Sport Rugby

Saturday 23 September 2017

Leinster fail to close the deal

Jack McGrath manages to ground the ball for a Leinster try
Jack McGrath manages to ground the ball for a Leinster try

It's only a month until these sides meet again in the first round of the Heineken Cup – wherever that competition is going – and coming away from the RDS last night you could only hope that what we get in that competition is in the same class as this. It was a cracking game.

On a beautiful autumn evening a crowd of 16,885 turned up to see what Leinster would look like on their competitive debut at home under new director Matt O'Connor, and if new boys Jimmy Gopperth and Mike McCarthy would fit comfortably into the set-up.

Second-row McCarthy was lucky not to get the bin after a penalty for obstruction followed by a bone-crunching tackle a few minutes later – on a player who didn't have the ball – while Gopperth was excellent in pretty much everything he did, which must have been unsettling for Ian Madigan, who came on after only seven minutes for the hamstrung Darren Hudson.

As for the collective, you don't aim to draw games at home but when you've been sucker-punched for 14 points in a three minute spell that transformed the game in the second half – and then you come back to a winning position with a man in the bin – it's not bad going at all.

"I think at home, you're always looking to win. We'd be very disappointed about giving them two and not getting two (more) ourselves," O'Connor said. "But I don't think you're ever going to question the effort of that group. They're amazingly resilient."

There was a 'Croke Park on All-Ireland day' feel to the last minute-plus when Gopperth had given Leinster the lead by three, after Ospreys flanker Sam Lewis had a brain freeze close to his own posts with Leinster attacking like men possessed.

A draw, anyone? In fairness to Ospreys we've seen this before a few times at the same venue, working their way downfield and then nailing the kick to save themselves.

At the start, as so often happens on evenings like this, Leinster looked like an express train. By the end their sleeves were rolled up though and after Sean Cronin had been binned at a scrum that from our angle seemed to have been expertly manipulated by that master messer Adam Jones, they were battling impressively.

They should have been more than seven points clear at the break after tries for Richardt Strauss and Dave Kearney inside 10 minutes, but Gopperth missed both conversions from wide out, though he did drop a goal from close range which was both a good decision and a perfect execution. Meanwhile Dan Biggar was deadly off the tee and kept them in touch with three strikes.

The second half started ominously with the Joneses coming on in the front row – and then Richard Hibbard – which gave the scrum a new feel. Biggar and Gopperth swapped penalties before that lethal three-minute spell for the Ospreys with Ashley Beck and Joe Bearman scoring in the same corner.

That put the Welsh 26-19 in front and when Cronin was binned on 67 minutes Leinster were in desperate trouble. Jordi Murphy did brilliantly in the long lead-up to McGrath's try and then when Gopperth put them ahead with two minutes on the clock the crowd thought they were home and hosed. Not quite. More of the same please.

Scorers – Leinster: D Kearney, R Strauss, J McGrath try each; J Gopperth 3 pens, d-g, con. Ospreys: A Beck, J Bearman try each; D Biggar 5 pens, 2 cons.

Leinster: D Kearney; D Fanning, B Macken, G D'Arcy, D Hudson (I Madigan 7); J Gopperth, E Reddan (I Boss 65); J McGrath, R Strauss (S Cronin 51, yc 67-77), M Ross, D Toner, M McCarthy (T Denton 72), K McLaughlin, J Murphy (R Ruddock 54), S Jennings (capt).

Ospreys: R Fussell; B John, A Bishop, A Beck, E Walker; D Biggar, T Tebaldi; R Bevington (D Jones ht), S Baldwin (R hibbard 62), J Rees (A Jones ht), I Evans, J King (T Arler 54), T Smith (capt), J Bearman, S Lewis.

Referee: L Hodges (Wales)

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