Monday 23 October 2017

Lacklustre Blues hang on to finish top

Leinster 15 Edinburgh 13

Jordi Murphy, Leinster, goes over to score his side's first try with the support of team-mate Rhys Ruddock despite the tackle of Greig Laidlaw, Edinburgh
Jordi Murphy, Leinster, goes over to score his side's first try with the support of team-mate Rhys Ruddock despite the tackle of Greig Laidlaw, Edinburgh
Seán O'Brien, Leinster, is tackled by Andries Strauss, left, and Ross Ford, Edinburgh
Leo Cullen, Leinster, supported by team-mate Seán O'Brein, is tackled by Ross Ford, left, and Dimitri Basilaia, Edinburgh
Rob Kearney, Leinster, breaks through the tackle of Greig Laidlaw, Edinburgh
Dave Kearney, Leinster, scores his side's second try
Leinster's Brian O'Driscoll after the match against Edinburgh at the RDS Arena

JOHN FALLON

Champions Leinster, as expected, booked a home semi-final with Ulster but it was a far from convincing display by Matt O'Connor's men, who failed to put Edinburgh away when they got on top.

In the end Leinster hung on for victory after Edinburgh reduced the margin to two points 15 minutes from the end on a night when the Scots fell to their fifth defeat in a row.

O'Connor will be the first to appreciate that Leinster will need to show a vast improvement next weekend when Ulster come to the RDS in a repeat of last year's final.

The opening half had all the hallmarks of an end-of-season encounter about with both sides showing a decent appetite to run but lacking the accuracy and basic skills to execute what they were trying to do.

Edinburgh may have had little more than pride to play for but they were worth their 6-5 interval lead.

Indeed, they would have been further ahead had the television match official not spotted Tim Visser's forward pass to Matt Scott after 17 minutes in midfield before full-back Carl Bezuidenhout raced over.

Edinburgh, already severely depleted, were further disrupted when they lost three players to injury in the opening 27 minutes, with winger Sam Beard, No 8 David Denton and centre Matt Scott all forced to go off.

But Leinster were unable to capitalise on Edinburgh's woes on a night when they gave a rousing reception to the retiring Brian O'Driscoll and Leo Cullen and welcomed back Irish flanker Sean O'Brien for his first game since being sidelined with a shoulder injury in January.

Leinster initially responded well to a bright start by Edinburgh when Greig Laidlaw made no mistake with a penalty after Gordon D'Arcy was pinged for not rolling away after six minutes.

Leinster immediately built the phases, testing the defence on both flanks, and eventually the pressure paid off when Jordi Murphy found a gap to get over after 10 minutes.

Jimmy Gopperth narrowly missed the conversion from the left but notions that they would push on and dominate from there were dispelled, with the loss of hooker Richardt Strauss to injury not helping their cause. O'Connor confirmed afterwards that Strauss has been ruled out of next weekend's semi-final with a hamstring injury and may be a doubt for the Irish tour to Argentina next month.

Edinburgh were not perturbed by the ruling out of Bezuidenhout's try and it took some superb defending to deny out-half Harry Leonard before the break, but Laidlaw edged them in front with his second penalty just before the interval after O'Brien was penalised for being off his feet.

Leinster were much sharper after the restart and piled the pressure on Edinburgh but Dave Kearney knocked-on after a superb through-the-legs pass from O'Driscoll, while excellent breaks from Gopperth and Rob Kearney were stopped short by the stretched visitors' defence.

But the pressure coughed up a penalty in front of the posts and Gopperth duly obliged to edge Leinster 8-6 in front after 51 minutes.

It appeared that the champions would canter to victory when Dave Kearney got in for their second try after 57 minutes after good work by Gopperth, and with the out-half landing the conversion to make it 15-6 the margin of victory seemed all that remained to be decided.

But Edinburgh continued to battle away and once more Leinster faded, with Laidlaw punishing them with a sniping break after 65 minutes to send Tim Visser cantering home under the posts; Laidlaw's conversion reduced the margin to 15-13 to ensure a nervous finish for the table-toppers. However, Leinster never looked like letting it slip and they held on for victory.

Scorers – Leinster: J Murphy, D Kearney tries; J Gopperth pen, con. Edinburgh: T Visser try; G Laidlaw 2 pens, con.

Leinster: R Kearney (B Macken 58); F McFadden, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy (I Madigan 64), D Kearney; J Gopperth, I Boss; J McGrath (C Healy 52), R Strauss (S Cronin 12), M Ross (M Moore 52); L Cullen (R Ruddock 53), M McCarthy; S O'Brien (D Ryan 51), J Murphy, J Heaslip.

Edinburgh: C Bezuidenhout (P Francis 70); S Beard (G Hart 3), M Scott (B Atiga 28), A Strauss, T Visser; H Leonard, G Laidlaw; A Dickinson, R Ford (J Hilterbrand 64), WP Nel (S Berghan 64); G Gilchrist, B Toolis (A Toolis 58); M Coman, T Leonardi, D Denton (D Basilaia 27).

Referee: L Hodges (WRU).

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