Schmidt salutes fir-play
LEINSTER out-half Jonathan Sexton was due to have a medical at noon today to assess whether he will be available for the final Heineken Cup Pool match at home to Montpellier at The RDS next Saturday.
Sexton considered it prudent to hand over the kicking responsibilities to Fergus McFadden when he damaged his ankle in the 23-16 defeat of Glasgow Warriors at Firhill yesterday.
“He got a knock at the start of the game and then he rolled his ankle by stepping on Jamie Heaslip’s boot. It was more important to have him on than have him kicking,” revealed coach Joe Schmidt.
“Ferg’s only missed one kick this year, so far. He is shooting something like 25 from 26. It is not like we felt we would be disadvantaged there.
“Johnny made it through the game. We presume that by next weekend he will be fit to play. But, we will wait to see how he does over the next 48 hours,” said Schmidt.
“At the moment, we will limit the swelling and manage it. Hopefully, it won’t seize up too much. Certainly, by Thursday, we would hope he will be running again on it”.
It took cool heads and the experience of proven winners for Leinster to leave Glasgow Warriors with a victory and the security of a Heineken Cup quarter-final qualification in the back pocket from a tight, heavy pitch and the buzzed-up Warriors.
It was never going to be pretty: “I was delighted with the way that, despite the attritional nature of the game, we kept on working. I thought the two tries-to-one was not too far away from a fair representation of the game,” added Schmidt. “From that perspective, it was a real ‘roll your sleeves effort’ that produced the right result. We are just thrilled to come out of Firhill with four points. There are a lot of teams that haven’t managed to do that in recent times”.
Leinster had just about enough ammunition to wrest control away from the Warriors, moving clear from a six-all half-time deadlock when full-back Rob Kearney latched onto Sexton’s diagonal ball for the first try in the 42nd minute.
It was dynamic carrying from front rowers Sean Cronin and Cian Healy that was the fulcrum of Leinster’s go-forward with the back row kept occupied at the breakdown and targeted in contact.
Forwards coach Greg Feek made a point of highlighting the scrummaging of Glasgow loose-head Jon Welsh in the lead in to the game. That particular chicken came home to roost.
He caused Mike Ross all sorts of problems, the Leinster tight-head struggling to keep his feet on the muddy surface while Welsh drove up in under his chest more than once.
It was never more evident that when Welsh forced a penalty at scrum-time to give Glasgow the territory which eventually produced a try from replacement scrum-half Colin Gregor. Weir’s touchline conversion made it 16-all in the 61st minute.
Leinster’s response was sure-footed, direct and purposeful. They exploited the one-out channel to chilling effect, maintained possession and pounded menacingly forward for scrum-half Isaac Boss, on for Eoin Reddan, to twist his way to the line for McFadden to slot the simple conversion in the 68th minute.
From there, steely resolve, grit, determination, character, call it what you want, were all summoned to repel Glasgow as Sean O’Brien was yellow carded by referee Nigel Owens and Leinster were required to deal with a succession of scrums close to their own line.
“Yeah, Sean got his arm caught under a ruck when he was binned. That was always going to be a really tough last five minutes. We had to defend scrums with a man down five metres out from our own line,” said Schmidt.
Try-scorer Boss came up trumps with a tigerish tackle on Johnnie Beattie at the
base of a scrum. When the Scottish international tried to get to his feet, Owens whistled for not releasing the ball in the tackle.
“We really dug in. Isaac Boss made a great tackle to force a penalty when Johnnie Beattie got up again after being put on the ground.
“It was a good consistent call because it was the same when he (Owens) blew Rob Kearney in the first-half when he was tackled and didn’t release the ball. That gave us the relief we needed and we fought our corner really well.”
In conclusion, Leinster kept their first seed ranking for the quarter-finals with Munster second and Ulster in third.
If the permutations remain the same, Leinster would have a home quarter-final against Clermont Auvergne, Munster would be at home to Cardiff Blues and Ulster to Edinburgh.
It is also worth noting that there are five PRO12 League clubs in position to make the last eight.