Off-colour Leinster ride their luck

Scarlets 13 Leinster 20

Off-colour  Leinster ride their luck

With Clermont roaming the same pool with frightening intent, points are the be-all and end-all right now and the Leinster coach was happy to cut and run with four while acknowledging that his side can’t continue to be on the end of such “skinny margins” for much longer.

“It’s a massive relief, especially because we know the value of the two teams we have managed to get an

advantage on,” he said. “The Scarlets were a bit unlucky here. We would openly admit that, the way they came back into the game.”

Three years ago, Leinster left Parc y Scarlets with five accomplished points thanks to a clinical destruction of a similarly under-whelming home side and yet they just about scraped home here, finishing with 14 men after Ian Madigan was binned for stumbling into the airborne Liam Williams.

It marked the second weekend in a row where the European champions had huffed and puffed and, though they gained the all-important ‘W’ both times, they are, at present, a pale shadow of the side that claimed the last two titles with such certitude.

Not that it was all bad. Leinster ticked pretty much all of the boxes that any away team would hope for: they built up an early lead; slowed the pace of the game at every opportunity; kicked intelligently and started the second half just as solidly.

They could also look back with some pride on a sterling effort by a pack spearheaded by the excellent Jamie Heaslip and Mike Ross, one which turned ball over at the ruck with impunity. Schmidt was by no means ignoring the plus points.

There is also the fact that, having conceded 20 tries in six Rabo games, Leinster have now coughed up just the one in two European encounters — even if they have only managed a single try of their own in that same span.

“Defensively, I thought our defence was superb,” said Schmidt. “Possession we would have been down to 40% at best (it was 46%), territory as well in the first half, but I thought we never really looked like getting opened up apart from their one line break in the second half.

“From that perspective, really good progress defensively. We took a step forward at scrum time and the longer the game went the better the lineout functioned for us. The more continuity we get the better opportunity we will get to grow the game a bit more.”

It is that continuity which continues to escape them. As was the case against Exeter at the RDS, Leinster seemed to force the issue too much, with handling errors, poor decisions and indiscipline all handicapping their efforts.

Their one try, claimed in the opening exchanges, was Leinster at their old, accurate best: Jonathan Sexton pinging a perfect cross-field kick which allowed Isa Nacewa to jump above the isolated George North before touching down.

However, it was Sexton’s missed penalty — one of three kicks spurned on the day — towards the end of the third quarter, followed by an overcooked punt to touch and a missed tackle from Brian O’Driscoll, which allowed Gareth Maule respond in kind and re-open the negotiations.

The effect of such uncommon sights was to close the scores to 14-10 after Rhys Priestland’s conversion, when it could have been 17-3.

It injected new life into a game in which Leinster were coasting and it was only the home side’s greater shortcomings that prevented a notable home win.

Like Sexton, Priestland skewed three efforts wide of the posts and if Warren Gatland was watching he would have been left unimpressed by the performances of two men who are being talked up as the Lions’ starting 10 next summer.

That is eight months away. Of more immediate concern will be the fact that again the holders had to survive on their wits against a team that enjoyed a greater volume of ball. Clermont’s tour de force in Exeter hours later only amplified Leinster’s issues.

Even from this distance, the two December games against Les Jaunards carry the whiff of defining fixtures for the three-time champions. Is their current loss of form temporary or will their class continue to carry an air of permanency?

SCARLETS: L Williams; G North, G Maule, S Williams, A Fenby; R Priestland, T Knoyle; P John, M Rees, S Lee; G Earle, J Snyman; A Shingler, J Turnbull, R McCusker.

Replacements: T Vallejos for Earle (40); G Davies for Knoyle (53); K Owens for Rees (59); D Manu for Lee (59); J Edwards for Snyman (65); M Stoddart for Fenby (70).

LEINSTER: I Madigan; F McFadden, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, I Nacewa; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross; L Cullen, D Browne; K McLaughlin, S Jennings, J Heaslip.

Replacements: R Strauss for Cronin (56); D Toner for Browne (56); H Van der Merwe for Healy (63); I Boss for Reddan (74).

Referee: G Garner (Eng).

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