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Saturday 25 January 2020

Connors hits the mark every time

Leinster flanker adds to his growing reputation

BLUE TERROR: Leinster’s Will Connors is tackled by Munster’s Shane Daly during the PRO14 Round 9 clash at Thomond Park. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
BLUE TERROR: Leinster’s Will Connors is tackled by Munster’s Shane Daly during the PRO14 Round 9 clash at Thomond Park. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

There was a 22-second passage of play in the dying stages of Leinster's absorbing Thomond Park win over Munster, which best sums up the position that both teams currently find themselves in.

As Munster threw everything at their old foes, as they had done throughout Saturday night's contest, Leinster came up with the necessary answers.

As the clock ticked beyond the 74th minute, Munster upped the ante inside the 22, only for the move to come to an inevitable stuttering halt due to their own inaccuracies.

That is not to detract from the visitors' awesome defensive effort, which ensured they have now won all 13 of their games this season.

Tone

The tone was set by Will Connors, who again further enhanced his rapidly growing reputation with another hugely impressive shift.

The 23-year old flanker just doesn't ever seem to miss a tackle, yet it is the manner of his technique coupled with his relentless work rate, which is really catching the eye.

Connors' 75th minute thumping double-hit along with Sean Cronin on Darren O'Shea typified the doggedness of Leinster's performance and while it was an easy highlight to pick out at such a vital stage, what happened in the couple of phases that followed was just as impressive.

After the rib-tickler on O'Shea, Connors quickly got back into position and eight seconds later was biting at Mike Haley's ankles as he brought the Munster full-back to the deck.

Not content with stopping there, Connors came back for more and a mere 14 seconds later, repeated the same chop tackle technique - this time on Diarmuid Barron, which led to a key relieving turnover penalty.

These are the little things that can often go unnoticed, but not to the likes of Leo Cullen or Andy Farrell, who included Connors in his first Ireland training squad.

Farrell was in Thomond Park and will have been mightily impressed with what the Kildare native produced, as he racked up 23 tackles without missing one.

"He is non-stop," Cullen enthused.

"With Hugh Hogan (contact skills coach), the work they put in, they are reaping the rewards really.

"It's not rocket science but they really do scrutinise everything that they are doing - line speed, how they get off the line, body profile, shape going into the tackle, their work on the contact in terms of poaching on the ground as well.

"Whatever about chop tackling, his ability to be then able to hit through guys as well, means he is very dominant in some of his contact work.

"There was lots of traffic coming down his channel and his line speed coming off the line forces opposition tens that little bit deeper as well.

"It's another good step for Will. I think he has played in some tricky games - Connacht away, Glasgow away, here away and he has gone well in those games.

"So, he is not a million miles off taking that next step. Obviously getting recognition going into (Ireland) camp - it's pleasing to see that as well."

The 23-old's breakthrough might well have occurred sooner had he not been hampered by an ACL injury last year, but he is certainly making up for lost time this season.

That Leinster managed to back up the superb win in Glasgow recently, with a similarly young team, spoke volumes for the trust that Cullen has in his players as well as their ability to win in tough away venues.

For all that Connors and his back-row partner Caelan Doris will grab the headlines, it is important to also point out the value of experience.

Spades

In Devin Toner and Scott Fardy, Leinster had that in spades, and the second-row pair were outstanding in helping their side over the line.

Privately at least, Cullen will feel that Munster made it too easy by being too predictable too often.

Nick McCarthy had a game to forget against his former side as the hosts' scrum-half struggled to cope with the windy conditions.

The same could be said for the rest of his team-mates though as time and time again, they sloppily coughed up possession in the Leinster 22.

Cullen added: "This time last year we struggled here and with a much more experienced group of players. So to get a win is great."

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