Thursday 20 July 2017

Strauss pulls strings as Leinster stay composed

Leinster 19 Edinburgh 18

BRENDAN FANNING at the RDS

It's not often Edinburgh come to Dublin feeling that if they don't win then something serious must have gone wrong. But given the circumstances -- with international considerations relieving the home team of half their first-choice line-up -- this was teed up for Rob Moffat's mob to make it back-to-back wins over Irish opposition.

They came up short. And probably shorter than the scoreline suggests.

Yes, Leinster could have been done at the death and there was a moment of panic between Rhys Ruddock -- in unfamiliar territory at No 8 -- and fellow replacement Isaac Boss as they were trying to get the ball off the field. But it worked out okay and in front of a crowd of 16,786, the match points went where they belonged.

Leinster were always adventurous. Richardt Strauss's terrific enthusiasm got him man of the match second time running, but there were a heap of good performances among Leinster's lesser lights. Late in the third quarter Ian Madigan knocked on a handy pass and it was a notable moment because just about everything else the young outhalf did was very good. So too his partner Paul O'Donohoe.

"We've got a fair bit of confidence in Paul and it's unfortunate for him that he has two international scrumhalves in front of him," Joe Schmidt said afterwards. "But he hasn't allowed that to drag him down at all."

The arrival of Boss facilitated his international challenge as well as giving Leinster a change at just the right time. They had got into a game-winning position at 19-11, with Isa Nacewa's fourth penalty of the night (he finished on 4/6) but Edinburgh still had heaps of running in them.

Sure enough a few minutes later a beautifully timed run from Chris Paterson yielded seven points and suddenly it was a one-point game. At that point Moffat must have fancied his chances, but already they had a man in the bin after David Young was sidelined within seconds of coming on for slapping the ball from O'Donohoe's hands. Not the greatest moment in the prop's career. So Schmidt succeeded in getting through October unbeaten which, given the way September had unfolded,, is a dramatic turnaround. And best of all he was able to give more game time to the next generation.

It was one of the older heads, though, who delivered initially when it was needed. At times Nacewa's range of skills is breathtaking but it was his ability to knock it over the black spot which really helped. Especially when the Scots had done them after eight minutes with one of those wildlife scenes from the Serengeti: Mike Blair looked up from a ruck and saw Strauss stranded all alone, with high-stepping Tim Visser salivating as he lined up the hooker.

Sure enough the ball went in behind and Visser did the rest. But Leinster's scrum got better as the game developed -- another good night for Mike Ross -- and equally Edinburgh's play in the wide channels deteriorated. It was 9-8 at half time, and then 16-8 early in the second half after Andrew Conway took the right line off Nathan Hines to score.

Paterson and Nacewa swapped penalties before Paterson's perfect try, but while the one-point gap could have been wiped out in a flash, it wasn't. Leinster played the game out in Edinburgh territory and were full value for the win. You'd expect much the same crew to be on duty again when the Dragons come to the RDS in three weeks. More of the same would do nicely.

Scorers -- Leinster: A Conway try; I Nacewa 4 pens, con. Edinburgh: T Visser try; C Paterson try, 2 pens, con.

Leinster: I Nacewa; S Horgan, E O'Malley, F McFadden, A Conway; I Madigan (S Berne 78), P O'Donohoe (I Boss 54); H van der Merwe, R Strauss, M Ross, L Cullen (capt), N Hines, D Ryan, S Keogh (R Ruddock 68), S Jennings.

Edinburgh: C Paterson; J Thompson, A Grove, J Houston (D Bishop 68), T Visser; A Blair, M Blair (G Laidlaw 59); A Jacobsen (K Traynor 62), R Ford, G Cross (D Young 51; yc 51-61)), S Macleod, E Lozada (C Hamilton 70), R Grant (capt), N Talei (S Newlands 68), R Rennie.

Referee: C Damasco (Italy).

Sunday Independent

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