IN THE GRAND scheme of things, earning six match points from two trips to Wales to start the Guinness Pro14 season is far from a disaster for Leinster.
Last weekend’s narrow defeat to Scarlets in an absorbing and high-quality game saw Leo Cullen’s team play some excellent rugby at times, while also showing the kind of rust that is associated with early-season form.
For many of Leinster’s Ireland internationals – Jack Conan, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Robbie Henshaw and Sean Cronin among them – it was their first game of the new campaign.
But at a province where backing up last season’s double is the goal, that kind of qualifier is not accepted. For Leinster, letting a 14-10 half-time lead slip against Scarlets simply wasn’t good enough.
“To be honest with you, that’s probably the mindset of a smaller club,” said Conan. “That’s not a good enough excuse here, to say, ‘Ah, I haven’t played in a few months. I was this, I was that.’
“We walked off the pitch after losing and it felt like we had gone back a few years to where we were losing semi-finals. It didn’t feel like the first game of the year. It felt like as important as any other game.
“It was a massive loss and the lads were hugely disheartened, considering the position we were in at half-time. Yeah, lads were rusty and it showed but that is no excuse for us. We have to be better.”
Conceding 14 penalties was the most galling aspect of the defeat from Leinster’s point of view and senior coach Stuart Lancaster spent a good portion of their Monday morning review examining his team’s shortcomings in this area.
Leinster lost flanker Josh Murphy to a yellow card in the first-half, with Scarlets captain Ken Owens burrowing over for a crucial try during that sin-bin period.
“We just can’t look past the discipline,” said Conan. “You can’t give them the opportunity to have 15 men against 14 camped in our 22.
“Any half-decent side are going to punish you there and they eventually did. I don’t think we worked hard enough early to shut them down. We let them run at us. We know how dangerous they can be in those outside channels with the backs they have.
“They exploited it. They made linebreaks and it led to scores.
“You can look at different facets of the game but, ultimately, when we’re giving them three, five, seven points through kicks to the corner and kicks at goal, that’s going to be the winning and losing of the game.”
Conan stated that he hadn’t thought about his performance on an individual level too much, with Leinster focusing on their collective deficiencies against Scarlets, but said “the lungs felt good, which is nice at the start of the year.”
The number eight will hope to show far more of his quality at the RDS on Saturday, when Bernard Jackman’s Dragons visit Dublin in search of a shock win.
With more Ireland internationals set to return for Leinster and a frustrated mood having settled on their camp this week, a response is expected from Cullen’s men.
“We can be so much better,” said Conan. “We will be so much better.
“I think everybody is unbelievably excited to get a run-out in the RDS for the first time this year.
“It’s not very often that three games in, we still haven’t played in the RDS so lads are kind of chomping at the bit to get out there on Saturday afternoon and get to showcase what they have.”
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