LEINSTER head coach Joe Schmidt dismissed questions over his future after his new team’s shock defeat by Treviso at the rain-soaked Stadio di Monigo on Saturday night.
It was a second defeat in three outings for Michael Cheika’s successor and concern was understandable after a Leinster display of little cohesion and spirit bordering on embarrassing.
Bizarrely, Leinster had enjoyed a fine start in northern Italy, with Isa Nacewa on hand to finish off a fine back-line move within two minutes of the kick-off.
Treviso, inspired by their Fijian No.8 Manoa Vosawai, battled their way into a 12-10 lead at the interval with two penalties from Tobie Botes and two drop goals from Chris Burton.
The hosts then bossed the second half and pulled clear courtesy of a try from Luke McLean before Brendan Williams sealed a famous and thoroughly deserved victory when he touched down with the last play of the game.
Schmidt, to his credit, freely admitted afterwards that his side had been outplayed and outfought.
“I’m really disappointed with the result and the performance,” the Leinster head coach said. “I think in those conditions you really need a platform to play from. I don’t think we ever gave ourselves that platform, despite the benefit of a bright start.
“I think, though, that you have to take your hat off to Treviso. They are a very combative team, they defended well as a team, they got up over the advantage line a lot and just made it very difficult for us to play.”
Treviso’s performance was well worthy of praise but Leinster were dire, failing miserably to even salvage a bonus point even as their hosts spent the last seven minutes of normal time with 14 men following the sin-binning of captain Leonardo Ghiraldini. The visitors’ lineout was particularly awful, with neither starting hooker John Fogarty, who was forced off injured, nor his replacement Richardt Strauss proving themselves capable of hitting their targets with any kind of regularity or accuracy.
“We really need to have a look at it,” Schmidt admitted. “When you can’t secure your own ball, especially in conditions like that, it makes things very, very difficult.”
As well as the lineout, goal-kicking also proved problematic for Leinster, with Nacewa missing three strikes on goal before Fergus McFadden dragged a shot wide of the posts late on. However, perhaps of greater significance was the error-strewn display of fly-half Ian Madigan, who kicked poorly out of hand.
“Ian is a very young player and he’s still got a lot to learn,” Schmidt said. “I don’t think our decision-making in general was as good as it could have been but Ian struggled a few times, particularly when Vosawai got wide of him. But Ian will go away and keep working hard on his game.”
In truth, not one Leinster player emerged from the game with any credit. The same could not be said of Vosawai, who was immense throughout, one minute levelling Nathan Hines, the next making a storming run up the middle of the pitch. The imposing back-row was admirably modest in his evaluation of his own contribution to Treviso’s triumph.
“We all have our good days and our bad days. Maybe today was one of my good days, but it wasn’t really down to me because every single one of us gave our all,” Vosawai said.
“Teamwork won us the game. Obviously, when we play big sides like Leinster we have to really lift our intensity and we went out there and gave our all. Leinster is a really great team but I reckon it was really just a case of who wanted it more tonight.
“Our aim is to come out each and every week and show the Celtic teams that we can compete at this level. For us, this season really is just about earning everyone else’s respect.”
They most certainly now have Leinster’s. Munster, Ulster and Connacht have been warned.
The win was Treviso’s second of the season having scored an opening home win over Scarlets, who beat the other Italian side Aironi on Friday.
Elswhere in Wales, Cardiff Blues scored a 43-21 regional derby win over the Newport Gwent Dragons.
New Zealander Ben Blair scored 23 points on his return from a knee injury to help the Blues bounce back from last week’s defeat to Leinster in Dublin.
Scorers for Treviso: Tries: McLean, Williams. Cons: Botes 2. Pens: Botes 2. DGs: Burton 2.
Scorers for Leinster: Tries: Nacewa. Cons: Nacewa. Pens: Nacewa 2.
TREVISO : B Williams; J Maddock, T Benvenuti, A Sgarbi, L McLean; K Burton, T Botes; I Fernandez Rouyet, L Ghiraldini (capt), L Cittadini; V Bernabo, C Van Zyl; R Barbieri, A Zanni, M Vosawai.
Replacements: D Vidal, F Sbaraglini, P Di Santo, E Pavanello, P Derbyshire, E Galon, F Semenzato, S Picone.
LEINSTER: R Kearney; I Nacewa, E O’Malley, G D’Arcy, L Fitzgerald; I Madigan, E Reddan; C Healy, J Fogarty, M Ross; N Hines, E O’Donoghue; R Ruddock, S Jennings (capt), S O’Brien.
Replacements: R Strauss, H van der Merwe, S Shawe, M Galarza, S Keogh, I Boss, F McFadden, D Kearney.
Referee: P Allan (SRU).
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