Connacht left to rue mistakes as play-off preparations continue

Not the result Connacht wanted to celebrate John Muldoon’s record-breaking 300th appearance

The player who hit 300 for Connacht: John Muldoon, in action at the Sportsground above, and leading the team out for this special occasion with his niece Emma. Photos: Mike Shaughnessy.

The player who hit 300 for Connacht: John Muldoon, in action at the Sportsground above, and leading the team out for this special occasion with his niece Emma. Photos: Mike Shaughnessy.

Linley MacKenzie

A game of rugby worthy of John Muldoon's 300th cap - if not the result.

Connacht outshone Leinster in so many statistics, but the one that mattered, losing 24-37. Leinster's young guns played superbly, cut Connacht down, and scored five tries to two.

Perhaps not a fair reflection of the game. However Connacht, led by the legendary Muldoon, did edge a little closer to last year's pace and intensity. A little too late to make an impact on the Pro 12 table, but if Connacht can maintain this intensity, sharpen their execution, and adapt their repertoire when needed, they may/will finish Lam's tenure achieving their ambition of playing Champions Cup rugby next season. Leinster's win now ensures they have a home semi-final in the play-offs - with two games still remaining.

Having already qualified for the Champions Cup play-off, the result of this fixture was never going to impact on the Pro 12 season, but as preparation for the play-offs, the desire to win, the need to sharpen the attack, it will go a long way.

"It’s just fine margins. We are not far off, "said Pat Lam. "The little things are hurting us whereas last year they were going our way, this year they aren’t. We’re not getting the rub of the green on calls as well. But as long as the effort is going in and the opportunities are there, it is up to us to take them and obviously not give the other team opportunities.

"Again, we can't fault the effort, but three tries from intercepts or turnovers, one from a forward pass pretty much sums it. We gifted them quite a few points. The boys knew the significance of the game, unfortunely errors have hurt us.

"We are disappointed. In the beginning our defence was tight, but when you work hard, and then, boom, you watch a guy run down the other end and you are losing players in the first half.

"However, you have to give a lot of credit to Leinster, not just individuals, but their whole structure, everything they are doing on attack and in defence has significantly improved from last year, and through that, the youg guys can shine and it's good for Irish rugby.

“I’d be sitting here frustrated if we were a no-show and we never looked like scoring. But is a lot of good learnings fromm here. The main thing is from my tenure is I want guys with belief, and there is belief we can beat any team and it is just making sure we can execute it.”

In a game which saw the lead change several times, Connacht were first off the mark with a Craig Ronaldson penalty before Leinster struck with two tries from Zane Kirchner and Adam Byrne - the second an intercept from Ronaldson's pass. The Connacht kicker then added another penalty before Pro 12 champions struck with their first try. Tiernan O'Halloran shone once again, seting up field position. Lock Andrew Browne was there to help out before outhalf Jack Carty opted for a sweet crossfield kick for left wing Danie Poolman to collect and cross. Ronaldson's conversion put the home side in front by 13-12.

Having already lost Niyi Adeolokun, Connacht lock Quinn Roux exited as Ross Byrne and Ronaldson exchanged penalties, before Leinster scrumhalf Luke McGrath's break set up centre Rory O'Loughlin for a third try before the break. Still Connacht kept in touch, another Ronaldson penalty bfore the break followed by a super try created by O'Halloran and finished by hooker Dave Heffernan, once again put Connacht back in front by 24-20.

Unfortunately for Pat Lam's side, that was their final score - execution letting Connacht down as Leinster piled on 17 more points with tries from Rhys Ruddock and Barry Daly.

Leo Cullen's only complaint was Connacht's ability to expose his side out wide: "Connacht were on a incredible roll last season and went on to win the title. They were both tight games last season, but we came unstuck in the final. Still tonight Connacht exposed us on a couple of occasions."

Leinster can now enjoy a home semi-final; Connacht look like heading to England. Lam has injury concerns with Adeolokun’s hamstring, and concussion checks for both Eoin McKeon and Roux having failed HIAs. However after a week's break Connacht's play-off preparations continue against the Scarlets in the last home match of the season.

Connacht : T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun (E Griffin 12 ), B Aki, C Ronaldson; D Poolman, J Carty (S Crosbie 71 ), K Marmion (C Blade 37-40 blood; 74 ); D Buckley (JP Cooney 70 ), D Heffernan (S Delahunt 65 ), F Bealham (D Robertson-McKay 70 ), Q Roux (S O’Brien 21 ), A Browne, E McKeon N Dawai HT ), J Heenan, J Muldoon (capt ).

Leinster : Z Kirchner; A Byrne, R O'Loughlin (T Daly 74 ), N Reid, D Kearney (B Daly 48 ); R Byrne, L McGrath (N McCarthy 74 ); C Healy (P Dooley 52 ), J Tracy (S Cronin 52 ), M Ross (M Bent 52 ), R Molony, H Triggs (I Nagle 62 ), D Ryan, J van der Flier, R Ruddock capt (P Timmins 74 ).

Ref : I Davies (WRU )

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