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Not four years ago these teams faced off in a Pro 12 final at Murrayfield. Connacht deservedly and joyously prevailed. On this evidence the gulf in quality between the eastern and western provinces has never been wider.
There are obvious reasons for that.
“We want to deliver for all the people that turn up to watch us play,” said Connacht coach Andy Friend. “The least that they deserve from us is that every player that plays delivers 80 minutes of intensity or the guys off the bench give 10 or 20 minutes of intensity. That is the minimum standard we demand.”
That minimum standard was blatantly not attained on Saturday night. It does not help that Friend has been working off 26 fit players through December. The injury count was 17 before kick-off and 20 for the quiet journey home.
Leinster, having used 50 players, remain unbeaten this season.
All the statistics are damning. Max Deegan began his best ever showing in a Leinster jersey with the opening try before the clock struck two minutes. The bonus point was secured inside 20 minutes by the number eight’s deft pass to big Joe Tomane.
“Not good enough,” said Friend of the defensive effort. “We soaked. But you must compliment Leinster. One to 15 they’re really strong guys who run hard at space and ask questions, and we didn’t answer them well enough. It wasn’t until Dom Roberston McCoy put a big shot on Sean Cronin that we stopped soaking. And if you soak, you leak points and that’s what happened.”
If Leinster had been so inclined their 40-0 half-time lead could have broken the century. Connacht were inexcusably weak in collisions, missing 31 tackles in total.
“Max showed his versatility, which is the big thing,” said Leinster coach Leo Cullen of Deegan. “First half he plays at number eight and second half he plays number seven. That’s not an easy skill to do. He is a very good footballer, and he is excellent at slotting across the back row.”
Such versatility can work against a player. Caelan Doris is the specialist number eight, as he continued to prove when replacing Will Connors, a specialist openside, who was cautiously withdrawn at the interval following a head injury assessment, which he passed.
Deegan is expected to be benched when Lyon visit the RDS on Sunday as Doris, Josh van der Flier and the powerful Rhys Ruddock – outstanding yet again
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