THE slightest slip could be fatal. One wrong move and Leinster could tumble out of the top four, never mind the top two with just four rounds left to play in the Magners League.
Leinster coach Joe Schmidt must have been thrilled to see his players accelerate away to a 26-16 win at the hostile Rodney Parade, a venue where nothing comes easily for Irish provinces.
“We're satisfied to get the win because we knew how tough they'd be. I thought that they were unlucky against Ulster last week and they were a bit unfortunate at times today as well,” he said. Leinster have learned the art of winning without being near their best. It is as much a part of their DNA now, as it has been for Munster.
It couldn’t be tighter in the jostling for the second home semifinal place. Leinster are level on points with Ulster and The Ospreys with Cardiff Blues, who have one game in hand, and The Scarlets five points back.
“We didn't look too cohesive today, which was frustrating. It was great to get the win after the Ospreys slipped up in Edinburgh, while Munster did us a favour against Cardiff on Friday night,” he said.
The Ospreys will be kicking themselves for bringing home just a bonus point from their 23-16 defeat to Edinburgh at Murrayfield on Saturday.
Conversely, Ulster will thank their lucky stars that they have a match winner such as Ruan Pienaar within their ranks. He was the difference between four points and nothing against Glasgow Warriors (22-19) at Firhill on Friday night.
Full-back Isa Nacewa must be rivalling Sean O’Brien for Leinster’s player of the season to this point. Once again, he was both the launchpad and the safety net at the back.
“We' ll look at the mistakes we made because we know that we're going to have to improve against Munster next week, but it was a great day for running rugby,” warned Nacewa.
In the end, the double impact of replacements Jamie Heaslip and Nathan Hines added punch to the Leinster forward play and provided an element of know-how for their half-backs. From here, Leinster will go away and devise a plan to scupper Munster next in Limerick.
Although the leaders are well clear of the field by 12 points, they will be driven to make a wreck out of Leinster’s domination over them in the last two seasons.
It would be far better for Munster coach Tony McGahan to see the back of Leinster before the playoffs. They will have all the motivation in the world to topple Leinster next Saturday at Thomond Park. It should be a belter.