Blue Moon Rising

Ruddock and Healy push their Ireland claims and more talking points from Glasgow

A near perfect afternoon for Leinster, but defensive structure and combinations remain areas in need of improvement.

Ryan Bailey reports from Scotstoun 

Cian Healy is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a try Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

LEINSTER SECURED THEIR second bonus point victory of the Champions Cup campaign after a dominant performance away to Glasgow Warriors earlier, with Leo Cullen’s side emerging 34-18 winners at Scotstoun. Our match report can be read here, while post-match reaction is here.

Below, we take a closer look at some of the big talking points from the Pool 3 clash.

Sexton nails the big moments

It says a great deal about Johnny Sexton’s performance that he was roundly booed by the Scotstoun crowd as he made way for Ross Byrne with 12 minutes remaining.

True, he had got under the skin of the natives with his persistent hounding of Jerome Garces, but they would have also recognised the influence he had on this contest and indeed the damage the out-half caused their team.

On the scoreboard, Sexton contributed 17 points — including a sublime second-half try — but his impact was far greater as he steered Leinster to a victory which highlighted the province’s European credentials — the three-time winners are motoring now.

Sexton, having missed last week’s opener against Montpellier, returned today and looked hungry. He was up for it, and at times he was in the ear of the referee too much, but that’s the way he is. He dictates things, leads from the front and produces big plays when it matters most.

Flawless from the tee, the 32-year-old got Leinster up-and-running with an early penalty but the defining moment came when he was hit late by Leonardo Sarto. The pair grappled on the ground off the ball for half a minute afterwards and words were exchanged. It fuelled Sexton’s fire.

Johnny Sexton appeals to the referee as he's tackled by Peter Horne and Jamie Bhatti Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

He put his frustrations with the officials behind him to make two crucial captain’s calls. Kicking for the corner proved the right decision on both occasions — Cian Healy crashing over twice in the opening 40 — but it would have been easy to point for the posts. He nailed both touchline conversions into the wind, too. It gave Leinster a 17-10 half-time lead and they didn’t look back.

His try was vintage Sexton. The trademark wraparound, the give-and-go and the dart under the posts. His reaction said it all, punching the air and jumping on top of Jamison Gibson-Park and the Leinster replacements who were warming up behind that far goal-line.

“Because Johnny wasn’t involved last week, I think he’s had that extra bit of focus on Glasgow and he’s leading the group really well at the moment,” Cullen said afterwards.

“He’s been fantastic since he has come back in. He’s driving the group in a really positive way.”

Leinster’s defensive frailties

It was the perfect result, but not the complete performance by any means from Leinster. They got a lot of things right and had clearly done their homework on Glasgow, who were, if truth be told, woefully abject and did well to stay in the game as long as they did.

But Leinster’s defence remains an area where significant improvement needs to be made; the missed tackle count (19) was high again and while the set-piece was dominant for large periods, James Tracy remains a very suspect line-out thrower. He looks completely devoid of confidence, and a nervous cameo today won’t help that.

It’s clear the eastern province are still working on their defensive shape and, more significantly, a few of those crucial combinations, most notably in the midfield channel where Noel Reid came in to partner Robbie Henshaw.

Although he slipped off a couple of tackles today, Reid’s performance was far more positive than his cameo last week and his try was evidence of the ability he does possess with ball in hand, albeit against a battered, bruised and wearied Glasgow defence.

Racing under the posts for a first European try to seal the bonus point would have been a sweet moment for the 27-year-old, who will become an important player for Leinster now that Isa Nacewa is out for at least six weeks — but Cullen knows they’ll have to shore up the rearguard.

Scott Fardy with Jonny Gray Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Stuart Hogg’s breakthrough try was sublime but Glasgow’s second score, courtesy of Tommy Seymour, arrived because Leinster were caught too narrow, outnumbered out wide and then clinically exposed by the Lions pair. It’s nitpicking, but Monday’s video review will no doubt find faults in the system.

Cullen reminded us all afterwards that it’s still ‘early in the season’ and certainly his side continue to be a work in progress, the biggest ‘work on’ being when they don’t have the ball.

To be fair, there were positive aspects to their defensive showing too. Glasgow briefly threatened to launch a comeback, but Sexton hunted Sam Johnson down after the centre had pierced through.

From the next phase of play, Sexton was tackled off the ball by Peter Horne and sent the penalty between the posts. Game over.

Ruddock stakes his Ireland claim

While Sexton’s influence dominated the headlines, Rhys Ruddock’s performance earned him the sponsor’s man-of-the-match award as he produced another tireless and hugely effective game in the trenches.

Coming off the back of the summer tour with Ireland, the flanker has hit the ground running this term having featured in all but one of Leinster’s eight outings. He looks incredibly fit and once again was a real leader for his side here, winning five lineouts as well as making 10 tackles and carrying nine times.

The pack were dominant and much of that was down to Ruddock as the Leinster back row unit helped bully Glasgow into submission, laying the platform for Sexton to orchestrate things behind the scrum.

“All of us are striving to put out our best performance,” he said. “It’s a lot more enjoyable when you’re playing well and you can be confident when you’re going out onto the field.

“That’s been my approach this year, just focusing on the process, giving every week my best level of effort and then the performances have been positive on the back of it.

“There’s huge competition in this Leinster team and I’m under no illusions that with everyone fit that level of performance may still not be good enough.”

Certainly Leinster’s wealth of resources in the back row is eye-watering. Josh van der Flier, who was withdrawn through injury, has been in outstanding form while Jack Conan has filled that number eight jersey with the confidence and conviction everybody knows he possesses.

Rhys Ruddock is presented with his man of the match award by Mark Irwin Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Dan Leavy came off the bench to make his injury return, while Sean O’Brien is in the frame for next week after carrying the kicking tee for Sexton this afternoon. Then there’s Jordi Murphy and Max Deegan.

There’s also an intriguing battle for the loosehead position developing. Healy laid down a serious marker on his return to the starting XV and Jack McGrath will be keen to get back out there to stake his claim again. All in all, Leinster are on the right path.

Sitting two from two at the top of Pool 3, the focus now turns to the Pro14 and next week’s trip to Ravenhill before a return to Scotstoun for the final game of this block of fixtures.

Then, the resumption of European competition and the back-to-back games against Exeter Chiefs in December. While Glasgow’s campaign is in tatters, Leinster, on the other hand, are in control of a perilous pool. They’re beginning to look like the real deal.

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‘He bossed the guys around and he’s loving it’: Sexton makes the big calls for Leinster


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