HAVING scored four tries last week in Parc Y Scarlets and seven the last time Nigel Davies’ side visited Dublin, there must be a temptation among Leinster’s supporters to believe that this Saturday’s fixture against the same opposition is a done deal.
But not so fast.
Claiming two wins in these December back-to-back European affairs has been notoriously difficult down the years and it isn’t so long ago since the Welsh side racked up over 50 points on a Magners League visit to the Ballsbridge.
It was 25 months to be exact when the then Llanelli Scarlets rampaged to an unlikely 52-23 victory at a notoriously difficult venue for visiting teams. Rob Kearney was one of those on the receiving end.
“Unfortunately I was,” he said. “We spoke about that (on Monday). It was one of the things mentioned. For anyone to put 50 points on you at home and really give you a real smashing is something that hurts for a while. It still hurts nearly two years later.”
All in all, it wasn’t that different to Leinster’s win last week.
“I thought their win was a little more convincing, they scored twice as many points as we did. Our first-half performance last week was quality and to get the three tries was brilliant but I think we let ourselves down a bit in the second-half. We let them back into the game and a true quality outfit probably wouldn’t have done that so that’s something we need to focus on.”
Kearney was merely echoing the party line in that sense but the memory of those four tries and riotous running rugby will live long in the memory long after the disappointing third quarter that has had the Leinster camp hanging their heads this week.
“It’s always nice to score tries off the cuff, especially after a few phases when your skills and accuracy are up. Because that’s what you work on as a back line every week, your skills, your passing. To see those basics pay off is nice.
“I’d like to think teams can play good rugby. That’s the brand that we’ve always been associated with, running rugby and having the confidence in skills to attack from all over the field. We did it in the first-half last week and hope to do it again on Saturday.”
It is hard to imagine the Scarlets being so accommodating for a second time in the space of eight days. For all Leinster’s inventiveness last week, the home defence was almost equally implicit in the Scarlets’ downfall,
“As players, we’re certainly expecting to see a different Scarlets side to that we saw last week,” said Kearney. “Most people will agree that it wasn’t their true side we saw last week, especially the first-half performance. No team likes getting beaten at home and there’ll be pride at stake for them.”
Some of the tactics employed should change too. Last Saturday, the Scarlets lumped a succession of high balls in Kearney’s direction. No-one was too surprised when the Leinster, Ireland and Lions full-back gobbled them up.
The surprise was that the Scarlets could have possibly imagined that that was a potentially profitable tactic. Stephen Jones, who spent most of the summer with Kearney in South Africa, should have known better.
Was Kearney as surprised as the rest of us?
“A little. I just think it re-emphasises the point that kicking is a bigger part of the game now. Regardless of the opposition, teams continue to kick high balls and long into territory. It’s the game-plan for a lot of teams, to play in the opposition half.”
Long may it continue with a man like Kearney on the receiving end.
“Provided I’m catching them,” he pointed out.
“It’s not so nice when you drop the first couple, you’re praying then that they don’t kick to you. Once I keep holding onto them, I’m happy enough to have people kicking at me.”
Not that Kearney’s was the perfect performance either. At one point in the second-half, he lined up a drop goal attempt from distance when the result was all but secured and Leinster were still chasing the all-important fourth try.
A minor quibble, without a doubt, but how nice it is to have to dig so deep for criticism after the disappointment that was the round one defeat to London Irish in Dublin.
“It’s about looking forward and focusing on our own performances, having the confidence to know that if we do play to our potential then we should come out with a win.”
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