September 18, 2014
Well we asked for an improvement. I'm sure a 6 try drubbing of Scarlets counts. It was great to be back in the RDS and what a cracking day it was. Back on the terrace in the sun watching the lads run in the tries. It was as encouraging a performance as we could have gotten after the opening weekend, especially missing a good few internationals.
The usual September rotation meant that those internationals that were available last week were not available this week. Sometimes this can lead to disjointed performances as the line-up varies but there was no sign of that on Saturday. Jack McGrath, Toner, Jennings, Heaslip and Rob Kearney all came into the starting line-up adding a good deal of leadership, something Leinster seemed to lack in Glasgow. Scarlets for their part seemed to have rested their try scoring scrum half Gareth Davies as there was no mention of him on their injury list. Regan King was forced to withdraw with a hamstring injury and then in the pre-match warm-up pantomime villain Liam Williams had to be replaced after picking up a groin injury.
Scarlets started well though, going through a few phases in the Leinster half and won an early penalty that Rhys Priestland should have slotted without issue. Instead he sent the ball right and wide, by a margin. It was a very, very poor miss and the Welshman never really recovered. He's a confidence player and has proven before that he can be horribly inconsistent from one week to the next. This was not one of his good weeks. He did manage a good touch shortly after, but Scarlets were unable to make any real inroads. When Priestland attempted a clearing kick from inside their half minutes later he was charged down by Mike Ross. Leinster were able to gather the loose ball and Rob Kearney made good ground. A few phases and nice little flick on from Madigan later and Kearney was in the corner. Madigan, who was the designated placekicker on the day, slotted the conversion from the touchline.
After a very good start Leinster will be very disappointing with allowing Scarlets to get back into the game. Confusion in the middle of the park saw a pass go to deck and Scott Williams was able to hack it down field and get the 5 pointer. Macken showed really impressive pace for the footrace to the line, but he was always on the wrong side of Williams so was never going to get across him to prevent the try. Priestland missed the conversion so Leinster retained the lead. And if I'm honest that's the last memory I have of Priestland from the game. He faded out of the contest badly from there. Leinster's restart failed to go 10m in a period in the game I'm sure Jimmy will be annoyed at (it was his pass that led to the Scarlets try). Leinster were let-off the hook temporarily as Rhodri Williams was pinged for a crooked feed at the scrum. Of course then Boss proceeded to do the very same thing.
From here though it was really all Leinster. Tries from Rob Kearney and Ian Madigan pushed Leinster out to a 23 point lead and Leinster should have had the bonus point wrapped up by the half-time whistle. Unfortunately a great cover tackle from Gareth Owen knocked the ball from Cronin's grasp as he tried to ground the ball. It was obvious though during the break that Leinster were home and hosed. The 4th try just seemed a matter of time. Early in the second half Leinster got into the red zone and looked to utilise the driving maul. Scarlets were penalised for pulling it down and when Leinster went to the line again prop Phil John couldn't help himself. He got 10 minutes on the sideline for taking out the lifter in the line-out. In the ensuing passage of play Leinster bagged their bonus point try. They got a fifth then before Johns came back on.
At this stage both coaches were ringing in the changes and while Leinster threatened a few times their execution let them down. In a sloppy passage of play on the Scarlets line with 10 to go Furlong got Leinster's 6th. Snyman got in for a last minute consolation for Scarlets but it won't have been much of a consolation for the Welsh region. They were comprehensively beaten and the fact that the last minute try was the only try scoring opportunity they had created in the full 80 minutes says it all.
From a Leinster perspective it was a great response to the previous weeks display. It wasn't perfect, and if you were to be critical then you'd have to say that they should have nilled that Scarlets side, But it was a very encouraging performance none-the-less. Of particular note were the performances of Jack McGrath, Jamie Heaslip, Ian Madigan and the entire back three. Kirchner and Kearney linked up really well together while both were on and Darragh Fanning had his best outing yet in blue. Mick McGrath when he came on looked really up to the challenge of pro rugby too, injecting some real pace and endlessly looking for work. Even young Steve Crosbie showed some really good touches in the last quarter.
All of this has built us up nicely for the first inter-pro tomorrow evening against Connacht. The only change to the pack is the introduction of Rhys Ruddock, with Dominic Ryan shifting across to 7 and Shane Jennings dropping down to the bench. This probably strengthens Leinsters pack as Ruddock became a huge part of the Leinster side last season. In the back line the only change is Fergus McFadden who replaces the injured Zane Kirchner. I'm a huge fan of McFadden, but the loss of Kirchner does hurt our attacking game. Fergs physicality and workrate may well make up for that in what is going to be a tough encounter. Connacht haven't played too well thus far but have won both of their opening games. There is a real confidence and belief growing out west, built around a good group of young players. They're always up for the clashes against Leinster and they are probably as well prepared as ever for one. Leinster will need to be on their game in the Sportsground. However I think the squad selected should have too much for Connacht. Leinster by 6.