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Saturday 16 December 2017

Leinster lose way on road

Lam plays the ball, not the man as Connacht keep dream alive

Connacht’s Bundee Aki and Aly Muldowney celebrate. Pic: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Connacht’s Bundee Aki and Aly Muldowney celebrate. Pic: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

For all the biff and bash from Leinster and creativity from Connacht, the epic one-point decision (7-6) came down to the bounce of the ball.

When Niyi Adeolokun chipped over Isa Nacewa in the 14th minute, the covering Luke McGrath looked favourite to win the race.

But, the ball bounced decidedly left and into the path of the onrushing Kieran Marmion to make all the difference in what turned out to be a fingertip finding by the beautifully positioned referee Nigel Owens.

Fortune favoured the bravest. The right foot of AJ McGinty added on the conversion that would be critical by the endgame.

It was Connacht's commitment to creativity that paved the way for their path to a four-point lead over Leinster at the head of the PRO12 League.

Coach Pat Lam has imbued his players with a sense of New Zealand style on how they have looked to play the ball, not the man.

"The boys know I cannot stand running straight into people," he said.

"They know I expect some expression. I expect us to have options."

He took an unusual step during the interval to hammer home his philosophy.

"I showed it (the try) at half-time to them," he said.

"I honestly felt, when I was watching some of the Pro12, that teams weren't challenging their defence."

The northern hemisphere has been chided for favouring the conservative over the liberal.

Lam has bought his southern hemisphere dedication to ball movement into a harsh environment.

The message has not been compromised by the pressure of the elements or the opposition.

"We need to ask questions of the defence.

"That's what I said: 'do not hold back. If it's on, move the pass'."

The first time we attacked, it went from Aly Muldowney to Denis Buckley to Tom McCartney, out the back.

"It's tremendous and I'm really pleased, when you've got front rows and forwards that can pass.

"All of a sudden, you can put pressure on the team on defence.

"Kieran got the try, fantastic from him but a lot of effort went into that try."

The narrower approach of Leinster was driven by the work-rate of Dominic Ryan and Josh van der Flier as Ian Madigan sliced the posts after Richardt Strauss's poach on Eoin McKeon and Marmion's offside intrusion in the in the 61st and 69th minutes, respectively.

It all came down to Connacht's willingness to turn back Leinster's loaded bench.

The culprits are queuing up behind too as Scarlets defied Ospreys in Swansea to hold third, Munster picked up seven tries and five points against Zebre for fourth and Glasgow overturned Ulster to climb alongside them in joint-fifth.

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