Well that was a very frustrating evening. A 10-9 loss to Connacht in the Sportsground is no disgrace obviously but it was very disappointing nonetheless. It had all been going so well, getting into a 9-0 lead like that and at 9-3 up, when Madigan crossed over for his try, it looked like the team would do a professional job of winning at the Sportsground with minimal fuss. That would have been something to praise and fill the supporters with optimism for the future. The try was, correctly, ruled out by the TMO and that seemed to give the home side a fillip because, no matter how or where we tried to break them down after that, it was impossible.
The first score for Leinster came after only 3 mins with Connacht fullback Darragh Leader unable to control a high ball from Gopperth and giving the visitors a scrum on the hosts ’22. McGrath, Cronin and Ross proceeded to shunt back the Connacht front row to such an extent that Referee John Lacey was forced to give the penalty. After last week’s showing, Madigan was given the responsibility of kicking from the tee and he duly converted the penalty with little fuss. 0-3 Leinster after 3 mins.
Both sides missed difficult long range penalties before Leinster extended their lead. Connacht were extremely eager to show Matt O’Connor’s side that they were going to be in for a physical battle but, in the early going, their discipline was letting them down and Lacey was penalising them for it. Number 8 Eoin McKeon was pinged for being offside in the midfield. It was a needless penalty to give away as Leinster were just in the Connacht half and not really going anywhere. With the wind behind his back, Madigan shrugged off his earlier miss to land the kick from 46m out. 0-6 Leinster after 12 mins.
Almost straight away, Connacht’s indiscipline cost them another 3pts. Firstly, from a decent position inside the Leinster half they gave away a penalty for side entry and the visitors kicked down the line to gain a lineout around the home sides’ 40m line. A good take in the lineout was followed by decent carries from Heaslip and Ruddock but they earned a penalty from Flanker John Muldoon flying into a ruck off his feet leaving Lacey with very little option but to award the penalty. Madigan tapped over the penalty and, without having to do much work at all, Leinster had a 2 score lead. 0-9 Leinster after 16 mins.
Connacht woke up after this and started playing territory and, after Matt Healy had returned a Rob Kearney clearance and established possession in the Leinster half of the field, it was Leinster’s turn to give away a cheap penalty. McCarthy, perhaps eager to perform well in his old stomping ground creeped offside in the midfield and was correctly pinged for it by Lacey. À la Madigan earlier, Out Half Jack Carty shrugged off an earlier miss to land a crucial first score for Pat Lams side. 3-9 Leinster after 20 mins.
Muldoon was sin binned for persistent infringement at ruck time and that led to Leinster establishing a stranglehold on territory but despite their efforts, Madigan’s try was thwarted by Reddan’s forward pass and, right on half time, Toner was prevented from grounding the ball by Scrum Half Kieron Marmion. To the home side’s credit, their discipline improved hugely and there was some heroic defending from Centre Robbie Henshaw and from the pack in general. After Toner was held up, Leinster had a 5m scrum but not only did the Connacht 8 survive but they won a penalty when Ryan tried to move the ball with his hands in the scrum.
As we moved into the 2nd half it was clear that both defences were performing well and that it was going to take a moment of magic to separate the 2 sides. Unfortunately, from a Leinster perspective, it was Connacht’s Marmion who delivered. From a lineout on the Leinster 10m, Connacht set up a ruck in midfield. Leinster attempted to rush up to shut down the attack but Marmion spotted the hole that emerged between Healy and Madigan and showed a great turn of pace to race away. Despite the best efforts of Healy to ankle tap him, Marmion managed to evade him and dot the ball down just beside the posts. That left Carty with the simplest of tasks for the conversion and Connacht were in front for the first time in the match. 10-9 Connacht after 56 mins.
Try as the visitors did for the rest of the game they were unable to establish the territory or the control required to fashion an opportunity to snatch a win. The home side showed a great deal of composure in defence which was very impressive when compared to the first quarter of the game. Matt O’Connor’s critics often point to the side’s lack of invention in attack as a criticism of his reign and, on this showing, it’s a valid complaint. The result itself is no disaster and, based on this performance, Connacht will be a tough proposition for any team in the league at the Sportsground. It’s very important though that Leinster bounce back straight away. Cardiff in the RDS next Friday can’t come quickly enough.