Only two sides have scored more tries than them in this season’s RaboDirect Pro12, but their last three games — the Heineken Cup dates with Ospreys and Castres and Saturday’s derby with Connacht — have delivered just one per game.
As Connacht coach Pat Lam noted afterwards, only one side actually claimed a five-pointer through what in football would be deemed ‘open play’ and that wasn’t the hosts, who needed a late penalty try to snatch victory.
New Leinster coach Matt O’Connor made no secret on arrival of his intention to seal the cracks in what had at times been a leaky defence. The improvements have been clear to see, but it remains to be seen whether the province can recapture it’s joie de vivre.
“It’s not about winning beautifully, it’s about doing enough to get a result,” said O’Connor, whose gruff demeanour was shared by Shane Jennings after what the flanker admitted had been a “bag of shit” of a game.
“You go into a game with a plan and you go behind on the scoreboard in tough conditions when you can’t get parity on the ball, it’s hard,” said the Australian.
“I would like to have seen the negativity sanctioned before the 65th minute.”
It was the yellow cards to Connacht’s Ronan Loughney and Kieron Marmion in the final 10 minutes that swung this grinder in Leinster’s favour as a trio of penalised scrums on Connacht’s line led to the decisive score.
Lam was left stewing over a penalty count that ended 19-8 against his men, but both sides were left scratching their heads at the seemingly arbitrary nature of the offences spotted at the breakdown.
It was certainly a harsh result on a Connacht side that led 13-9 at the interval thanks to Marmion’s opportunistic try off a messy Leinster scrum after a dozen minutes.
Yet, while the officiating played its part in stymieing Leinster, so too did Connacht’s defence, even if it was difficult to agree with O’Connor’s assertion that only one team — his — had attempted to play rugby.
Lam certainly didn’t share that opinion and pointed to a handful of chances his team created throughout the 80 minutes as evidence.
There has been little seen of Leinster’s trademark wraparound back moves this year although a similar, if more convoluted, version earned little if any ground on the few occasions it was unveiled over the weekend.
More than once, the mind turned to Sean O’Brien, who was pulled from the line-up due to what was described as a precautionary measure after he rolled an ankle, as his drive going forward was badly missed.
It is, of course, early days yet for a side coming to grips with a new coach, the loss of a number of key characters over the summer and the absence of more lead actors at the moment due to injury.
Not that Jennings would accept any of that in mitigation.
“No. Not at all. There is no difference between players coming and going. If you looked at last year or the year before I don’t know how many weeks we played with the same 15 or same 23 or whatever it might of been.
“It is no different this year. We’ve been doing our patterns, our set-piece, doing everything for a number of weeks now. Lads are dialled in. When you get your chance you got to take it. Lads aren’t playing well, some lads in spurts played well.”
The coming weeks, with a host of men seconded to Carton House, hardly seems to offer the best landscape for improvement in the attacking sense, although O’Connor played down the disruptive nature of the November period.
“It’s something I’ve been very accustomed to in previous environments. It’s up to those blokes who come into my office every Monday wanting to play stepping up, taking ownership of the shirt and be as good as they can.”
LEINSTER: R Kearney, F McFadden, L Fitzgerald, N Reid, D Kearney; I Madigan, E Reddan; J McGrath, S Cronin, M Bent; D Toner, Q Roux; K McLaughlin, S Jennings, J Heaslip.
Replacements: M McCarthy for Roux (46); M Moore for Bent (55); R Ruddock for McLaughlin (55); Z Kirchner for R Kearney (71); J Gopperth for Reid (71); I Boss for Reddan (71).
CONNACHT: G Duffy; T O’Halloran, R Henshaw, C Ronaldson, M Healy; D Parks, K Marmion; B Wilkinson, S Henry, R Ah You; M Swift, C Clarke; M Fifita, K Heenan, G Naoupu.
Replacements: D Heffernan for Henry (HT); A Muldowney for Swift (51); JP Cooney for Wilkinson (61); R Loughney for Ah You (61); A Browne for Fifita (63); R Ah You for Naoupu (72); P O’Donohue for Browne (75).
Referee: D Wilkinson (IRFU).