Will Connors reminds us what he's all about as English referee scolds James Ryan
"Garry is going to work with me now."
With those eight words, English referee Matthew Carley ended Leinster's first ever experiment with co-captains in a European game. Garry Ringrose was the emissary while James Ryan was told to turn and walk away.
Carley was already unhappy with an 11th minute set-to that saw Joe McCarthy and Jonathan Danty sent to the sin-bin, when Ryan, for the second time, started calling for yellow cards. The second occasion had been when Levani Botia looked to have tipped Harry Byrne as he was airborne [replays showed the Fijian had thumped into Will Connors, who then collided with Byrne at his apex].
Ryan was still chirping when Carley beckoned his fellow co-captain, Ringrose. The centre was told that was that, he would not be dealing with Ryan any more.
For the rest of the game, Ringrose was a lot more 'yes sir, no sir' and it went in Leinster's favour. La Rochelle were frustrated with some big calls that went against their side, including a Botia score being ruled out for crawling for the tryline in the tackle. Mid-way through the second half, French fans wailed as replays showed a Ryan arm on a La Rochelle lineout jumper. Carley stalked over to Pierre Bougarit and declared:
"You're the captain. Please control your team."
It remains to be seen if Leinster will stick with their co-captains strategy, or whether referees will put up for the dual voices. Ryan may have blotted his captaincy credentials, in Leinster's 16-9 victory, but he was immense for the Irish side as they closed out a big revenge match.
Ryan, Andrew Porter, Caelan Doris and Ryan Baird were the stand-outs in the Leinster pack, while Josh van der Flier came up with two vital turnovers in his 30 minutes on the pitch. Ciarán Frawley had another decent No.10 audition - replacing Byrne at the end of the first half - and nailed that 60-metre penalty at the death.
Will Connors sends a reminder
Leinster went into their Champions Cup pool clash against the reigning champions without Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan in their starting back row.
Leo Cullen and Jacques Nienaber started Ryan Baird, Will Connors and Caelan Doris. All three had fine games, with Connors showing he can still mix it at the top level, three years after his last start in Europe.
It is easily forgotten that Connors, the laconic Kildare native, was the man that put van der Flier under the pump, at Leinster and with Ireland. It was Connors grasping that No.7 jersey for some big games that was one of the catalysts for van der Flier to strip his own game and build it so impressively back.
Injuries have dogged Connors over the past few seasons and his only start in the current campaign had been 70 minutes against Dragons, in the URC. On Sunday, he was tasked with 50 to 55 minutes of tank-emptying defence, and stymieing any sort of quick ruck ball for La Rochelle. He was a source of frustration for the French side on a few occasions and showed what he was all about, before leaving the stage for van der Flier.
The effectiveness of Baird in the blindside role will have impressed his coaches, and Ireland boss Andy Farrell. One of the best compliments that was offered to the versatile Baird, on the day, was that he put in a performance reminiscent of Peter O'Mahony.
Elsewhere, Harry Byrne will have been frustrated to have come off after his head knock. One over-cooked kick aside, he was looking good in the 10 jersey. He will face an anxious wait to see if he will be cleared to play Sale at The RDS, on saturday.
As for La Rochelle, they must travel to South Africa to take on Stormers, who lost a high-scoring tilt against Leicester Tigers. Munster travel to Exeter, Connacht are off to Saracens while Ulster have a Saturday evening date with Racing 92.
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