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Keenan's hat-trick helps Leinster overcome shocking start to win in Connacht

Leinster score eight tries to beat Connacht 50-21 at the Sportsground this evening.

Oran McNulty is tackled by Josh van der Flier.
Oran McNulty is tackled by Josh van der Flier.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Connacht 21

Leinster 50

Garry Doyle reports from The Sportsground

AND BREATHE. So, the first 40 minutes alone, we had 49 points, a scare for one of Ireland’s Lions’ contingent – Jack Conan going off on 25 minutes for a HIA; a scoreboard that read Connacht 16-0 Leinster – yes, don’t adjust your screen – Connacht 16-0 Leinster after 14 minutes, before Leinster moved from zero to 33 in the blink of an eye.

By the end, they won easily, Hugo Keenan helping himself to a hat-trick, the Leinster pack contributing four of the remaining five tries. The final score, 50-21, was just about right.

We haven’t even got to the nitty-gritty yet; the absolute dominance by Leinster at the breakdown, where Connacht’s indiscipline, particularly between the two 10-metre lines, saw their lead slip away in eight crazy minutes.

Reacting to all this, Andy Friend – the Connacht coach, made two substitutions on the half-hour mark – not that this made a difference, Leinster scoring freely up until the half-time break. Plus there was a nasty looking injury to Ciaran Frawley, who had to go off on 35 minutes, and 10 tries to reflect on.

How do you make sense of all that?

We’ll do our best.

At the start, Connacht were brilliant, Leinster asleep.

The tone of this free-scoring match was set from the second phase of play as Conor Fitzgerald, Connacht’s in-form out-half, collected Hugo Keenan’s Garryowen and proceeded to dance around the Ireland full-back to set Connacht on their way.

conor-fitzgerald-kicks-a-penalty Fitzgerald scores an early penalty. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

As the move progressed, Fitzgerald made a couple more half-breaks; watched Jarrad Butler and Dave Heffernan deliver noticeable contributions, leading up to the moment when Frawley gifted Connacht an easy penalty. Fitzgerald slotted it over.

Three minutes gone, three points chalked up, one very big point made.

Or so we thought.

While Connacht were good in this opening period – Fitzgerald scoring a second penalty a couple of minutes later when Scott Penny got pinged for taking an age to roll away – Leinster, it must be said, were abysmal, their captain, Luke McGrath mistiming his seventh-minute pass, watching it skid off the Galway turf and into the hands of Caoilin Blade, who raced home.

Still there was drama yet to unfold. Sensing he had been unfairly fouled, McGrath used up his captain’s challenge to try and get the score overturned but after a lengthy consultation between Frank Murphy, the referee, and Brian MacNiece, his TMO, it was allowed to stand. Fitzgerald converted, Connacht 13-0 Leinster.

Then, as the clock ticked towards 7.49pm it was 16-0, Peter Dooley with a high tackle on Blade, Fitzgerald scoring his third penalty inside 14 minutes.

There and then you sensed an upset; Connacht playing with confidence and control, Leinster yet to dial into the game’s frequency.

But that soon changed – as did the lead, Leinster scoring three tries in eight minutes, Hugo Keenan getting two of them, James Tracy the third. To add context, Leinster scored from five of their seven visits to the Connacht 22 in that first half.

Bearing all this in mind, Friend’s Monday morning review may well stretch into Monday afternoon by the time he addresses all the issues that arose from this – his side’s inability to stop Leinster’s maul; their concession of so many easy penalties around half-way which gifted Leinster entry to their 22; the porousness of their defence.

It all adds up.

And so did the score.

First to get across the Connacht line was Keenan, who picked a superb line to collect Frawley’s pop pass, Keenan touching down under the posts to make the conversion a formality. A good score from Leinster’s perspective but awful from Connacht’s. That made it 16-7.

hugo-keenan-comes-up-against-tom-daly Hugo Keenan en route to the tryline. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Soon it would be 16-12, Frawley involved again in midfield, helping to set Dave Kearney free on the left. He got stopped short; Penny followed up with another go at the line from close range before Byrne spun an awkward, bouncing pass wide right where Scott Fardy was waiting.

As Connacht scrambled across, Keenan appeared on Fardy’s shoulder to collect the pass and touch down. With Byrne converting, suddenly there were just two between them. We’d played 20 minutes and two seconds at this point.

Connacht, being overly charitable hosts, continued to cough up penalties, Josh Murphy’s jackal allowing Leinster get a foothold in the Connacht 22. Incredibly, Leinster scored off their third visit there, a well-worked maul resulting in James Tracy touching down.

Connacht 16-19 Leinster.

These were the critical moments. Facing into a crisis, Connacht needed composure, territory, possession. They didn’t get any of the above, a fourth try coming Leinster’s way when Conor Oliver was penalised for offside on half-way, Byrne kicking the penalty into the 22, Josh Murphy taking this throw, Tracy breaking off the maul before Ross Molony got over the line, 26-16.

Their tails up, Leinster weren’t in the mood to stop, a fifth try coming before half-time when Byrne’s crossfield kick was collected by Rory O’Loughlin – a replacement for the injured Frawley. O’Loughlin’s first involvement was to catch Byrne’s pass; his second to offload it to Cian Kelleher who sprinted home from 50 yards.

cian-kelleher-scores-a-try Cian Kelleher scores a try. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

And that folks was just the first half, one where Leinster came from 16-0 down to lead 33-16.

On they went. After 46 minutes, Andrew Porter got their sixth try – one that again stemmed from yet another Leinster maul – how Connacht missed Quinn Roux for those situations.

They also missed the chance to trouble the scorers, Heffernan coming close to doing so, crossing the line before he was held up by Josh van der Flier.

At the other end a familiar pattern was playing out, Leinster winning a penalty on halfway – Penny with the good work this time – before yet another successful line-out led to yet another Leinster try, Fardy with this one.

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Byrne missed the conversion, offering Connacht a little respite – while fine work by Sean O’Brien stopped Dave Kearney from grounding the ball for an eighth try.

But an eighth would come with the final play of the game – Keenan scoring it – just shortly after Peter Sullivan had scored a decent try for Connacht. Blink and you’d miss a score here. It was that sort of night.

Scorers

Connacht

Tries: Blade, Sullivan

Conversions: Fitzgerald (1/2)

Penalties:  Fitzgerald (3/3)

Leinster

Tries: Keenan 3, Tracy, Molony, Kelleher, Porter, Fardy

Conversions: Byrne (5/7), Ringrose (0/1)

Connacht: John Porch (Sam Arnold ’55), Peter Sullivan, Sean O’Brien, Tom Daly, Matt Healy (rep: Oran McNulty ’30), Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade (Kieran Marmion ’64); Denis Buckley (Matthew Burke ’56), Dave Heffernan (rep: Jonny Murphy ’64), Finlay Bealham (Dominic Robertson-McCoy ’56), Niall Murray, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, Conor Oliver (Cian Prendergast ’64), Jarrad Butler (Abraham Papali’I ‘30).

Leinster: Hugo Keenan, Cian Kelleher, Garry Ringrose, Ciarán Frawley (Rory O’Loughlin ‘37), Dave Kearney, Ross Byrne (Jordan Larmour ’55),  Luke McGrath (Rowan Osborne ‘61), Peter Dooley (Ed Byrne ’54), James Tracy (Dan Sheehan ’54), Andrew Porter (Tadhg Furlong ’54), Ross Molony, Scott Fardy, Josh Murphy (Ryan Baird ’63), Scott Penny, Jack Conan (Josh van der Flier ‘25).

Referee: F Murphy (IRFU)

 

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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