Leinster 30 Connacht 8: New year, but the same old story.
Connacht dominated the opening 20 minutes on Saturday but only had an Ian Keatley penalty to show for it. They came desperately close to scoring a try in that period through Brett Wilkinson and Johnny O'Connor, who must have had chalk on his head he got so close to the line, but they were denied.
“We dominated the play for the first 20 minutes and got three points, but we had a chance to score,” said a frustrated Eric Elwood afterwards. “A 10-point ball game would have put a different perspective on the game, but we didn't take our chances.
“At the other end, they got into our red zone and took their opportunities. It is frustrating, we didn't take our opportunities and they took theirs, that's it.”
Much like against Munster five days earlier, Connacht had the upper hand on their more illustrious neighbours.
In those early exchanges, O'Connor was on the front foot and young Eoin Griffin showed a willingness to run hard lines. Their
cause was further boosted when Leinster's in-form Sean O'Brien was forced off with a cut above the eye after 13 minutes and was replaced by Stephen Keogh, which forced an unscheduled 80-minute shift for the returning Kevin McLaughlin.
But Leinster, without ever hitting the highs of their performance against Ulster, gradually forced their will on proceedings, finishing with a bonus-point win after tries from David Kearney (two), Fergus McFadden and Niall Morris. For Kearney, it was another step towards the day when he'll be referenced without mention of the fact that he's a brother of Rob.
The elder Kearney was quick to text his congratulations to his sibling after his two-try haul, the first coming off the back of good interplay between Clontarf scrum-half Paul O'Donohoe (who was handed an all too rare start), Nathan Hines and McFadden that saw Kearney scoot over in the corner.
“I didn't really have to do much to be honest,” Kearney said. “It's a good opportunity for us (younger players), times like this, when a few of the international players are rested. So you have to take it as best you can.”
When the excellent Isa Nacewa converted Kearney's second try midway through the second half, Connacht had one foot on the bus home, opening the door for McFadden to steer Leinster to the bonus point.
First, some quick thinking at the bottom of a ruck saw him squeeze over in the corner. Then he put Morris away for the fourth with a nicely weighted kick that the replacement gobbled up before scoring.
McFadden was a good shout for the official man-of-the-match award, but that honour went to Shane Jennings, who hinted in a post-match interview that he wasn't overly pleased with his own performance. But Eoin O'Malley, along with McFadden, are doing a fine impression of the 'go to' axis of Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy.
“Fergus is really good to work with,” said a visibly pleased Joe Schmidt. “I think his passing game and vision game appear to me to be coming on. He's seeing people in space and he has the passing skills to put the ball out to them a lot more often. He tucks and goes a lot less but if he does, you better get a good hold of him but he can shake the first tackle, which is great.”
For Connacht, the misery continues. Only the winless Italian outfit Aironi stand between them and the foot of the table, and they have to travel to Wales to face the Dragons on Thursday night in what will be their third game in the space of 11 days.
“It's a bit ridiculous to be honest and I'm getting fed up at this stage trying to make excuses,” Elwood said. “Three games in 11 days for one of the weakest squads in the league with the smallest resources -- it's difficult.
“I'm getting fed up preaching this all the time. It's easy dragging us across the water. Why don't they have a derby match if they want a live game in Wales? Why do they have to drag us across?”
Leinster welcome the Ospreys to the RDS on Friday night, their first visit since winning last season's Magners League title in south Dublin. However, after a result that saw them jump to third in the league table, Schmidt's side are in rude health.
“We just wanted a result, we weren't particularly thinking about the bonus point. I know once we got to two tries, we thought we had a buffer at 18-3 so we could go looking for the bonus point and get the next two tries,” said Schmidt.
“We just wanted to make sure we didn't let them into the game and we kept our defensive line strong. There is a bit of disappointment that we offered them a try late in the game but at the same time Connacht deserved it because in the first 20 minutes they outplayed us.”
Griffin got Connacht's late try, but it hardly even registered as a consolation. An out-of-sorts Keatley then missed the conversion attempt though it scarcely mattered. Leinster had already dished out a cruel dose of reality.
LEINSTER: I Nacewa (N Morris 65); A Conway, E O'Malley, F McFadden, D Kearney (I Madigan 75); S Berne, P O'Donohoe (E Reddan 51); H van der Merwe, R Strauss (T Sexton 70), C Newland (M Ross h-t), N Hines, D Toner, K McLaughlin, S Jennings (capt), S O'Brien (S Keogh 13).
CONNACHT: T Nathan; E Griffin, I Keatley, K Matthews (capt), B Tuohy (F Carr 56); M Nikora (N Ta'auso 64), C Willis (F Murphy 56); B Wilkinson (D Rogers 77), A Flavin, J Hagan (R Ah You 52), M Swift (B Upton 64), M McCarthy, A Browne, E McKeon, J O'Connor
Referee: J Lacey (IRFU).