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Dublin: 10 °C Monday 21 April, 2014

Stumbling Leinster forced to wake big names from festive hibernation

Successive defeats mean Matt O’Connor will have an RDS mission for his A team.

Brian O'Driscoll absorbs another Leinster loss.
Brian O'Driscoll absorbs another Leinster loss.
Image: INPHO/Russell Cheyne

FOR THE SECOND time in seven days, Leinster had possession on the opposition line and knocked forward to cough up a glorious, winning opportunity.

While Northampton Saints repelled the likes of Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney, Edinburgh held firm last night against Leinster’s lesser lights. Still, with Brian O’Driscoll, Shane Jennings and Luke Fitzgerald charging in at the death, the Scots’ defence was stout and commendable. Dougie Fife scored the only try of the game and Greig Laidlaw cancelled out Ian Madigan’s penalties in an 11-6 win at a sparsely populated Murrayfield.

Leinster coach Matt O’Connor joked, after his side narrowly beat Castres earlier in the season, that bad weather had been the reason for his team’s lacklustre performance. He made a similar remark after his side dismissed Cardiff at the RDS and will no doubt lament the poor weather of the past week. Rain hobbles most attacking teams but O’Connor’s Leinster suffer terribly in squalls.

Leinster played against Edinburgh without an iota of patience. They looked to move the ball out wide quickly, after two or three phases, and failed to build an pressure on the home defence. It was inevitable, given the torpid conditions, that passes were spilled and penalties were conceded. Not finding touch from penalties was another criminal failing from the visiting side.

It would be easy to point to league-leading Munster as an example of a team who knows how to hold onto the ball and build phases when the weather turns. Rob Penney’s men, however, were guilty of pulling the trigger too often against Edinburgh in the Heineken Cup and paid the price.

O’Driscoll was the star name in the Leinster line-up while Sean O’Brien, Kearney, Heaslip, Mike Ross, Gordon D’Arcy and others were given the weekend off. Under the IRFU contracted player guidelines, O’Connor must choose his star men wisely but he will rue leaving the likes of Heaslip and the Kearney brothers at home. Sean Cronin is another who would have made an impact off the bench.

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A dejected Jordi Murphy at the final whistle. INPHO/Russell Cheyne

Defeat sees Leinster slip to third in the league standings and Munster are by no means certain to stretch their lead as they face Scarlets at Musgrave Park today. Ulster [home] and Connacht [away] are the next two teams on the fixture list for the Pro12 champions.

With Leinster slated for two crucial Heineken Cup matches in five January days, expect O’Connor to pile his chips behind his star names to take Ulster down at the RDS. Many of the players that lost in Edinburgh may then be asked — wind, rain, snow or sun — to redeem themselves in Galway against Connacht.

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