Saturday 25 March 2017

Hagan's eye-catching display fuels Leinster

LEINSTER 14 MELBOURNE 13

With his thick beard and 18-stone frame, Jamie Hagan stands out from the crowd.

So quite how Declan Kidney has failed to notice the Leinster prop, given the serious problems the Ireland coach has in the propping department, is beyond comprehension.

And when you consider the performance Hagan produced against the Melbourne Rebels in last night's pre-season encounter at Donnybrook, then there is a genuine reason for suggesting he deserves a ticket to New Zealand, even if Kidney, a conservative creature of habit, is unlikely to make that type of punt at this late stage.

Perhaps he should, though, because Hagan's mobility around the park was just as impressive as his excellent scrummaging technique last night.

And while, initially, too few of his team-mates reached similar standards against more streetwise opponents, by the end of the 80 minutes, Leinster were ticking most of the boxes.

dominance

And so an unlikely victory was recorded, one which certainly didn't appear to be on the cards after an opening 10-minute spell when Melbourne's dominance resulted in Stirling Mortlock kicking them into a three-point lead.

At that point, this game had the potential to be a rout.

That one didn't transpire is mainly due to the performance of Leinster out-half Mat Berquist, who showed leadership when his side most needed it, kicking precisely and giving his side some much-needed breathing space.

What they didn't need, however, was the mess which unfolded from one of their own line-outs when Richardt Strauss overcooked his throw, leaving Michael Lipman to collect, Sam Cordingley to tidy up and Mortlock to put width on the move.

With their defence disorganised, all Melbourne had to do was keep their composure, and five passes after Strauss' mistimed throw, Richard Kingi was touching down in the corner.

But back came Leinster. With their set-pieces effective they began to grow in confidence and by the time Melbourne No 8 Tim Davidson was sin-binned in the 35th minute, they looked a different side.

Soon they were on the scorecard, their first try coming on the back of a strong scrum, after which John Cooney created the space for Rhys Ruddock to touch down.

With Berquist converting, only a point separated the sides.

Yet soon it was six, after Melbourne second-row Hugh Pyle held off the challenge of two defenders to score the softest of tries just before the interval. Crucially, though, Mortlock missed his second conversion, offering Leinster a way back.

And they took it in style, scoring the try of the night through Darren Hudson, who profited from fellow winger Fionn Carr's impressive burst and Berquist's subsequently beautifully timed pass.

Berquist then kicked the winning points as Leinster held on.

Leinster -- I Madigan (A Conway 56); D Hudson, B Macken, E Sheridan (C O'Shea 80), F Carr; M Berquist (I Madigan 71), J Cooney (C Willis 60); H van der Merwe, R Strauss (A Dundon 61), J Hagan (J McGrath 70); M Flanagan (S Sykes ht), D Toner (D Gannon 56); R Ruddock, D Ryan (C Ruddock 70), L Auva'a (B Marhsall 60).

Melbourne Rebels -- R Kingi; M Inman (P Betham ht), S Mortlock (M Inman 58), L Johansson (L Mitchell ht), C Vuna (L Johansson 71); J Hilgendorf (D Cipriani 55), S Cordingley (P Fou 62); N Henderson (E Aholelei 15, E Blake 50), H Tessman , G Somerville (L Weekes 60); H Pyle, L Jones; J Saffy (C Neville 58), M Lipman (J Saffy 60), T Davidson (N Ah Wong 73).

Ref -- D Wilkinson (IRFU).

Irish Independent

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