Sexton boot keeps Blues on the boil
Leinster 15 Ospreys 10
Published 08/01/2011 | 05:00
Leinster eased into second place in the Magners League with a dogged, workmanlike performance in often treacherous conditions at the RDS. Their fine form continues and they now lie six points behind leaders Munster.
They seem set fair for their Heineken Cup knock-out qualification bid, momentum is still driving them forward and Luke Fitzgerald made a welcome return to action, showing more than a glimpse of his old self.
It wasn't pretty but it was pretty effective. Eoin Reddan's early mistake, a box kick from outside his '22' that went slightly askew and straight into touch, allowed the Ospreys to earn an early footprint in home territory, an offside decision giving Dan Biggar the chance to open the bidding with a third-minute penalty. Leinster responded neatly, the evergreen -- dare we begin to call him a veteran? -- Shane Horgan soaring to snatch Jonathan Sexton's restart before a few rumbles forced the scrambling visitors offside. Sexton duly levelled.
Fitzgerald was making his comeback and not too gingerly either, smashing Ryan Jones early on and later preventing Rhys Webb from burrowing close to the tryline after a quick free-kick.
However, a missed tackle on Sonny Parker, who also brushed aside Gordon D'Arcy in the same swerving, surging run, was an early black mark and some loose kicking compounded a less than overwhelming comeback with the Heineken Cup denouement just round the corner.
He did finish the game strongly, though, and it was encouraging to witness that a second major injury hasn't hampered his excellent footwork.
Leinster added to their lead in the 11th minute with a Sexton penalty but it could have been more. After winning a feisty ruck, Sexton spotted an acre of green below the grandstand on the left wing, placing a delicate chip which almost ran beautifully into speedster Fergus McFadden's path. Alas, the touchline nicked the race by a shorthead.
However, Leo Cullen thieved the throw-in, from which Leinster advanced menacingly for the line, Brian O'Driscoll's dancing feet and Sexton's switch not enough to permeate the white-walled Ospreys' defence.
Leinster were more than mildly exasperated minutes later when they conceded a sloppy try from a defensive scrum situation their early dominance in the set-piece should have obviated.
Clearly in control, they somehow conspired to opt for a pick-and-go from the base, from where they ended up in all sorts of trouble, Reddan's difficult evening continuing as his attempted clearance was parried by his opposite number Webb.
Ian Evans followed up as the pill hovered in mid-air, unwittingly letting it bounce off his head before Justin Tipuric, the talented openside, captain for the evening notwithstanding the presence of a former Grand Slam-winning captain Ryan Jones in their ranks, pounced to score. The conversion for 10-6 was virtually academic, as should have been a 29th-minute penalty award -- one of several preposterous decisions from Nigel Owens, decreeing that Cian Healy refused to roll away when he had been trapped beneath a pile of bodies.
Bizarrely, Biggar made a complete Horlicks of the kick from no distance, smacking his effort onto the crossbar; across at Funderland he may have received a cuddly toy for his ingenuity.
The miss was compounded as Leinster finished the half strongly. From another defensive scrum, Leinster did what they should have done earlier as Reddan and Horgan scampered down the touchline to switch from one '22' to the other.
Sexton's final act of the half was to slot his third penalty after Duncan Jones was guilty of loitering so lazily in an offside position that he may just as well have been swinging in a hammock.
Leinster would have wanted to start the 50th second half of their RDS tenure with a storm as they sought to overturn the minimal deficit but they almost slipped further behind when Biggar was offered another shot at goal. This time, from an acute angle on the right, he conspired to hit the left-hand post as he continued his one-man assault on the Ballsbridge timber.
That Sexton did overhaul the deficit in the 49th minute after a blatant ruck offence, earning the visitors a warning from Owens, compounded the youngster's angst.
Virtually from the restart, Biggar was afforded another chance at goal; it was degenerating slightly into an error-ridden affair despite the meaningful intentions of both sides to play some rugby.
This time from 40-metres in front of the sticks, Biggar avoided the woodwork but, sadly for him, to the wrong side as his kick drifted left on the wind.
Then Sexton had a chance, shortly after an injury scare to a rampaging Jamie Heaslip; thankfully, the talismanic No 8 bounded to his feet despite seeming to crumple like Bambi in a tackle as Leinster threatened with a penalty advantage from a scrum.
He too missed but, when the Ospreys' age-old disciplinary problems reared its ugly head -- scrum-half Webb chucking the ball away impetuously to prevent a quick throw-in. Sexton converted for 15-10 as the hour mark loomed; Biggar missed a fourth and fifth attempt at goal, again both to the left.
Leinster struggled to see out the game but were rarely threatened. Ospreys simply struggled.
LEINSTER -- L Fitzgerald; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, F McFadden; J Sexton (I Nacewa 79), E Reddan (I Boss 67); C Healy (H van der Merwe h-t), R Strauss, M Ross; L Cullen capt (N Hines 57), D Toner; D Ryan, S Jennings, J Heaslip (R Ruddock 63).
OSPREYS -- B Davies; N Walker, S Parker, A Beck, R Fussell; D Biggar, R Webb (J Nutbrown 63); D Jones (R Bevington 52 mins), H Bennett (M Davies 63), C Mitchell (C Griffiths 59); I Gough, I Evans (J Goode 71); T Smith (J Thomas 71), J Tipuric (capt), R Jones.
REF -- N Owens (Wales)