Wednesday 24 May 2017

O'Driscoll keeps the pressure on Exiles

Leinster 27 Brive 10

BRENDAN FANNING at the RDS

After all the trouble London Irish went to -- with having to shift Saturday's tie from Reading to Twickenham -- it was unthinkable that Leinster wouldn't keep their end of the bargain and go there still in the hunt.

Against a Brive team whose form in the Top 14 is diametrically opposed to their European campaign? No. Not meant to happen.

Which is not to say that you couldn't have been part of the 17,186 attendance at the RDS and not enjoyed a fast and physical game of rugby which had a sublime finish. It was good value from every perspective, and for the home team they got full points from the exercise thanks to Brian O'Driscoll's bonus-point try on full time.

Not only does it keep the pressure on London Irish, who go to Llanelli this afternoon, but it also provides Leinster with some ammunition if they need to make an escape from the pool as a best runner up.

Moreover Jonny Sexton got game time under his belt, as did Shane Jennings who got a good run and didn't look like a player who had been away so long. But they had to work for it, from first to last. On first viewing you wouldn't be sure if the battle to put Brive away was down to spirited French resistance -- backboned by Anglo/Celtic/South African input -- or a failure to make the killer pass or the vital step when the pressure was mounting and the defending team were within touching distance of their own line.

There were a couple of points in the contest when Brive might have folded their tent -- conceding a dodgy penalty try in the first half was one of them, and stood no comparison with Treviso's experience against Munster earlier in the day -- but they ploughed on.

And none more than Damien Browne. In the first leg of this fixture he got a lot wrong and it contributed in a big way to Leinster's win. Last night he was on a mission of atonement. In what seems like a previous lifetime Browne was a Northampton player who was getting rave reviews in the Premiership -- which came to nothing. He put himself about the RDS like he was in the early stages of a fine career.

Hurling himself about the place played its part in frustrating Leinster when they would get to the Brive 22. Given the amount of pressure and possession, the champions would have expected something more substantial than a seven-point gap from the first half, but that was the extent of their cushion.

Brive opted to make three changes at half-time to see if they could step up further on their game, but three minutes into it they fell further behind to a Sexton penalty which required a referral upstairs after referee Andrew Small over-ruled his assistant.

So at 10-0 Leinster had something to build on and within a minute of that it was improved by another five points. So much about Kevin McLaughlin's play has been impressive this season and he made a critical change of direction in the try that settled the game. Rob Kearney started it with a good straight run in midfield, and a sweet combination between himself, McLaughlin and O'Driscoll opened the gap for Kiwi Isa Nacewa to score out wide.

Even that didn't sicken Brive to the point of lying down. Their replacements did what they were supposed to do and it kept them in the game. So much so that Retief Uys barrelled his way over on the hour mark to cut the gap to 10 points again.

Given the trend of the previous five minutes it was fair enough, for Leinster had slacked off. And their response? Well, Sean O'Brien was expected to make a couple of punishing runs when he came on for Jennings and one fine burst looked like it would finish with five points. It didn't, and despite racking up a few phases it looked like they would fall short again.

Then Gordon D'Arcy plucked a pass out of the air which, if he had missed, could have ended up at the far end of the field. That threw the Brive defence and he was over from 10 metres. Sexton's conversion made it 22-5 and Scott Spedding got over for Brive before O'Driscoll's late finish off a lovely pass from Shane Horgan.

That sent the fans home happy, and more importantly it told you something about the champions. They are in decent nick.

Scorers -- Leinster: I Nacewa, G D'Arcy, B O'Driscoll try each, pen try, J Sexton pen, 2 cons. Brive: R Uys, S Spedding try each.

Leinster: R Kearney; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy (S Berne 75), I Nacewa; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, J Fogarty, S Wright (CJ van der Linde 55), L Cullen (capt), N Hines, K McLaughlin, JHeaslip, S Jennings (S O'Brien 48).

Brive: S Spedding; JJ Nicolas, J Noon (V Waqaseduaduia 69), L Mackay, H Aguilla; L Orquera (R Bianco 57), JB Pejoine (S Perry h-t); P Henn, S Thompson, P Idiedeir (P Toderasc h-t), R Uys, D Browne, A Popham, A Claasen, F Domingo.

Referee: A Small (England)

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