Saturday 29 April 2017

Byrne keeps Leinster in driving seat

Ospreys 18 Leinster 20

Leinster centre Robbie Henshaw is tackled by Sam Davies during the Guinness Pro12 match at the Liberty Stadium. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Leinster centre Robbie Henshaw is tackled by Sam Davies during the Guinness Pro12 match at the Liberty Stadium. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

James Candy

Ross Byrne was the Leinster hero after his drop goal sealed a dramatic victory over the Ospreys to keep his side in command of the Guinness Pro12. But it all could have turned out so differently if Dan Biggar had not sent an overtime penalty wide of the uprights.

The visitors took time to overcome their European hangover as Sam Davies crossed in the corner to put the Ospreys in charge. However, Sean Cronin stunned the Liberty Stadium into silence when he showed winger's pace to score. Dan Leavy crossed after the break before a Justin Tipuric try set up plenty of late drama.

Dan Evans of Ospreys is tackled by Dave Kearney of Leinster. Photo: Sportsfile
Dan Evans of Ospreys is tackled by Dave Kearney of Leinster. Photo: Sportsfile

"I thought we'd blown it, I was 75 per cent sure that Dan Biggar was going to kick that last penalty," said Leinster head coach Leo Cullen. "It was a draining game and it looked a tired kick so maybe the game had taken its toll.

"I thought we were off the pace at the start of the game, we knew the Ospreys would come hard at us, we prepped for it but couldn't defend it. We did well to battle back into the game and Sean Cronin took his try really well, but it was a mixed bag. But Ross Byrne showed great composure to kick the drop goal at the end."

The hosts did not have to wait long to draw first blood. Josh Matevesi burst through the Leinster defensive line. The ball was then worked to Sam Davies, who scored in the corner. Biggar was off target with his conversion but made amends moments later with a penalty to take the Ospreys 8-0 clear. But Leinster fought their way back into the contest through front-rower Cronin. The ball was spread wide to the 105kg hooker, who turned on the gas to race around Biggar and score. Nacewa added the conversion and a penalty, but Biggar replied to give the Ospreys an 11-10 lead at half-time.

But the hosts' lead did not last for long. A Cronin carry got Leinster to within two metres of the Ospreys' line before Leavy burrowed over. Nacewa added the extras to give Leinster a 17-11 lead after 45 minutes.

Ross Byrne of Leinster celebrates after kicking a drop goal during the closing stages. Photo: Sportsfile
Ross Byrne of Leinster celebrates after kicking a drop goal during the closing stages. Photo: Sportsfile

This battle at the summit of the Pro12 took another turn when Sam Davies sent a penalty to touch. Rhys Webb sniped to within inches of the post before Tipuric wrestled his way over and Davies' easy conversion to put the Ospreys back in charge.

Replacement out-half Byrne stepped up, though, to land a match-winning drop goal, before committing a high-tackle on Dan Evans after the restart. But he breathed a sigh of relief when Biggar's penalty drifted wide to hand Leinster victory.

Scorers - Ospreys: Davies, Tipuric try each; Biggar 2 pens; Davies con. Leinster: Cronin, Leavy try each; Nacewa pen, 2 cons; Byrne drop goal.
Ospreys: S Davies; K Giles, K Fonotia (J Spratt 76), J Matavesi, D Evans; D Biggar (T Habberfield 56-66), R Webb (c); N Smith, S Baldwin (S Otten 56), B Mujati (M Fia 56), L Ashley (B Davies 56), R Thornton (T Ardron 45), O Cracknell (S Underhill 40), J Tipuric, D Baker.
Leinster: I Nacewa; R O'Loughlin (D Kearney 65), Z Kirchner, R Henshaw, F McFadden; J Carbery (R Byrne 74), J Gibson-Park (N McCarthy 70) ; J McGrath (P Dooley 56), S Cronin (J Tracey 56), T Furlong (M Ross 67), D Toner, M Kearney (I Nagle 56), R Ruddock, van der Flier, Conan (Leavy 40).
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU)

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