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Magner's League: Over-ambition is undoing of Connacht’s new-look system

Eric Elwood swept into the Connacht top job on a wave of enthusiasm and the freshness appeared to lift all around him as the province made an impressive start to the season.

Yet there was something depressingly familiar about Connacht's end-game agony on Saturday night, as a well-deserved and torturously earned losing bonus point was flung away courtesy of a 50-50 pass, gleefully gathered by Leinster replacement Dominic Ryan, who cruised over under the posts and completed an 18-6 win for Leinster.

As gut-punches go — and Connacht have had a few over the years — this was right up there. Leinster deserved their victory, arriving with greater playing strength and motivation than on their last two visits when they had been sent home to think again.

However, following a stupendous defensive effort led by their back-row of Johnny O'Connor, Ray Ofisa and captain John Muldoon, the home side deserved something more tangible than consolatory pats on the back.

Perhaps Elwood's invigorating presence is the reason why Connacht were still seeking a try-scoring move in their own half with 80 minutes on the clock when, having not been able to crack an excellent Leinster defence all night, and with bodies battered from their own efforts, the sensible option was to leather the ball into touch and take the point.

“Part of you says, ‘yeah let's try to win the game' but in a close game like that, maybe you just take your medicine, batten down the hatches and after the effort and endeavour, take your point and move on,” said an emotionally shattered Elwood.

“For 80 minutes of effort and then to get nothing is really frustrating.

“I can't fault the effort and the endeavour: there were long periods where we didn't have the ball and we defended valiantly.”

As for Leinster, their September struggles are fast fading from the memory banks as Joe Schmidt's men notched up their fourth win on the bounce. While there was some hysterical over-reaction to Leinster's early-season woes, this was always going to be feet-finding exercise for players and coach and a solid foundation has now been set for a productive season.

There were glimpses of the attacking invention Schmidt has brought from Clermont, some nice loops and clever inter-changes, but they came up against a brick-wall defence cemented by furious intent and the vociferous support of 4,582 home fans.

They had two major line-breaks. The first, by Isaac Boss after 14 minutes, came when Ofisa was caught flat-footed and led to the game's only try after a marvellous pass by the scrum-half to Isa Nacewa on the left.

The second followed shortly after as Sean O'Brien (who had another big game) burst through, but Shane Jennings was not able to take the off-load, unbalanced by a push from Mike McCarthy.

The Leinster set-pieces were rock solid with the line-out work imperious under the guidance of Leo Cullen. Connacht went well in the scrum but the visitors always had a slight edge and it was only when Mike Ross was replaced after 65 minutes that home loose-head Brett Wilkinson was able to show what damage he is capable of.

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It may not have been as glamourous or as eye-catching as the recent victories over Munster in Lansdowne Road, Racing Metro at the RDS and Saracens in Wembley but this was a satisfying evening for Schmidt — a significant notch on the belt in hazardous territory for Leinster.


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