"A captain’s night", said Leinster coach Matt O’Connor of his number eight Jamie Heaslip after Sunday’s victory over Wasps.
A team shorn of Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy requires others to share the carrying load and Heaslip had a powerful game with 23 carries and 14 tackles, ably assisted by his back row colleagues Rhys Ruddock and Dominic Ryan who chipped in with 14 and 12 carries respectively.
Leinster’s 25-20 win at the RDS was an end-to-end affair with plenty of hard running. Both teams carried for 479 metres, beat 27 defenders and, on the debit side, had 27 missed tackles. Leinster’s 27 misses, however, came from just 136 attempts (Wasps had a massive 209) for an 80% tackle rate — simply not good enough at this level. Michael Bent’s solid performance in the scrum was let down somewhat by his three tackle misses that resulted in a Wasps line break apiece. When meeting the press after the game Heaslip said that Leinster had some improvement to make at the set piece. The lineout was certainly creaky; Sean Cronin had two crooked throws and one thrown clean over the top, remarkable given that his target had been the light tower that is Devin Toner.
Heaslip was happier with his team’s attitude at the breakdown, something about which he’d been visibly annoyed after their home defeat to Munster. Matt O’Connor will perhaps be disappointed that 47 rucks won in the opposition 22 didn’t lead to more points, but as Wasps proved one doesn’t need to win countless rucks to score. At the time of writing there is no published statistic of the acceleration shown by the quicksilver Christian Wade as he rounded Ian Madigan and Darragh Fanning; suffice to say that it was a try whose quality could be gauged by the number of audible gasps in the press box.
Munster’s 27-26 victory was extraordinary to watch. There were 15 missed Munster tackles and eight Sale line breaks in the first 40 minutes of play, with eight penalties conceded. That goes a long way to explain how 20 unanswered points get surrendered in just 15 first half minutes. CJ Stander’s 19 carries for 105 rampaging metres was a Man of the Match contribution to a famous comeback, but hooker Duncan Casey’s perfect seven from seven at the lineout and 13 tackles from 13 attempts were equally important.
Ulster’s losing visit to Welford Road saw them at one stage concede 22 unanswered Leicester points that ultimately buried Neil Doak’s side. Ulster’s lineout was a concern, coughing up six throws to Leicester of which at least two could certainly be laid at Rory Best’s door.
In Nick Williams’ 55 minutes on the field he carried the ball only 5 times, a surprisingly low total. His replacement Roger Wilson eclipsed that in just 25 minutes.
A home win for Leinster, an Ulster away bonus point and another famous Munster comeback. That’s not a bad start for the Irish, no matter what the competition might be called.
nAll playing stats courtesy of Opta.
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