacements: O McNulty for Healy and A Papali’i for Butler (30 mins), C Prendergast for Oliver and S Arnold for Porch (both 55 mins), M Burke for Buckley and D Robertson-McCoy for Bealham (57 mins), K Marmion for Blade and J Murphy for Heffernan (both 64 mins).
LEINSTER: H Keenan; C Kelleher, G Ringrose, C Frawley, D Kearney; R Byrne, L McGrath (capt); P Dooley, J Tracy, A Porter; R Molony, S Fardy; J Murphy, S Penny, J Conan.
Replacements: R O’Loughlin for Frawley (36 mins), D Sheehan for Dooley, E Byrne for Tracey, T Furlong for Porter, J Larmour for Byrne (all 54 mins), R Osborne for McGrath and R Baird for Murphy (both 63 mins).
Referee: F Murphy (IRFU).