“I DON’T KNOW the other results,” asked Leinster coach Matt O’Connor with a mischievous smile. “What were the other results? Did Munster get beaten? Oh, that’s a shame. That’s all right. There’s a bit of footy to be played yet.”
Leinster duked it out with Glasgow Warriors at the RDS on Saturday and, following Munster’s away defeat to Scarlets, went top of the Pro12 standings. Ian Madigan kicked 13 points and Leinster ran in three tries in a thrilling 28-25 triumph.
Several of the Leinster players had a chance to impress Ireland coach Joe Schmidt ahead of the final two Six Nations games this month. Marty Moore and Madigan made important contributions, Jordi Murphy was kept in check, Rhys Ruddock scored the match-winning try and Fergus McFadden was satisfied with his run at outside centre.
“The message from the Irish set-up is that they were keen for Madigan and Moore to get game time,” O’Connor revealed. “That was all that was said to us. There was no reference as to who was going to be playing [Italy] or who wasn’t.
Mads’ performance tonight was very, very good. His goal-kicking was exceptional. In really tough conditions, he kept us in the game and was ultimately a significant part in us getting the result. Marty is pushing all the time; he’s getting better and better. There’s a load of blokes out there that we could see run out against Italy next week.”
O’Connor feels Madigan would serve his country well if he gets the nod to start against Italy ahead of Paddy Jackson and injury doubt Jonny Sexton. “It’s not my call but of course he is [ready]. He’s playing really well. He managed tough conditions and field position and, like I said, he’s a world-class goal-kicker. If Joe goes down that road and decides to give him that opportunity, I’m sure he’ll do a great job,” said O’Connor.
Leinster lead the way in the league after winning their four games since the Six Nations began. Darragh Fanning and Noel Reid, who have started all four of those wins, scored first-half tries for the Blues. “Both of those guys, through the Six Nations block, have been exceptional,” O’Connor declared.
“With Darragh, there are some really good quality blokes ahead of him, but he’s getting better every time he pulls on the shirt, which is pleasing. Noel looks very comfortable in that 12 shirt. Again, a couple of good blokes in and around him in that position but he’s certainly putting his hand up and demonstrating just what he can deliver.”
The down side of Leinster’s latest win was the leaking of three tries to Warriors. The Leinster tryline has been breached 26 times this season, the worst record of the league’s top five sides. O’Connor reasoned, “Glasgow are one of those sides that are good with ball in hand. They are very direct and they put you under pressure in those close channels.
“Relative to the amount of changes we’ve made in the past month, there are going to be blokes who aren’t quite comfortable with each other. That will get better. Once we get a little bit more combination consistency, in terms of selection, we’ll tighten that up, no dramas.”
Leinster have two home games in a row later this month. Zebre visit the RDS next before Munster are hosted at the Aviva Stadium. O’Connor believes the next two games will be crucial. “There’s a little bit of separation between the top two and the rest,” he said. “Home semis are important and we’ve got the opportunity to control our destiny.”