Blues dig deep to edge past dogged Connacht
CONNACHT 8 LEINSTER 16
The 34-6 loss endured by Leinster in the corresponding fixture last season was the biggest they have ever suffered against an Irish province in the league, and the third worst they have fallen to in the history of the competition.
Matt O'Connor may not have been around when they were hit with that five tries to nil drubbing but he selected a side last night at the Sportsground as if he was hell bent on revenge.
And Connacht selected one which suggested that they were resigned to their fate before it all kicked off, including throwing a 21-year-old rookie, Jack Carty, into an all-Irish backline with an average age of 22. Only one outcome then, it seemed.
The thing is, though, that Connacht are not reading that sort of script any more and the deservedly went in at the interval leading by 8-3 and would not in the least have been flattered with a bigger advantage. Leinster targeted Carty and full-back Darragh Leader with a host of bombs but they were able to deal with the aerial bombardment and grew in confidence as a result.
Robbie Henshaw stepped forward in his duel with Brian O'Driscoll and displayed great defence before creating the opening try of the game after 22 minutes.
Leinster native, Matt Healy, gathered another high kick on his own ten-metre line and Connacht quickly countered from deep with Kieran Marmion, Carty and Eoin Griffin combining as O'Driscoll stepped forward to send Henshaw away and he made the yards down the right before feeding Fionn Carr, and the former Leinster winger stepped inside Ian Madigan to score.
That score ignited the home crowd and they would have pulled further away but Leader saw two penalties from just inside halfway drop short, while at the other end Madigan also saw two kicks go a-begging, the second coming back off the crossbar. He finally found his range five minutes from the break from 22 metres on the right after Leinster's best passage almost yielded a try in the right corner.
But Connacht responded superbly and went in leading 8-3 at the break when Carty converted a penalty from 30 metres on the right after Tom Denton was pinged for going off his feet.
It was a different story after the restart and while ten minutes of incessant pressure failed to yield a score, the champions began emptying their bench, and Jimmy Gopperth landed a 35-metre penalty shortly after being introduced to make it 8-6 after 56 minutes.
Gopperth pushed Leinster into the lead for the first time with a 62nd-minute penalty and when Jamie Heaslip was lucky to escape without a yellow card for a late tackle on Dan Parks, the former Scotland out-half was unable to punish him with the resultant penalty from 30 metres on the right.
Leinster made Connacht pay after that with Gopperth putting Gordon D'Arcy over for a try six minutes from the end, with the TMO Jude Quinn deciding that the final pass was not forward. Gopperth added the easy conversion to push Leinster eight points clear and deny Connacht the bonus point. It was the least Pat Lam's men deserved on a night when they were brave on and off the field.
Scorers -- Connacht: F Carr try; J Carty pen Leinster: G Darcy try; I Madigan pen; J Gopperth 2 pens, con.
Connacht: D Leader (T O'Halloran 67); F Carr, R Henshaw, E Griffin, M Healy; J Carty (D Parks 60), K Marmion (P O'Donohoe 71); B Wilkinson (D Buckley 57), J Harris-Wright (D Heffernan 74), N White (R Ah You 44); M Kearney (M Swift 69), C Clarke (capt); A Browne, J Muldoon, E McKeon (G Naoupu 76).
Leinster: R Kearney; Z Kirchner, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, D Kearney; I Madigan (J Gopperth 54), E Reddan (I Boss 54); J McGrath (J O'Connell 77), S Cronin (A Dundon 69) (S Cronin 77), M Moore (M Ross 47); D Toner, T Denton (M McCarthy h-t); R Ruddock (D Ryan 54), J Murphy, J Heaslip (capt).
Referee: G Clancy (IRFU)