Malcolm O'Kelly: Leinster not pretty, but still impressive
Malcolm reflects on a mixed weekend for the Irish provinces involved in European competition, with Leinster and Munster marching on and Ulster crashing out.
I was at the Aviva Stadium for the Leinster game at the weekend and I think it lived up to what people had predicted it was going to be like. It was pretty much a dogfight throughout and even though Leinster got the scores they needed, they were made to work pretty hard for them in the end.
I thought defensively, Leinster dealt with Leicester very well, the scrum was strong and the lineout proved to be one of the key elements in the game. Leo Cullen and Kevin McLaughlin really dominated that area for Leinster and even Isa Nacewa’s try came from Leinster disrupting a Leicester lineout. I think a team like Leicester need the lineout as a platform to play rugby and to dominate games and you have to hand it to the Leinster lads for dominating that area as it proved crucial to the result.
Leinster attack not firing on all cylinders
Attacking-wise, Leinster were not at their incisive best on the day. They found Leicester difficult to break down and dropped a few balls. Luke Fitzgerald practically dropped one over the line in the first half when nine times out of ten he would have caught it and touched it down. Jonathan Sexton made a lovely half break, but offloading inside to Heaslip, who was in acres of space, the ball crucially went forward and even Brian O'Driscoll seemed to be a little nervous as he knocked one on in the first half and again in the second half.
It wasn't the champagne rugby we have seen from Leinster this season, but Leicester played their part too, providing a very physical and organised defense. They were aggressive and abrasive; they cut down space and forced O'Driscoll and D'Arcy back inside time and time again, and also cut down O'Brien and Heaslip on the gain-line.
Right from the off, the level of the physicality was evident by the string of bodies on the deck and it needed to be as Leicester will dominate you if it isn't right.
Although Leinster won a lot of set pieces with a scrum that was on par with Leicester’s and dominated the lineout, winning a lot of Leicester lineouts, there was little by way of incisiveness from the midfield. Leicester dealt with the Leinster strike moves well.
On one occasion, Leinster were forced to employ a chip which was gathered by D'Arcy and after offloading, the resultant drive stopped short of the line and should have resulted in the first try of the game, but instead Leinster had to settle for a penalty. Although we didn't see much of O'Driscoll or D'Arcy in attack, they were hugely courageous in defence, with both players suffering knocks from their physicality throughout the game.
Right from the off, the level of the physicality was evident by the string of bodies on the deck and it needed to be as Leicester will dominate you if it isn't right. The Leicester runners were smashed time and time again and Leicester’s clean brakes were practically non-existent; they were nullified in attack and dismantled at lineout time. You have to take into account that Leinster completely nullified a team that have been dominating the Aviva Premiership in England and all credit to them for doing so.
In fairness to Leicester, their defence was pretty organised as well. After five or six phases the Leicester defence might have been scrambling, but they still managed to produce a good defensive line that Leinster found difficult to break down, which may not have been the case with lesser teams. Still, Leinster managed to get the all important scores; they got their penalties and kept the scoreboard ticking over. Another thing was their patience and discipline in defence which was very important, as they showed that they had faith in each other and trust in their defensive system.
They kept the penalty count low, they trusted in their system, giving the message that you are getting nothing easy and eventually they would turn them over or Leicester would make a mistake, and although Leicester were not helped by the fact that Toby Flood had a bit of an off day with the boot, Leinster were certainly full value for what was a hard fought win.