Wednesday 11 December 2019

It's substance over style as Leinster grind way to victory

Lyon 6 Leinster 13

Leinster's Jonathan Sexton is tackled by Lyon's Julien Puricelli (left) and Carl Fearns. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster's Jonathan Sexton is tackled by Lyon's Julien Puricelli (left) and Carl Fearns. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

This was the grittier side of Leinster on a dirty day in Lyon. The Top 14 leaders may have no pedigree in this tournament, but they threw the kitchen sink at the four-time champions who needed a performance full of character to emerge with the four points they needed.

They might have made life easier for themselves at times and will need to get better as the tournament progresses, but they'll take the four points. It sets up the pre-Christmas back-to-back games against Pool 1's other unbeaten side, Northampton Saints, who squeezed past Benetton earlier in the day.

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Leinster's James Ryan makes a break. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster's James Ryan makes a break. Photo: Sportsfile

"When we really, really needed to dig in we have that gear which is pleasing," Leinster's head coach, Leo Cullen, said. "It's just about getting the job done at the moment, isn't it?

"On we got to the next one, it's such a big block of games. It's an amazing block of games for all the teams. Glasgow away next week, then Northampton away. A couple of big weeks on the road for us.

"I see Northampton had a good win themselves, which makes things tight. It's the haves and the have-nots at the moment, but one of those teams could win two games and keep alive within the pool. Northampton are a team we know well. They're a team we've had plenty of battles with in the past."

It was a tight and taut affair from the off. Lyon out-half Jonathan Wisniewski missed an early drop-goal attempt, so it was his former Racing 92 team-mate Johnny Sexton who opened the scoring with a penalty after Hendrik Roodt went high on Garry Ringrose.

Lyon's Jonathan Wisniewski tackles Leinster's Garry Ringrose. Photo: Sportsfile
Lyon's Jonathan Wisniewski tackles Leinster's Garry Ringrose. Photo: Sportsfile

He hit the post when trying to double that lead, while a big change went a-begging when Robbie Henshaw ignored the screams of James Lowe on his shoulder and butchered a three-man overlap.

With the home side dominating possession and territory, Leinster were forced to defend and Scott Fardy came up with a big turnover, deep in his own '22', after the scrum coughed up a penalty.

And it was Leinster's rear-guard that got them their all-important first try, with Josh van der Flier charging Wisniewski down and collecting the ball before feeding James Ryan. Virgile Bruni caught the second-row, but Tadhg Furlong and Max Deegan moved the ball wide to Rob Kearney who carried to the five-metre line. After a couple of forward carries, No 8 Deegan picked and went through Mickael Ivaldi, with support from Rhys Ruddock, to score.

Sexton converted and Lyon came in search of a score; Deegan failed to control scrum ball and Baptiste Couilloud almost capitalised. Luke McGrath caught his opposite number, but Jordan Larmour killed the attack and was sent to the sin-bin.

Still, the French side couldn't score. Their handling let them down over and over again, while Leinster's defence stayed strong despite the concession of successive maul tries in their own '22' and they got to half-time with their opponents still scoreless.

Another Leinster chance went awry due to a poor decision from James Ryan who kept the ball to himself when he had three backs outside him, spilling the ball in Toby Arnold's brilliant tackle as he tried to release Garry Ringrose. Referee Luke Pearce went back to review an earlier cheap shot from Ivaldi on Sexton who had just nailed Carl Fearns and, while he kept his cards in his pocket, the penalty allowed Sexton to kick into Lyon territory but McGrath turned the ball over in the '22' and it remained 10-0.

It was never comfortable. Andrew Porter coughed up a scrum penalty, before they again pulled Lyon's maul down twice and somehow escaped a yellow card. The hosts went to the corner, but this time the maul stood tall and Porter brilliantly worked his way through to force a scrum.

Jamison Gibson-Park's clearing kick didn't go far, however, and when Leinster went offside at the maul Wisniewski got his side's first points from the tee.

That cut Leinster's lead to seven with 13 minutes to go, but the four-time champions kept their heads. Sexton thought he'd scored a try, but a Ringrose block on Noa Nakaitaci saw the score chalked off. Pearce was playing advantage so the out-half had to settle for a penalty instead.

Wisniewski pulled another penalty back to make it a seven-point game once again when Ryan spilled the kick-off and Ringrose played the ball offside.

That meant a nervy finish, but after Lyon worked their way from inside their own half to the edge of Leinster's '22 Arnold knocked on and Pearce sounded the final whistle.

Scorers - Leinster: Deegan try; Sexton 2 pens; Sexton con. Lyon: Wisniewski 2 pens.

Leinster: R Kearney; J Larmour, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Lowe; J Sexton (capt) (R Byrne 78), L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 61); C Healy (E Byrne 61), R Kelleher (J Tracy 61), T Furlong (A Porter 54); S Fardy (J Murphy 74), J Ryan; R Ruddock (D Toner 54), J van der Flier, M Deegan.

Lyon: T Arnold; X Mignot (R Wulf 69), T Regard, C Ngatai, N Nakaitaci; J Wisniewski, B Couillous (capt (J Pelissie 54); X Chiocci (R Chaume 48), M Ivaldi (J Maurouard ), D Bamba (F Gomez Kodela 48); V Bruni, H Roodt (E Oosthuizen 66); J Puricelli (L Goujon 29), L Gill, C Fearns.

Referee: L Pearce (England)

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