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Dublin: 9 °C Thursday 25 April, 2019
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5 talking points after Leinster eke out a win away to Castres

It was tough and it was tight but Leinster just about left France with four points.

Madigan's boot produced the only points for Leinster.
Madigan's boot produced the only points for Leinster.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Blunt backline

LEINSTER CONTROLLED POSSESSION (63%) and territory (69%) for the majority of the game but never got close to scoring a try. The Castres defence was good, and the Leinster forwards – in particular Jamie Heaslip and Sean Cronin – made ground regularly but there was no inventiveness from the backline.

There was one wraparound that was easily snuffed out but besides that Jimmy Gopperth was content with just shovelling the ball on to whoever was outside him rather try any backline moves.

Gopperth has come in for a great deal of criticism this season and today’s performance is unlikely to change that.

As Stuart Barnes pointed out in commentary, Leinster are a bit predictable with Gopperth at ten as he routinely looks to throw inside passes instead of varying the point of attack to keep the opposition defence guessing.

In fairness, Luke Fitzgerald has only just returned and they were also missing the Kearney brothers so there still is a lot of quality to return to Leinster’s outside backs.

But today’s game begs the question once more: would Leinster be better off with Ian Madigan at ten?

Reddan’s impact

Leinster had a scrum inside their own half with just over five minutes to go when Eoin Reddan made a searing break all the way up to the Castres 22. Nothing came from it immediately, but moments later Jamie Heaslip was tackled high and Leinster took the lead.

A few minutes later, Reddan sniped dangerously into the Castres 22 and Leinster won another penalty that made the game safe.

Eoin Reddan The introduction of Reddan changed the game. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

They were the only meaningful breaks Leinster made on the day, and it was great to see the veteran scrum-half – who is 16 years older than Castres’ sub nine – make such a vital impact.

Joe Schmidt used to also prefer Isaac Boss in away fixtures but when your backline needs some impetus, as the Leinster one clearly does, then it should be Reddan who gets the nod from now on.

Heaslip carries the load once again

For the second game in a row, Jamie Heaslip put in a mammoth shift in the Leinster pack. After leading the team in tackles and carries last week against Wasps, Heaslip again had a team-high 19 carries against Castres and led the way with 63m gained.

Jamie Heaslip Once again, Heaslip lead the way for Leinster. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

With Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy absent, someone needs to step up for Leinster, and while many people expected Rhys Ruddock to be picking up the majority of the ball carrying slack, it has been the Leinster captain who has been driving his team on.

And while Heaslip self-depreciatingly said afterwards that most of his carries were probably for ‘minus yards’, he took the ball forward in contact at a couple of crucial stages that lead to Leinster penalties.

With so many injuries to the team’s leadership core, Heaslip’s performances have been invaluable.

Leinster’s need a healthy front row

Castres props Ramiro Herrera and Saimone Taumoepeau made mincemeat of the Leinster scrum and that was a constant source of joy for home side even when Leinster were in control everywhere else. The scrum steadied up when Tadhg Furlong came on for Michael Bent and it is time for Matt O’Connor to put the import out to pasture and install Furlong as tighthead in the absence of Mike Ross and Marty Moore.

Jack McGrath is tackled by Cedric Garcia McGrath and the rest of the Leinster front row struggled to deal with Castres' scrum. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Furlong has stuggled to stay fit for Leinster but when he has been involved he has acquitted himself well, which is more than Bent has generally been able to do in a Leinster jersey. Conceding three penalties at the scrum is unacceptable for Leinster.

Lineout struggles are bad news for Ireland

Last weekend it was Rory Best who struggled with the darts and today Sean Cronin suffered a similar fate, losing two to crooked throws. With two of the hookers in Joe Schmidt’s autumn squad misfiring at the lineout and the third, Richardt Strauss, suffering from a lack of game time, Ireland could be in trouble when they come up against Matfield and co. in a few weeks time.

Munster’s Duncan Casey has been the most consistent Irish hooker at lineout time and Schmidt might regret omitting him from his squad if his three chosen hookers continue to struggle in that area.

Heaslip: Mistakes killed us – but we proved we’re able to grind out the win

Madigan kicks 21 points to help Leinster overcome stubborn Castres

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