Thursday 27 July 2017

Leinster frozen in away-day hell


Gregor John At Murrayfield

LEINSTER crashed to their third away defeat of the season and suffered an early Scottish double whammy when following the recent reverse in Glasgow with a similar result in Edinburgh last night.

Missing Jonny Sexton, who withdrew before kick-off, Leinster still had almost all their Ireland internationals back in harness and should have been too strong for the Scots, who were searching their first win of the season.

However, Leinster never got their game together until the last 10 minutes and then even two tries from Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney failed to bring the consolation of a bonus point.

And yet, Leinster were 9-3 in front after just 13 minutes, Isa Nacewa responding to an early Chris Paterson penalty with two of his own and Kearney chipping in with a storming 55-metre effort that marked his 100th Leinster appearance in style.

But a misfiring line-out and ill-discipline in the opening stages were to puncture Leinster momentum, and Edinburgh's confidence grew. They were well led by the red-haired skipper Roddy Grant, and they opened the scoring with a good try in the 23rd minute.

Scott MacLeod, the Scottish Test lock, had been held up over the line initially, but from the scrum a sublimely disguised reverse pass from Mike Blair found Geoff Cross, the tight-head prop, and he dived over between the posts, Paterson converting to put the home side 10-9 up.

It was a cold night in Edinburgh, made all the more eerie by the soulless atmosphere in a Murrayfield Stadium with fewer than 3,000 supporters huddled into its West Stand.

And Leinster looked frozen.

Nacewa slotted another penalty, but Edinburgh finished the half with a solid spell of pressure and only a blend of fine defence, notably a tackle by Luke Fitzgerald that denied Tim Visser in the left-hand corner, and Edinburgh incompetence -- with Paterson missing a penalty -- allowed Leinster to remain ahead at the break.

The second half continued in similar fashion, Paterson missing the target again with a penalty, this time from over 40 metres, before Edinburgh lifted the intensity of their attack and after seeming to squander an overlap, they finished with their scoring sensation Visser spinning superbly from Shane Horgan's tackle on the touchline to get the ball down in the left-hand corner. Paterson, however, missed the extras.

The full-back then carved Leinster open up the middle of the field and though Kearney got back, patient play on the Leinster line ended with Mark Robertson, the right winger, being released in space and rounding the cover to score. This time Paterson added the conversion and with half an hour to go, the hosts held a 10-point lead.

The momentum was decidedly with the hosts and Joe Schmidt responded by sending on Jamie Heaslip for Stephen Keogh, who had been largely anonymous, and Cian Healy for Heinke van der Merwe. A loose forward pass by Gordon D'Arcy will not have helped his mood, however, as Leinster tried to find a way back into the game.

The Blairs at half-back were providing a good lead for Edinburgh, even if David's attempt at a drop-goal was unconvincing, and Visser was a real threat in the Leinster '22,' but they missed a chance to kill the game when turned over pressing the visitors' line as the hour approached. They also lost Paterson, injured in the build-up, which meant a league debut for young talent Tom Brown.

The Blairs then took a massive gamble and it effectively sealed the victory.

They had a penalty coming, but as players milled around, the scrum-half took a quick tap and fed his younger brother, who dummied wide and darted in for the fourth try and bonus point. The out-half duly converted from the left touchline to put Edinburgh into a 29-12 lead on the hour, which proved to be unassailable.

Finally, Leinster awoke, but now it was their turn to enjoy a good period of possession and come up with nothing. In fact, a steal by Rennie led to a breakout and only a last-gasp tackle by flanker Dominic Ryan denied Visser another try.

A Blair penalty extended the hosts' lead before Heaslip finally opened Leinster's try account with 10 minutes of the game remaining, taking a pass close-in from Fitzgerald, Nacewa converting, and Kearney then slid in for a last-minute score, but Ian Madigan's wildly off-target conversion ensured they left Edinburgh with nothing.

Edinburgh -- C Paterson (T Brown 57); M Robertson, B Cairns, A Grove (J Houston 45), T Visser; D Blair, M Blair (G Laidlaw 66); A Jacobsen (K Traynor 66), R Ford (A Kelly 63), G Cross (J Gilding 70), E Lozada, S MacLeod (C Hamilton 63), S Newlands, R Rennie, R Grant (capt).

Leinster -- R Kearney; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald; I Nacewa (I Madigan 70), E Reddan (I Boss 60); H van der Merwe (C Healy 51), R Strauss (J Harris-Wright 66), M Ross (S Shawe 66), E O'Donoghue (M Galarza 35), D Toner, D Ryan, S Jennings (capt, O'Malley 75), S Keogh (J Heaslip 51).

Ref -- T Hayes (WRU).

Irish Independent

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