Leinster close gap on Connacht following tense win over Ospreys
Leinster 19 Ospreys 16
Published 05/03/2016 | 17:35
Leinster clung on grimly for an ultimately deserved win to move just two points behind Guinness Pro12 table-toppers Connacht, buttressed by a 16-3 half-time led constructed by a Dan Leavy try and 11 points from the boot of Ian Madigan.
A predictable fight back from the Welsh side reduced the margin to the minimum, thanks to Dan Baker's try and Sam Davies' boot but the home side will have a chance in a fortnight to are outright leadership when they face champions Glasgow in their re-arranged match.
Ospreys will now struggle to qualify for Europe's top flight, never mind the play-offs, as Leinster continue their momentum towards a home semi-final following their abject failure to make the play-offs last season.
Leavy's try was one of a number of chances created during a first-half his side dominated after a sluggish start and he was also a significant factor in the defensive effort as the visitors manfully attempted to recover the yawning 16-3 interval deficit in the second-half.
Leinster were protecting an unbeaten home league record this season, having lost just one in the last ten on any ground as they eagerly eye a home semi-final to alleviate the pain of missing out altogether last term.
Ospreys, who have a history of tormenting the Irish province at the business end of the Guinness Pro12, arrived in decent form themselves; despite losing their three-match unbeaten run last weekend, they had not lost away since October.
Leinster had only lost one of the last eight against the Swansea side but the 2014 final defeat here still causes furrowed brows amongst the Leinster ranks.
It was a perfectly calm Spring day for rugby yet Leinster kicked away their first possession from the kick-off and moments later Sam Davies was having a pot at goal after Mick Kearney was pinged on the ground.
Davies, who normally kicks two of every three, slotted his left-footed attempt without an degree of discomfort. Leinster's errors continued, with Cian Healy and Zane Kirchner culpable while the early indication was that the Leinster scrum, despite its international stars, was in some difficulty.
Despite the stiff breeze, Ospreys dominated territory and possession, aided by Madigan's missed touch after Leinster prevented a scoring chance beneath their posts by turning the ball over but, in the main, their defence seemed capable of shutting out the visitors.
Ospreys were making errors too and, when one gave Leinster a put-in on their 10-metre line, the home side scored from their first real chance; Mike Ross screwed the scrum to the open side and from Eoin Reddan's feed, Madigan spotted Sam Davies minute step out of the line and the Dubliner burst the hole.
Fergus McFadden offered support and carried to the 22, passing out of Dan Evans' tackle to the galloping Dan Leavy for the open side to puncture the early optimism of the visitors; Madigan offered the extras.
Securing decent possession from the restart, good continuity from Leinster in possession forced a penalty in the floor and as we tip-toed into the second quarter, they were suddenly in control, 10-3 ahead.
The metaphorical storm clouds had been lifts just as the meteorological ones hovered menacingly above from the north end of the RDS.
Sean Cronin has a lot to prove to Ireland coach Joe Schmidt after being dumped from the RBS 6 Nations squad and he took his frustration out here with a few barnstorming runs, one of which created a linebreak from which Leinster should have crossed the line.
Despite decent support, Leinster could not finish but the pressure was enough to force an Ospreys penalty and Madigan ensured his side came away with something, 13-3 as we approached the half-hour.
Ospreys were bleeding penalties and Leinster sensed blood; as Ian Davies issued a team warning to Rhys Webb, Madigan added his third penalty of the afternoon for a seemingly unassailable 16-3 lead.
A tipsy-turvy conclusion to the first-half offered scoring chances to both sides, Leinster's after another powerful burst from Ben Te'o - how they will miss him next term - but neither side scored.
Ospreys' need was much greater, you felt, even with the wind although Madigan's first miss of the day might have made it even more comfortable at the break.
The visitors, denied their active internationals, had won in this Six Nations window in Cork with a similarly weekend side and they began the second-half determinedly, Davies doubling his side's lead as the home side's sluggishness echoed their opening to the game, particularly as all their front-rowers had now been withdrawn.
Playing a clever territorial game, they sought to deploy their maul, yet after earning a penalty from one, they fluffed a five-metre line-up when trying to design another; they couldn't afford to look such gift horses in the mouth. Especially at this famously equestrian venue.
Leinster recovered their poise if not their cutting edge, messing up a close-in lineout themselves, from which they had gone long, while the enthusiastic Leavy deserved better reward for another line break as the men in blue began to locate some defensive holes.
At the other end, Leinster just needed to avoid any glaring defensive errors themselves; sadly, they produced a howler, Hayden Triggs missing an easy hit on Dan Baker, who strode in unopposed from close range just beyond the hour.
Davies' extra suddenly injected a raw sense of anxiety on a raw afternoon of dipping temperatures; now there was just a score between the duellists.
Triggs unwittingly made some amends soon; his carry forced James King to effect an illegal high tackle; against the stiff, swirling breeze, Madigan's kick was unwavering and Leinster were now 19-13 up in the 66th minute.
However, they tossed away that advantage almost immediately, allowing Davies to slot his fourth successful penalty after replacement scrum-half Luke McGrath was penalised at the ruck.
Leavy's fine match continued with a crucial turnover with seven minutes left; captain Isa Nacewa spurned the kick at goal and his supporters cheered him on; a subsequent turnover reduced the support to nervous nail-biting once more though as the away side inched upfield.
A knock-on from an attacking lineout on the 22 seemed to have tossed away a lifeline they arguably should never have been given in the first place. The irrepressible Baker threatened havoc with another forceful carry; he then issued a forward pass when he would have been better off carrying once more.
There would be no more similar alarms for Leo Cullen's men.
Leinster - Z Kirchner; F McFadden, G Ringrose (N Reid 78), B Te'o, I Nacewa (capt); I Madigan, E Reddan (L McGrath 57); C Healy (P Dooley 46), S Cronin (R Strauss 44), M Ross (T Furlong 44), R Molony, M Kearney (H Triggs 51), R Ruddock (D Ryan 72), D Leavy, J Murphy.
Ospreys - D Evans (T Habberfield 51); J Hassler (J Spratt 19), J Matavesi (J Spatt HT), O Watkin, B John; S Davies, R Webb (capt); N Smith (G Thomas 52), S Parry (S Atten 55), D Arhip (M Fia 51), T Ardron, R Thornton (A Beard HT (T Grabham 78)), J King, O Cracknell (J Bearman 72), D Baker.
Ref - I Davies (Wales).