A bunch of early tries generally leave people feeling that the game was over at half time or that it petered out; a bunch of late tries sends the people home happy.
Leinster banged in four tries in the last nineteen minutes to put a real spring in the step of their supporters on a misty Thursday night in February. Missing their entire international contingent and a number of others to injury, the home team were initially denuded of no fewer than 20 players from their 39-strong senior squad. However, come lunchtime Rhys Ruddock, Dave Kearney and Eoin O’Malley, fringe members of the Irish squad, were released back to their home province with a note from Declan Kidney asking if they could get a bit of a run-around.
O’Malley had to be content with the waterboy’s role, but Kearney and Ruddock must have had some fun, because after a gritty, hard-fought encounter for most of the first hour, and with Leinster leading just 14-8, the game opened up. Maybe the key incident was their outhalf stepping back over his own deadball line trying to clear from his in-goal area, or maybe it was Fionn Carr’s dazzling midfield break, but the momentum of the game changed decisively on the hour. It hadn’t been particularly cut-and-thrust up to that point, but Leinster seized one chance, then another, and then opened up the artillery on a suddenly outgunned Treviso.
The Isa Nacewa Perpetual Man of the Match Award went to … Isa Nacewa. One of the reasons that Nacewa is so beloved of Leinster fans is that he shows up in unfashionable games like this – midweek games against an Italian side’s second-string in the middle of the Six Nations – and puts on a performance that is worth the price of admission on its own. It’s not just the wonderful skill with ball in hand, either: he tackles like Michael Jones, covers like a tablecloth and kicks all the goals as well. The guy brings so much to the rugby club that it’s very, very difficult to overestimate his value. The idea that Irish rugby would be better off without him in it is baloney.
Fionn Carr’s return to Leinster colours mightn’t have gone quite as dashingly as he would have hoped, but he has shown a tremendous attitude in every game he has played, and this was no exception. He hasn’t sulked when omitted from the starting XV for HEC games, and he consistently wants to get his hands on the ball and offer himself for work. His fourth try of the season – Leinster’s fifth of the night – was fitting reward for a really hard-working and effort-filled performance. The excellent attitude is a big deal. Whether it’s online, in the print media, on the idiot box or in conversation, everyone is more than willing to tell him what a mistake he made by going to Leinster from Connacht; some of that negativity has to seep in and translate to self-doubt, no matter how confident or composed a player is. It is to his massive credit that he continues to go out there and try for that big game every time he takes the pitch.
The young centre partnership of Brendan Macken  and Collie O’Shea  had a very reasonable outing, especially considering it was their first time playing together at this level. This was the best game that Macken has played for Leinster, with some beautiful outside half-breaks and a much-improved off-loading game; he still has a long way to go to round out his passing skills, but he has made considerable progress in the last season. In all honesty, his coaches at Blackrock should have done a better job at drilling the importance of a solid passing technique into him as a schoolboy instead of just letting him run over everybody, because even as a two-season Irish U20 he had the handling skills of a blindside rather than a centre. With that said, he’s got a hell of a lot of potential – close to ideal size at 188cm [6’2”] and 92kg [14st6lbs] and very good pace for a big man. The fact that he has spent a lot of time at No13 in his short career is a real positive, although there’s no doubt that there are some nuances of the position that are still a little foreign to him.
In the pack, Kev McLaughlin continues his transformation into Jean Bouilhou, taking over the captaincy of the team for the first time. Locky is putting in a seriously solid season beneath the radar of international selection, and is responding extremely well to the challenge that Rhys Ruddock’s presence poses. Making him captain ahead of Jenno is an interesting call, because Jenno is a far more obvious leader – he’s the most vocal Leinster player I’ve ever heard on a pitch, and not just in terms of wet-nursing inexperienced referees and explaining the fine points of the laws to them, but also in how he leads the defense and handles assignments for the entire defensive line. McLaughlin has some way to catch up, but becoming a more vocal player would make him a better player. Lose the bonnet though Kev!
You could go through the entire match-day squad handing out merit badges and gold stars, but the performance was more about Joe Schmidt’s coaching than any individual performance. It wasn’t a flawless game by any means, and the intensity was several notches below what was on offer at Lansdowne Road last Sunday, but there was so much to admire: small things, like the excellent presentation of the ball at ruck-time, speak of good habits. Forwards didn’t get greedy when the game opened up, but stayed at their jobs, hitting rucks hard and running at inside shoulders. Backs gave passes to players running from depth, rather than dying with the ball. Schmidt obviously doesn’t do it on his own – Johnno Gibbes, Richie Murphy, Greg Feek and Emmet Farrell are partners in crime – but his imposition of standards and a gameplan that gets a hell of a lot out of the players at his disposal are the key elements in Leinster’s current fine run.