Men in Green rip Boys in Blue Apart with Five Tries
Few could have imagined in their wildest dreams that an injury ravaged Connacht team, on a poor recent run of form, could have beaten the European Champions so comprehensively. But that's how it happened.
As a crowd of 5813, smaller than usual for this fixture, gathered on a cool, dry Friday evening, they had little reason to be optimistic. Connacht had won just one of their opening four games, that a rare but unconvincing away win in Italy against the newly formed Zebres. Losses to a largely unknown Cardiff side, a Scarlets team they had been beating at half time, and an average Glasgow Warriors outfit had primarily been caused by a lack of defensive organisation, and poor one on one tackling. Against the best team in Europe, although shorn of a few of their star players, such defensive frailty would be fatal.
The home team were led onto the pitch by former Leinster prop Nathan White, his first appearance for Connacht as captain. Gavin Duffy had injured his hamstring in the previous game in Glasgow and was unavailable, as were regular starters John Muldoon, Frank Murphy, Paul O'Donoghue and Ethienne Reynecke, among several others. However, this match marked the first appearance for Connacht of one Dan Parks, 67 times capped Scottish international, whose experience it was hoped would bring out the best of the team around him.
It was Leinster who had the better of the first ten minutes, keeping Connacht under pressure from the very beginning. The men in green held firm however, with some fantastic hits going in. One particularly bulldozing tackle was made on Connacht's all-time top try scorer Fionn Carr by Johnny O'Connor and the immense Michael Swift, starting his 150th Rabodirect Pro 12 league game for Connacht, the first player in the history of the competition to reach this milestone.
Leinster were rewarded for their early territorial advantage with a penalty struck home by Ian Madigan. However, a pre-rehearsed move off an attacking 5 metre scrum, with a beautiful quick, flat pass by young scumhalf Kieran Marmion, led to Dave McSharry taking a beautiful line right under the Leinster posts unopposed for the games first try. Leinster struck back with another penalty from Madigan, but Connacht's backline was now fired up, and moving with incredible speed and precision, the nineteen year old Robbie Henshaw looking remarkably assured at full back. A terrific series of passes from right to left allowed Fetu Vainikolo to sprint along the touchline, before flatfooting the last defender to cross the whitewash.
Leinster's turnover count was uncharacteristically high and things went from bad to worse as Gordon D'arcy left the field with a reoccurrence of a rib injury. Brendan Macken was sin binned and Rob Kearney had to leave the field due to a back injury sustained while competing for a high ball in his own 22. He may well miss the November internationals. Isa Nacewa came off the bench as replacement.
Connacht were in no mood to show mercy however, and with Dan Parks bellowing orders to the backline and showing great leadership they soon touched down again, Tiernan O'Halloran beating Fionn Carr to score in the corner. Parks missed the conversion, but blasted a penalty over just before half time to send Connacht 22-6 up.
Leinster enjoyed much more possession for most of the second half, but a ferocious and unrelenting Connacht defense left them with nowhere to go. 50 minutes in Leinster replaced their entire front row with the gargantuan, Ireland international trio of Cian healy, Mike Ross, and former Connacht hooker Sean Cronin. They gained a slight edge in the scrum, from then on, winning a couple of penalties, but Connacht had the better of the latter stages. A driving maul off a five metre lineout allowed George Naoupu to score, and soon after some quick thinking from Ronan Loughney off a Leinster lineout overthrow put the icing on the cake. Most fans were so busy applauding Dan Parks off the pitch that they didn't even see the try.
A comprehensive victory against top class opponents. A reminder that this team is capable of playing with enough speed, precision, strength and heart to beat the best. A night to remember.
Connacht: 15 Robbie Henshaw, 14 Tiernan O'Halloran, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Johnny O'Connor, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Nathan White (c), 2 Adrian Flavin, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Jason Harris-Wright, 17 Brett Wilkinson, 18 Ronan Loughney, 19 Dave Gannon, 20 Willie Faloon, 21 Dave Moore, 22 Miah Nikora, 23 Mata Fifita.
Tries: McSharry, Vainikolo, O' Halloran, Naoupu, Loughney
Cons: Parks 2, Nikora
Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Brendan Macken, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Fionn Carr, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 John Cooney, 8 Leo Auva'a, 7 Shane Jennings (c), 6 Ben Marshall, 5 Tom Denton, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Jamie Hagan, 2 Thomas Sexton, 1 Heinke van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Mike Ross, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Noel Reid, 23 Isa Nacewa
Pens: Madigan 2