By Brendan O’Brien, Irish Examiner
Leinster 13 Connacht 0
Leo Cullen’s Leinster made it a festive season to remember by accounting for Connacht at a windswept and saturated RDS on New Year’s Day.
The win, following on from their defeat of Munster in Thomond Park last weekend, sees the province jump ahead of Connacht into second spot in the Guinness PRO12 table and is further proof that the issues that cost them their European ambitions in recent weeks may be easing.
For Connacht, it is a third straight defeat in the league since they shocked Munster in Limerick in late November though they will be furious at the decision to award Leinster the game’s only try midway through the second period.
Connacht won the toss and opted to face into the wind and incessant rain in the opening forty and it paid handsome dividends given they reached the warmth of the sheds at half-time with just a 3-0 deficit to make up on the restart.
Leinster, not surprisingly, owned the ball in the opening stanza, but a combination of the conditions, some individual errors and Connacht’s Trojan defensive effort kept them at bay with Jonathan Sexton’s 15th minute penalty all that the hosts had to show on the turn.
Connacht suffered in the scrum and at the lineout and on another day that could have been curtains in a half in which it took them 15 minutes to even reach the halfway line and another 18 to navigate a path to the Leinster 22.
And yet, they could well have left the field with the lead given winger Niyi Adeolokun almost bundled his way over the try line after Dave and Rob Kearney failed to stop him collecting a relieving grubber kick and approaching the Leinster line.
Luckily for Leinster, Dave Kearney recovered in time to make the saving tackle in the nick of time and the near miss looked all the more costly for the visitors as the third quarter wound on and they failed to threaten the Leinster line as their hosts had done theirs.
Worse still was the concession by Pat Lam’s side of the game’s first try on the hour with Dave Kearney’s break infield from the left wing leading to a countless number of phases in which the Leinster forwards hammered away at the Connacht line.
Josh van der Flier was the man whose hands held the ball when Leinster finally powered over, referee George Clancy’s slip at that very moment leaving the official with a lengthy TMO review before raising his hand and awarding the score.
It was a debatable call, at best, by the TMO Marshall Kilgore with no clear images showing the ball being grounded, and it had a profound impact on the game. Sexton’s conversion left it 10-0 and Connacht with a mountain to climb.
They went about it decently enough, by invading Leinster territory with real intent for virtually the first time, but they fell victim to the same errors and conditions that so hampered Leinster and the game was done after 75 minutes when Ian Madigan kicked a penalty to make it 13-0 to the hosts.
A good win for Leinster, a frustrating chance lost for Connacht.
Leinster: R Kearney; F McFadden, G Ringrose, B Te’o, D Kearney; J Sexton, E Reddan; J McGrath, R Strauss, M Moore; D Toner, M McCarthy; R Ruddock, J van der Flier, J Murphy. Replacements: S O’Brien for Murphy (52); J Tracy for Strauss (61); R Molony for McCarthy (68); P Dooley for McGrath and M Bent for Moore (both 71); I Madigan for Sexton (72); Z Kirchner for R Kearney and N McCarthy for Reddan (both 76).
Connacht: T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, B Aki, C Ronaldson, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; F Bealham, T McCartney, N White; A Browne, A Muldowney; J Muldoon, J Heenan, E Masterson. Replacements: R Ah You for White (10-15 and 54); S O’Brien for Heenan (53); U Dillan for Muldowney (62); R Loughney for Bealham, I Porter for Marmion and AJ MacGinty for Carty (all 65); D Heffernan for McCartney (70); R Parata for O’Halloran (76).
Referee: G Clancy (IRFU).