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Wednesday 15 August 2018

Treviso turn up heat on Schmidt

Minute one. It all started out so pitch perfectly. Leinster sliced open Benetton Treviso with fine ball-in-hand rugby for Isa Nacewa to slide in at the left corner of Stadio di Monigo. It went better than to plan.

The change of angles, determination to keep the ball alive, straightening of the line, simple, sympathetic passing, finding space on the outside and, critically, making the right decision under pressure are the hallmarks of Schmidt's template on how to play the game.

Interestingly, it was also not a million miles away from the style favoured by the charismatic and unpredictable David Knox, a proponent of proactive, play-it-from-anywhere rugby.

Already, Leinster were just three tries away from a bonus point. It looked like only a matter of time before they overwhelmed their hosts. Until 'minute two' when Treviso began the slow strangulation of Leinster.

As the rain slanted down, Leinster struggled to find Plan-B even though their scrum was, once again, a source of points from penalties earned and an excellent platform for attack.

It was no coincidence that number eight Sean O'Brien was a transformed presence on the ball, making the direct yards look automatic with a muscular performance.

Besides that, Treviso operated at a superior level physically, driven into contact and beyond it by their desire to let the Magners League know they are not here to be fodder for others.

It was enough to make Leinster coach Joe Schmidt eat the hat he must have been wearing under the constant drizzle: "I'm really disappointed with the result and the performance as well," he said.

"In those conditions, you really need to have a platform to play from and I don't think we ever gave ourselves a platform from the start".

It was not so much the scrum as the lineout that failed to deliver a platform as the game wore on. Hooker John Fogarty and his replacement Richardt Strauss failed to connect smoothly with their jumpers, particularly from the middle to the back of the lineout into the second-half.

"We said this week that Treviso would be strong and physically they would be very difficult to contend with. We certainly didn't underestimate Treviso," said Schmidt.

The Italians were given their go-forward by the dynamic, hard running of their Fijiian number eight Manoa Vosawai who, in contrast to O'Brien, did most of his damage close-in rather than in the open spaces where O'Brien revelled.

"They got up over the advantage line a lot of times and made it difficult for us to play in difficult conditions where you can't secure your ball off a solid platform," added Schmidt.

"In contrast, their lineout was very functional.

"They drove well. They put the ball in behind well and they did a very good job. "Some of our decision-making also wasn't as good as it could have been."

Sadly, out-half Ian Madigan could not build on his inconsistent, but ultimately glorious, impact against Cardiff Blues the week before, while wing Nacewa failed to repeat the kicking heroics against The Blues.

Hooker John Fogarty (cut mouth) is the only other injury concern ahead of a six-day turnaround for the Magners journey to Edinburgh next Friday.

Leinster chief executive Mick Dawson has spoken of the patience that will be needed for the three-year commitment to-and-from Schmidt.

This long-term project could be endangered if the Kiwi continues to have one hand tied behind his back by the IRFU's mean-spirited minding of Ireland's best players.

MAN OF THE MATCH -- Manoa Vosawai: The two best ball carriers on the field were the respective number eights Vosawai and Sean O'Brien. The Fijiian made his presence felt in the corridors closer to the scrum, ruck and maul. This made all the difference.

MOVE OF THE MATCH: The manner of Leinster's clarity of thought and action in shifting the point of attack eventually exhausted Treviso's defence for Isa Nacwea to finish off their only try.

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