Tireless Josh van der Flier inspires Leinster's last stand
Coach Kieran Keane praises effort, but admits Connacht let their emotions take over
Leinster’s James Lowe is tackled by Bundee Aki and Niyi Adeolokun of Connacht in their Guinness Pro14 clash at the RDS in Dublin on Monday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Leinster openside Josh van der Flier made 31 tackles and missed none, including one thumping effort on Connacht secondrow Ultan Dillane that provided a lightning rod for his side’s goalline defiance, a last stand that encompassed about 6½ minutes with the match clock in the red.
The home side survived – just. Connacht’s disappointment will be acute, not because they lost 21-18 but because victory was within touching distance. Coach Kieran Keane acknowledged as much in the aftermath when asked whether he felt it was a result that got away.
“It certainly felt like that. We’re all pretty disappointed we didn’t get the result, but it was a very brave performance; a lot of character shown. I think the emotion took over of the event. The boys had complete control of aspects of that but we didn’t really take the right options, and to be honest we didn’t really shape the defence well enough to give us our plan As and Bs.
“So, from my perspective I think that the boys had a rush of blood and it took over, which is a learning for us and we’re learning every day.”
Dillane offered a player’s perspective. “It was more heart than brain in the end, we just went for it and lost shape for the last 10 or more phases even.
“It just wasn’t going to go our way with that. We didn’t keep our composure and help each other out to shake that ‘D’.”
Connacht’s season has begun to gather momentum again both in Europe and domestic competition, and while this defeat will smart for a little while, Keane’s assertion that the team is showing more style and class in recent matches is a fair summation; so too his pride in the character shown.
Sean Cronin excelled in a man-of-the-match performance, but the accolade could easily have gone to Leinster wing James Lowe, outstanding once again and someone whom Keane knows from coaching him at the Chiefs. The Connacht coach admitted: “He’s a great fellah, James, he’d be welcome down the road in the west but we can’t afford him.
“I’ve known him since he was a nipper – he’s an extremely likeable character and he’ll do really well here.”
Three games into his Leinster career and Lowe is already a fan favourite. He adds value every time he touches the ball, his lines of running, offloading (six) and strength very difficult to counteract.
Leinster coach Leo Cullen said: “He is very, very good, strong in contact and lots of energy as well. He just has that little bit of an X-factor where he is able to keep that ball alive in contact very well. He creates opportunities off of the back of that. He is enjoying life in Dublin so far. It was his first outing in the RDS, so he’s making good progress.”
Late defensive effort
Cullen was happy with Leinster’s late defensive effort that managed to secure the victory, but was not happy with all aspects of the display.
“I just had a feeling that it was going to be one of those really, tight difficult days. We looked a little bit flat.
“Connacht have a lot more settled look about them and [that was reflected in] the way they played. But it was good to get away with the win; I think we got away with it. Four points and on we go.”
Dan Leavy’s back injury that forced his departure on the half-time whistle is not thought to be that serious. Luke McGrath passed his HIA and was about to return to the pitch when the game ended. Connacht wing Cian Kelleher didn’t pass his and was replaced by Niyi Adeolokun, while Rory O’Loughlin would have been forced to undergo one if there was a break in play in those final six minutes, after taking a clatter to the head in bravely trying to stop Dillane.
The interprovincial set-to continues at the weekend, Leinster hosting Ulster at the RDS while Connacht make the short trip to Limerick where Munster await.