Leinster must have taken a half-time bollocking from the Milky Bar Kid, because they came out in the second half and scored 22 unanswered points against a gamey Connacht side.
Ian Madigan’s sweetly-struck drop goal was the last action of the game and took the losing bonus point away from Connacht: insult successfully appended to injury.
In that old parlance of seasoned football correspondent E.I. Addio [our man in the stands with a meat pie and a double mocha frappuccino] it was a game of two halves. For the opening forty minutes there was a gale blowing down the pitch behind Connacht, and Ulster emigré Niall O’Connor took full advantage of it, kicking a couple of penalties well over the bar and into the stand behind. O’Connor might be a little lumpen in some of his other out-half duties, but he can certainly kick the leather off the ball.
Connacht scored two well-taken tries and were good value for their 20-8 half-time lead. Like all good opensides, Johnny O’Concrete was on a mission to make Madigan’s day a tough one, and there was an extra bit of spite in every tackle and hit landed on Connacht old-boys Fionn Carr and Jamie Hagan.
Leinster were far better in the second half, afforded the luxury of playing most of the game in Connacht territory by the strong wind behind them. It was a well-disciplined, controlled performance which was far from breath-taking but certainly gave satisfaction to the crowd. For the Mole, it highlighted the differences between playing at home and playing away for a young and relatively inexperienced team. The Leinster players looked far more confident and assured than they had in the dogfight away at Parc y Scarlets, and were able to turn around a relatively big margin and come out decisive winners.
Ian Madigan is the best passer of a rugby ball [excluding Peter Stringer, but not far off that standard by any means] that the Mole has seen in Ireland in quite a while. It’s a hugely under-rated skill, but he really has great hands. The ball is always out in front of the player running on to it, always in nice tight spirals, and he can put any shape you want on it. That part of his game is really a treat to watch.
There was an incident in the second half where he got the ball in the Connacht 22 on the right of the ruck, saw that he had nobody outside him on the right and loaded up an absolutely immense flat-trajectory pass back behind the ruck to another player five or six metres on the other side of the it – you could hear the fizz off the ball it was going so fast! Just a phenomenal pass – it had to deal with the distance Willis’ pass had given him, plus another five metres.
His long place-kick from inside the Leinster half [admittedly with that big wind behind him] was great to see as well, and the composure to take the drop goal and the losing bonus point away from Connacht with the last kick of the game? Great stuff. This kid has a fantastic skill-set and all the confidence in the world. His game management is still ropey, but gametime is the only cure for that. He has taken advantage of the time that injury to his team-mates [the luckless Ian McKinley and Matt Berquist] has afforded him.
The Mole was also impressed with Luke Fitz’s continuing return to form. He still has a lot of work to do on his passing, but the quick feet of old are definitely in evidence. Again, he can make improvements with how he brings his centre partner into the game, but in his defense, he’s still pretty new to the position. While he has played there before in the past for Leinster and Ireland, he’s also spent considerable time at left wing and fullback; there are subtleties to all positions that only come [again] with gametime.
It’s a pleasure to see him getting on the scoreboard again as well: he’s already scored as many tries this season as he managed in the 19 games he started in 2010/11. He put in a good defensive performance against a limited but hard-charging opponent in Henry Fa’afili, who suffers from Rob Kearneyitis … the chap just doesn’t pass.
Up front, Big Devin Toner had a fine game, and crashed over for Leinster’s first half try after taking a fine line and a nice pop from Cillian Willis. He called a lot more ball on himself at lineout time, and is getting up to the physicality of the game after a bit of a slow start to the season. A good outing from him, and a good win for Leinster against a gnarled Connacht pack that featured internationals O’Connor, Mike McCarthy and John Muldoon.