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Wednesday 13 December 2017

Blues must use this as a wake-up call: Cheika

Furious Australian demands improvement as mediocre Leinster sneak Connacht win

Michael Cheika has spent two months short of five seasons working the word physicality into, and the word inconsistency out of, Leinster's vocabulary.

It has been a mantra drummed into the bodies and minds of the Leinster players to move away from the failures of the past and on into a new dawn of achievement.

The realisation of the dream that was the Heineken Cup last year brought even the normally controlled Brian O'Driscoll to tears. It is one thing to get what you want, another to keep it.

Cheika set his players the task of showing Connacht who was boss of the Magners League on Saturday. The response was not up to the standards demanded.

Where exactly did it go wrong? "Physicality ... they outmuscled us. That is something we worked on hard over the years to build and we are very good at it now. But we took a day off today. It is not a good habit to get into," Cheika said, obviously angered at Leinster's underwhelming performance.



DESERVE

"Talk is one thing. Actions are another. The players know; they know that we need to improve on that performance so much. We can either use it as a positive, as a wake-up call, or we can wallow in it.

"There is no way I am going to sit here and say 'a win's a win'. That is rubbish; that was mediocre at best. That is not what our fans deserve or what our team deserves."

In hindsight, out-half Jonathan Sexton's straight-as-an-arrow 40-metre drop goal yielded an undeserving 17-14 win over Connacht which kept Leinster on top in the Magners League.

It failed to mask an unsteady goal-kicking return of three from seven for Sexton. There were also signs that it is starting to affect other aspects of his game. He is in need of a confidence boost.

It could be worse. There appears to be a glitch in his technique, as he is striking the ball sweetly enough. He is not choking, just misfiring slightly.

For instance, he came within the width of the crossbar of shooting the winner from distance, before his drop goal rescued the night.

It was, in fact, another reason for Cheika to pinpoint Leinster's lack of energy and attention, when it was most needed.

"That is a snapshot of the game. He (Sexton) hit that crossbar and there wasn't a blue jersey in sight. Everyone was looking at whether he was going to kick the goal or not," he said.

It also keeps the players on the tips of their toes for what will be an incredibly testing two-match stretch against Munster in the Magners at Thomond Park next Friday and against Clermont-Auvergne in the Heineken Cup quarter-final at the RDS seven days later.

"We've been going all right. Tonight wasn't all right. You do the normal reaction when your team doesn't play great," emphasised Cheika.

"The selection issue won't be dependent on what happened tonight. We are too far into the season to be reacting like that. It is about how we react to it."

It was one of those nights when men aged visibly before our eyes. Out-of-position Girvan Dempsey, on the right wing, was often exposed by Fionn Carr -- he was man of the match by a country mile.

Second-row Malcolm O'Kelly tried in vain to get to the pace of the game and tight-head Mike Ross was hauled ashore in the 48th minute, leaving him to contemplate how far he has fallen from his lofty position as one of Harlequins most treasured players in the Guinness Premiership last season.

It all made for horrific viewing. In essence, Connacht played the better rugby and created the gilt-edged chances. Ireland hooker Sean Cronin was stopped inches short by a despairing Rhys Ruddock. Former Belvedere College fly-half Ian Keatley missed two straight-forward drop goals late on.

"They dominated the contact area, in particular in defence. We soaked the contact. They had quick ball. They got around the corner and got into our backs. That is why they had men over.

"We've got to go down and play them in a few weeks (a rescheduled Magners League fixture from Christmas). If we play like that we'll take 20 or 30 points. It is more than fair for them to come out and say they target the Leinster games because when they do, they do well. They were unlucky to lose today.

"They might be occupying that (last) position, but you can see from the way they play that they're very tenacious and they give it everything. That is all you can ask from a rugby team."

This was a reality check for Leinster. It could very well work in their favour as a reminder of how every inch has to be earned. They will get nothing cheaply at Thomond Park and even less from Clermont.

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