Last Sunday Leinster suffered their fourth straight defeat to the Ospreys as they saw a ten point lead slip away in torrid conditions at the Liberty Stadium. The defining moment of the game came in the 62nd minute when off a quick lineout Richard Fussell turned on the gas to evade three Leinster defenders and put the fleet-footed Eli Walker through for a straight forward run in to the line. That try was duly converted by young out-half Matthew Morgan who kicked the Welsh side to victory with three penalties and a well taken drop-goal. The European champions were ten points up after eight minutes but failed to register a single point in the rest of the game.
This game was difficult to watch even for the purists. Both teams were shorn of their front-liners as a result of the upcoming Autumn Internationals and this was one of the few chances the young players have to put their hands up for selection later in the season; however the miserable conditions were not conducive to quality rugby. Throughout the game there was no lack of endeavour but the basics were paramount and execution was not as sharp as it should have been.
One major positive for Coach Joe Schmidt was the performance of Isaac Boss. The New Zealand born scrum-half has improved with each game since returning from injury and now Schimdt can revert to his rotation policy at 9 with both Boss and Eoin Reddan fit. Boss was constantly probing throughout the game making a number of breaks around the fringes. Schmidt might opt to go with his abrasive qualities for the away game against Clermont in December.
Four minutes into this game out-half Ian Madigan kicked a penalty that put the visitors in front. Early in the first half Boss was at the centre of everything good that the Irish province did, minutes after the penalty he exploited space in behind the Ospreys defence with a neat kick into the corner that was chased down by Fionn Carr. The winger was poised to score when he seemed to misjudge his dive for the ball which scuttled into touch. Opportunity missed. However off the resulting lineout they stretched their lead with a try on eight minutes. Having won the lineout on their own five metre line, Osprey’s scrumhalf Rhys Webb attempted to clear his lines from a ruck but the impressive Rhys Ruddock blocked down the box-kick sending the ball skidding across the surface where it evaded centre Andrew Bishop. Leinster number eight Leo Avuna’a was the first to pounce on the ball, his dive carried him over the line. Referee John Lacey went to his television match official (TMO) for confirmation that the try had been scored. From watching the replays, it appeared that Auvna’a had knocked the ball forward in the process of grounding it. The TMO thought otherwise. In a time before the TMO the referee would have awarded the try but with the technology the knock-on should have been picked up by the fourth official who had the luxury of time and multiple camera angles.
As the half wore on Leinster’s indiscipline allowed the Welsh region back into the game. They were pinged at the breakdown and Morgan chipped away at the visiting teams lead with three penalties. At half-time only a point separated the sides with Leinster leading 10 – 9.
Duncan Jones was sin-binned on 50 minutes; the prop fell on the wrong side of the ruck cynically killing the ball. However, Leinster were unable to capitalise on the extra man and when Ospreys were returned to a full compliment they took the lead with a moment of brilliance from full-back Fussell who carved the away side open before sending winger Walker over for the decisive score. Walker defied the conditions during the game testing the Leinster defence every time he got the ball; his acceleration makes him one to watch for the future.
In the post-match press conference Joe Schmidt bemoaned referee Lacey’s performance at scrum time. He felt Leinster’s dominance in the scrums, particularly Jamie Hagan, was unfairly penalised.
Schimdt, even in the face of his complaints, will know that his young side simply weren’t clinical enough. Over the 80 minutes the better team prevailed. With ten minutes remaining the Welsh pack took control. They rumbled through the phases putting the twenty year old Morgan in position to slot over a drop goal that denied Leinster the losing bonus point.
Man of the Match: Eli Walker.