The wind nor the drizzle could dampen the spirits of a sold out Sportsground as Connacht toppled defending league champions, Leinster, in an epic inter-provincial clash.
Three wins from three is the Westerners best start to a campaign since the competition switched to a league format. As for the Blues, it is the second defeat of the season and the pressure continues to build on coach, Matt O’Connor.
1. Connacht’s courage & ability to win tight games
What was remarkable about the Westerners’ win was that they did not play to their optimum level and still managed to find a way to win. Connacht was on the back foot for most of the first period as Leinster dominated possession and territory. The home side’s scrum was being bullied and the lineout was not functioning yet they only found themselves trailing by six at the halftime whistle.
Even when Captain, John Muldoon was sent to the sin bin, the thin green line held firm in the face of wave after wave of blue attack. Last season Connacht probably would have capitulated in that 10 minute phase but their scramble defence was excellent and they survived. Their grit was praised by Muldoon stating “the 14 men dug in deep and Henshaw’s hit on Gopperth really lifted the crowd and swung the momentum back our way.”
Last year Connacht picked up eight losing bonus points in the league. That means they lost eight games by a score. Already this term the Westerners have won three matches by a score, two of which were by a point. Pat Lam said “belief in their systems” has been a key factor in their new found capacity to secure victory in close contests.
2. Leinster lacking the cutting edge
Matt O’Connor’s men were on top in the first forty but failed to make it count on the scoreboard as they headed into the break only 9-3 up. The Blues looked clueless in how to break down the Connacht defence as they moved from side to side. Too often Leinster’s attacks were characterised by one out passing and bashing their way up the middle of the field. And if the ball did go out wide the Blues’ botched overlaps by players drifting instead of running straight.
The Eastern province’s fans must be wondering what has happened to the sexy rugby of the Joe Schmidt era when their back play was the envy of Europe. O’Connor must rectify Leinster’s impotence or his days as top dog at the RDS may be numbered.
3. Magic Marmion ready for international honours
He has talked about being Ireland’s premier nine and on Friday night the Barking born scrumhalf walked the walk. Marmion was outstanding as he covered every blade of grass, making key covering tackles and being the fulcrum of the home side’s offence. And of course that try which secured the brilliant victory.
Ireland coach, Joe Schmidt was in the stands on Friday night and on that performance Marmion has certainly put himself in for contention for a starting berth against the Springboks in November.
4. Connacht need a high percentage goal kicker
They may have manage to win three from three so far but Connacht’s poor accuracy in front of the posts must be a cause for concern for Pat Lam. Jack Carty did well in kicking the winning points on Friday night but his inconsistency off the kicking tee along with Darragh Leader’s is worrying. The necessity for a good goal kicker in rugby is imperative as they can steal you a win when the tries dry up.
5. John Lacey and the breakdown
The job of a referee is very difficult and we should not really criticise them but it is fair say Lacey did not have his best game at the Sportsground. He seemed to miss obvious knock-ons from both sides but his interpretation of the breakdown was suspect. Muldoon stated that he was a little baffled by some of the penalty decisions stating, “it seemed to be us all the time and not them.” Lam refused to drawn into the debate and just asked for “consistency” in terms of refereeing.
Matt Cassidy @ The Sportsground, Pundit Arena.
Featured Image By PierreSelim (Self-photographed) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.