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Sunday 19 November 2017

Priceless victory can't cover over defensive lapses

Glasgow 18 Leinster 34

Jonathan Sexton takes on the Glawgow defence at Scotstoun on Saturday
Jonathan Sexton takes on the Glawgow defence at Scotstoun on Saturday

Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster won't be fooled for a moment.

There can be a world of difference between a great victory and a great performance.

This was the case on Saturday, when Leinster's forwards and Jonathan Sexton gradually stamped their authority all over Glasgow Warriors.

It clinched the crucial five points even they would have only foreseen in their wildest dreams.

Of the four tries, Cian Healy ploughed over for two and Scott Fardy's hands were all over the third by Sexton.

The fourth was born out of Joey Carbery's deft touch and Noel Reid's angle and acceleration in a snapshot of synchronicity that was rare.

In general, the attack was pale in comparison to what Glasgow put together on their home patch.

Coach Cullen must be increasingly worried at the different levels of match time and familiarity between those numbered 11 to 15.

Thankfully, the PRO14 returns this week and the November internationals follow before the back-to-back Christmas buffeting guaranteed from the Exeter Chiefs' aggressive and organised forwards.

It is anyone's guess as to the availability of Leinster's leaders by then.

At the moment, gnawing away is the suspicion that the holes in their defence have not been filled in.

Leinster's Cian Healy, hidden, scores his side's second try during the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 3 Round 2 match between Glasgow Warriors and Leinster at Scotstoun
Leinster's Cian Healy, hidden, scores his side's second try during the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 3 Round 2 match between Glasgow Warriors and Leinster at Scotstoun

There were 36 missed tackles in round one, 24 of them by the backs.

There were 19 missed in round two; 13 by the backs, five by Robbie Henshaw.

Holding

Now, no one out there can claim Henshaw is a sub-standard defender.

It was clear to the naked eye that the centre, p laying out of position, felt he had to do more than he should.

Leadership does not always mean leading the line in defence in a 'follow me' fashion.

Sometimes it is about just holding the line,staying connected, relying on trust and composure rather than a trigger to rush up.

As Brian O'Driscoll can attest, it takes time to master the art of defending at thirteen.

Even then, there are no guarantees. The disconnect between Noel Reid and Henshaw was alarming, with the two of them operating independently of each other.

The return of Garry Ringrose cannot come quickly enough for Leinster.

The ace attacker is an accomplished defender and a better decision-maker than Henshaw at thirteen simply because he has had the time there.

Okay, there are few, if any, clubs in Europe that can activate the speed of movement that Glasgow can. They have caused problems to the best in the business.

They were within six of Saracens in last season's quarter-final at Allianz Stadium, when the juggernaut crushed them with three final-quarter tries.

Back then, Glasgow simply didn't have the pack of forwards to provide the platform for their fast-twitch attack.

This is a problem that has not been solved, even under the eagle-eye of Dave Rennie.

Apparently, the coach compared second row Scott Cummings to Brodie Retallick in the build-up. Enough said.

In Scotstoun, Glasgow had Leinster chasing shadows at times when they found the outside channels.

It was there Leinster's failure to defend with authority was exposed even more glaringly than it was against Montpellier.

Adam Byrne paid the price for his tentative tackling in round one and Barry Daly did likewise in the 43rd minute when his positioning came at a cost in round two.

Athleticism

Neither Fergus McFadden nor Dave Kearney have the athleticism and power of Byrne or the natural nose for the line that Daly has.

What the two Ireland internationals have is experience from time in the fire.

The modern game means, even for wings, defence has to come first.

More than anything else, McFadden and Kearney simply know the game.

They also embrace the battle, the impact of muscle on muscle. It is sometimes called competitive spirit.

All is not lost for Byrne and Daly, two very talented players. Far from it. They just have to find the Warrior within.

For Byrne, it comes down to learning how to use his fantastic frame

For Daly, he could just need more time at this level to make his defence as stinging as his attack.

This season, the Leinster coaches seem to have wiped the slate clean and gone for form and match fitness over reputation.

This is how Byrne and Daly made their way into the first team ahead of McFadden and Kearney.

They have the talent. They just have to bring out edge and accuracy in defence.

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