Saturday 25 November 2017

ISA boots Blues to victory

IT was two tries to none to Connacht but four points to one for Leinster as the leaders maintained their grip on the PRO12 League with a 15-13 win on a night of high drama at The Sportsground last night.

Connacht could not satisfy the demands of the majority in their record-breaking league crowd of 6,582, as replacement fly-half Miah Nikora's sharply taken drop-goal was found to have dropped short by the video referee Dermot Moloney.

"It's not how, it's how many," said Joe Schmidt, in reaction to the two-point win that gave Leinster a victory they did not really deserve.

"I was very happy with the first 50 minutes in what were very tough conditions to lead at 9-3 at half-time, with Isa (Nacewa) kicking absolutely superbly.

"He was as unruffled as ever. He got five out of five and they missed five kicks.

"That was the difference. That is a tough result for them."

There was an element of Leinster making life difficult by having scrum-half Isaac Boss and captain Leo Cullen yellow-carded in the second-half. It could have cost them dearly.

"I don't think we coped with the sin-bin very well.

"We looked rattled. That is our responsibility. We've got to be able to cope in that situation," said Schmidt.

Hooker Richardt Strauss suffered what looked like a broken nose, while Connacht coach Eric Elwood had to survey the wreckage of a probable broken leg for wing Brian Tuohy, a fractured eye socket for flanker Johnny O'Connor and a shoulder injury to prop Ronan Loughney.

Schmidt did spare a thought for Connacht in their ongoing fight to rise above the many impediments that have been placed in their path.

"I thought Miah Nikora did a great job to take the chance when he did," he said. "I thought he struck it pretty well. The gust of wind that, maybe, pushed it back was unlucky for them.

"That would sum up their night. They were very unlucky.

"When you add that to Gloucester, to Harlequins away, where they scored two tries to one, they just can't buy a trick at the moment.

"I would sympathise with Eric (Elwood). It was a resolute performance tonight."

On an atmospheric night, Leinster signalled their intent by holding onto the kick-off for over two minutes and Connacht reacted by moving the ball wide for Tiernan O'Halloran to slice the visitors open from deep.

Almost immediately, it was O'Halloran's fancy footwork in confined space that stressed Leinster again to draw a penalty. But fly-half Matthew Jarvis subsequently pulled it left of the upright.

Then, O'Halloran delayed what may well have been a try-scoring pass to Gavin Duffy a fraction too long.

Eventually, Connacht got a reward for their intensity and inventiveness when a maul was brought to ground.

Jarvis then shot three points from his third attempt in the 13th minute, quickly wiped out by Isa Nacewa when John Muldoon entered the side of a ruck.

Leinster looked like they were weathering the storm when Nacewa added his second penalty for solid scrummaging by prop Jack McGrath, and then another for a harsh call on hooker Adrian Flavin in the 34th minute to leave the score 9-3 at the interval.

Nacewa was spot-on from left of the posts to stretch the lead to nine points in the 48th minute.

Connacht were given a lifeline by Boss's blatant hijack of Frank Murphy. He was binned by referee John Lacey.

They made full use of it by orchestrating a try for the dangerous O'Halloran, who knifed inside a drifting Andrew Conway and just outside the despairing tackle of Brendan Macken in the 58th minute.

With Ian Madigan moving into the scrum-half slot, Leinster banged away around the edges for consistent short yardage to tempt Connacht into an indiscretion. Nacewa calmly slipped it between the posts.

But, captain Cullen was yellow carded for driving in under Mike McCarthy at a lineout to reload the pressure on Leinster.

Connacht pounded forward from the ensuing lineout, with replacement hooker Ethienne Reynecke squeezing through to claim their second try.

Nikora could not make the conversion to leave the home side tantalisingly behind 15-13 in the 71st minute.

The Westerners were constructive to the death, manufacturing a drop goal attempt for Nikora that came close enough to force referee Lacey to go to the video referee to decide on whether it was short or over.

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