Few would have doubted that Irish behemoths Leinster would reach the end of season play-offs and Matt O’Connor’s side booked their place in next month’s RaboDirect Pro12 semi-finals with the most comprehensive of victories against the ever-inconsistent Italians. The bonus point was wrapped up after 26 minutes and, with Treviso dead and buried at 29-0, it would have been the most miraculous of Easter comebacks had they lost. After a surprise defeat in the league to Ospreys in their last encounter which came on the back of their Heineken Cup exit to Toulon, it was an emphatic response to run in nine tries with eight scorers – centre Noel Reid the man to get a brace, while outside-half Jimmy Gopperth need not have bothered with the conversions, but slotted seven anyway and a penalty. The win sees the reigning champions cement their place at the top of the table, nine points ahead of Ulster—who they play at the official opening of the revamped Ravenhill next week—and it would take an unprecedented declivity for them not to secure another home semi-final. It wasn’t a case here that Leinster were outstanding – they just had to do the basics and queue up to score. It is difficult to say whether Leinster have recovered from their back-to-back defeats given that their training sessions were probably a tougher proposition than Treviso. Out of Europe, they’ll enjoy an extra week break before travelling to Ravenhill to take on a faltering Ulster in a crunch interprovincial clash in the penultimate match of the regular season – that will determine where Leinster are.
At home, and if they play as a team, Treviso are capable of upsetting almost anyone. On the road, it’s a very different story, much like the perennial joke about which France side will turn up on away days, the same is true of Treviso. This season should have been the one where they challenged for the top six in the Pro12, but the reality is the off-field politicking over their future has created such a negative atmosphere that even seasoned Italian internationals have struggled to play anywhere near their best, but worse they have struggled to play as a team, somewhat essential in a 15-a-side game. The Italians may be staying in the Pro12 for the foreseeable future, after wranglings over finances and ownership were sorted out, but with their best players queuing up to head to French and British clubs, it certainly isn’t a bright future. Incredibly, the 62-7 defeat is not even Treviso’s biggest defeat of the season. That particular honour goes to the Ospreys, who ran in 10 tries in a 75-7 win at the Liberty Stadium in February. Put in context, their 533 points conceded from 19 matches (an average of 26.65 a match) is more than double that of Glasgow Warriors who boast the best defence, while their 66 tries conceded is 18 more than ninth-place Cardiff Blues who have conceded the second most and almost four times as many as the Warriors who have conceded 17 from 19 matches. Leinster may be reigning champions, top of the league, and one of the best sides in Europe, but they could have fielded their ‘A’ team and still won handsomely. They will probably finish second bottom of the Pro12 ahead of fellow Italians Zebre and still qualify for the elite Rugby Champions Cup next season on ‘merit’ – one of the worst jokes of the season.
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