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Leinster get their kicks and more talking points from the inter-pro weekend

Defeats for Connacht and Munster weren’t without their positives either.

Sean Farrell reports from the Aviva Stadium

LEINSTER AND ULSTER came away with the bragging rights after the Pro14′s first inter-provincial clashes of the new campaign. You can find match reports for both matches at the bottom of the article, post-match reaction here and below some post-match reaction to the outcomes.

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

A tale of two kicking strategies at the Aviva

Leinster made no effort to disguise their favourite flightpath today as they hoisted up four Garryowens in the opening 10 minutes for Adam Byrne to contest with Keith Earls.  Between the boot of Luke McGrath and Johnny Sexton, that tally reached seven by the half-time break.

Byrne’s listed height is 6’4″ (which seems a little generous), and his leap was perfectly timed each on each occasion to ensure that, while not all of the kicks bore fruit, they all created a contest and a serious problem for Earls to negotiate.

Adam Byrne competes for a high ball with Ian Keatley Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Contrast that with Munster’s kicking from hand: JJ Hanrahan missed touch with a penalty from his own half and too often Ian Keatley’s tactical kicks from play found a blue jersey without much need to scramble in the inexperienced back-field.

Things evened up in the second half as Conor Murray took on more responsibility with the boot and Sexton’s accuracy waned somewhat after nailing three penalties off the tee.

However, the boot battle already had its impact on the scoreboard in the first half. Byrne batted possession back his side’s way to help set up Rory O’Loughlin’s second try, while a poor Keatley clearance earlier in the half invited the pressure that brought about the centre’s opening score.

Munster’s multi-10 approach didn’t work (this time)

The selection of JJ Hanrahan, Ian Keatley and Tyler Bleyendaal in one back-line was as surprising as it was exciting.

In a match where space was always going to be at a premium, the new look approach didn’t quite fire and there was nothing to convince Erasmus not to reinstate Rory Scannell in the centre while Simon Zebo will have the week to shake off a leg niggle to retain the 15 shirt.

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JJ Hanrahan tackled by Johnny Sexton Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

However, we hope to see Munster unleash their three playmakers again, perhaps shuffled to put Keatley at fullback, Hanrahan at 12 and Bleyendaal at 10. Because against slightly more forgiving opposition  the prospect of three fluent passers working to unleash the power of Chris Farrell and the pace of Conway and Earls could be a frightening prospect.

Connacht getting closer

Connacht finished the opening block of the season with a 1 – 5 record, mirroring the outcome of Ulster’s first six matches of the campaign. But while those numbers define the current Pro14 standings, on the field Connacht looked much closer in pedigree to their northern neighbours.

Luke Marshall and Christian Lealiifano tackle Bundee Aki Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Only a moment of magic from Charles Piutau tilted the contest out of Connacht’s grasp yesterday. Indeed, after a terrific attacking display away to Scarlets the week before, their try in Belfast was the more repeatable move of the tries scored in Belfast. That bodes well for what faces Kieran Keane’s side after the Challenge Cup break.

Ulster have most room for improvement before Champions Cup hits

Along with the two stand-outs in the back three, the big positive for Ulster was a solid defensive display which culminated in 14 white-shirted men thwarting one last surge from Connacht.

However, in attack, Ulster again committed far too many handling errors. And that combined with a malfunctioning scrum combined to suck all momentum out of their play with ball in hand.

Christian Lealiifano celebrates after the game Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Although they’ve struggled for consistency in the Premiership so far, Wasps will pose a much tougher threat next Friday night and the rudimentary handling along with Christian Lealiifano’s kicking from hand will need to be much more accurate to get the best out of Jono Gibbes and Les Kiss’ side.

Munster should go to Castres in buoyant mood after coming within a score of Leinster despite having one second row, one first-half penalty in their favour and a completely new look back-line.

Johnny Sexton speaks to referee Ben Whitehouse Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Leinster have home advantage, but the best opposition to face next weekend as the big-spending Montpellier come to Dublin with Aaron Cruden, Ruan Pienaar and Louis Picamoles in tow. However, Leo Cullen’s side took another big stride towards gelling their Lions contingent in among the talent which began the season, Jonathan Sexton’s accuracy off the tee and the smoothness of the loops he called to set up O’Loughlin’s try, bode well for the Champions Cup clash.

O’Loughlin on the double as Leinster inflict more Aviva Stadium pain on Munster

Piutau and Stockdale put the gloss on scrappy inter-pro win for Ulster

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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