Not since 2010 had Connacht beaten their interprovincial rivals, but last night it was not a case of scraping a victory but an emphatic performance that reaped its rewards. Five tries to nil demonstrates the authority the home side.
Leinster can point to their host of missing internationals — by the same token Connacht were missing at least three first-choice players — but in reality Connacht finally threw off the shackles and played not only with their traditional heart, but also with pace and skill.
Connacht, despite playing against the wind in the first half, simply cut loose. In young fullback Robbie Henshaw, Connacht found a new star. He played an influential part in the lead up to two tries.
The early impetus came from Leinster and, despite an early line-out steal, Connacht found themselves three points in arrear thanks to a soft penalty in front of the posts by out-half Ian Madiganbefore Connacht started to make their presence felt. Former Connacht winger Fionn Carr, a late replacement for Isa Nacewa, felt the full weight of Connacht’s urgency on more than one occasion, epitomised by a thumping tackle from Michael Swift who last evening became the first player in the Celtic League history to reach 150 games. And, although against the run of play, it was Connacht who struck for the first of their three try haul after 13 minutes, centre Dave McSharry bursting through at pace to score. Dan Parks added the extras.
Leinster hit back almost immediately when Connacht conceded a penalty which Madigan converted from the left touchline to keep the score ticking over.
Instead it was Connacht who wrested the initiative and held sway for the remainder of the half. It came from a turnover in the Connacht half and it finished with a try from left wing Fetu Vainikolo . Leinster’s woes continued when, having lost Gordon D’Arcy early in the contest, they also saw Rob Kearney exit with a back injury.
Connacht’s pack continued to win the breakdown battle, and when Henshaw robbed possession midfield, it set up Tiernan O’Halloranto cross for number three. Four minutes later Parks extended the lead to 22 — 6 with a penalty before the break.
Leinster brought on their Irish heavies soon after the restart. When Connacht were pinged for collapsing the subsequent scrum, Connacht responded with the introduction of their Irish squad members Brett Wilkinson and Ronan Loughney.
Astonishingly Leinster, despite four successive penalties, could not make headway and even Ica Nacewa was guilty of spilling ball. As the penalty count continued to rise against the home side, and Tiernan O’Halloran was binned, Leinster began to gain a foothold.
Dan Parks, in his first match for Connacht, ran the show behind the scrum, and the Connacht Clan terrace erupted with every kick he managed to kick deep into the Leinster half. Although limited to two penalties in the second half, the home side capitalised. George Naoupu epitomised the pack’s superior work ethic, and when Auva’a also saw yellow late in the half, it was Naoupu who was rewarded with a penalty from a driving maul to bag their first try-bonus point of this season’s league. Although Parks and Henshaw were short with drop goal efforts, Connacht were not finished. Two minutes from time, Leinster lost a line-out and Ronan Loughney pounced for a fifth try
Connacht scorers: Tries: McSharry, Vainikolo, O’Halloran, Naoupu, Loughney. Cons: Parks 2, Nikora. Pens: Parks.
CONNACHT: Henshaw, O’Halloran, Griffin, McSharry, Vainikolo, Parks, Marmion, Buckley, Flavin, White, Swift, McCarthy, McKeon, O’Connor, Naoupu.
Replacements: Fifita for McSharry (78), Nikora for Parks (78), Moore for Marmion (78), Wilkinson for Buckley (53), Harris-Wright for Flavin (57), Loughney for White (49), Gannon for McKeon (49), Faloon for O’Connor (53).
Leinster scorers: Pens: Madigan 2. Leinster: R. Kearney, McFadden, Macken, D’Arcy, Nacewa, Madigan, Cooney, van der Merwe, T. Sexton, Hagan, Roux, Denton, Marshall, Jennings, L. Auva’a.
Replacements: Reid for D’Arcy (10), L. McGrath for Cooney (74), Healy for van der Merwe (46), Cronin for T. Sexton (46), Ross for Hagan (46), Toner for Roux (13), Murphy for Jennings (60).
Ref: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland).
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