McFadden maintains Leinster's solid form
A SOLID Leinster victory, their 11th in a row in all competitions, over a weary Ospreys outfit last night, keeps Michael Cheika's men on top of the Magners League with play-off plans very much on schedule
It is a victory that will breed further confidence in the squad with various issues to be mulled over regarding their options should they not have out-half Jonathan Sexton available for their Heineken Cup semi-final assignment in Toulouse in a fortnight.
Shaun Berne started in Sexton's stead and, though the Australian does not have Sexton's verve on the ball, he gave a decent display as playmaker, crowned with a well-taken second-half try.
Fergus McFadden was handed the kicking duties ahead of Berne which suggests he will be accommodated in the team for Toulouse if Sexton misses out. McFadden missed two of his six kicks but the four he nailed were well executed in an accomplished overall display.
Jamie Heaslip gave his usual barnstorming performance, with good support from his back-row colleagues, while the scrum and line-out were also effective against a decent Ospreys forward unit. Paul Donohue was a late replacement for scrum-half Eoin Reddan (a minor niggle) and the Clontarf youngster took his opportunity well. Gordon D'Arcy and Isa Nacewa looked lively in the backline while Girvan Dempsey was his usual assured self at full-back.
The intensity levels were vastly reduced from what we had witnessed a week previously when Clermont Auvergne brought their flair and fury to the RDS. Last night's tepid first half, with knock-ons and missed tackles, had a definite end-of-season feel about it.
Ospreys went in 16-10 ahead at half-time having looked the more threatening outfit with the talented Dan Biggar scoring all their points courtesy of three penalties and the conversion of his own try after 32 minutes.
Nacewa opened the scoring after 11 minutes when he intercepted a pass from Biggar (practically his only mistake of the half) to run 75 metres for the try, converted by McFadden.
McFadden swapped penalties with Biggar to leave it at 10-3 to the home team after 20 minutes and the Ospreys 10 then went on his 13-point scoring rampage which included a mammoth penalty from wide on the left and just inside Leinster's half.
His try came after Alun-Wyn Jones pounced on a John Fogarty line-out throw and allowed the Ospreys to set up good position. After several phases that benefited from good work by Ospreys hooker Ed Shervington, Biggar's one-on-one with Leinster prop Mike Ross was no contest.
With Stan Wright and Malcolm O'Kelly replacing Ross and Nathan Hines for the second 40, Leinster set about reclaiming the lead and the intensity levels picked up. However, when the first penalty presented itself five minutes in and, McFadden shanked it wide.
Biggar can't have been too pleased to be hauled off after 51 minutes given the way he was playing but when your replacement is a player of the calibre of James Hook, it is hard to quibble.
But it was Leinster who struck next when Marty Holah invited Berne to run at the space outside him and the Australian accepted gratefully, scooting through for a well-taken try which McFadden converted to put the home side 17-16 in front after 52 minutes.
Leinster were coming hard, Heaslip and Shane Jennings and the hard-running Kevin McLaughlin to the fore. Despite pinning the Ospreys into their own half, the scores refused to come as McFadden had another miss on 66 minutes and then a drop goal by Berne which looked valid on the replay, was deemed ineligible by the TMO.
Ospreys brought on Ryan Jones and scrum-half Mike Phillips but looked like a side feeling the effects of a third game in six days. Leinster were not threatened and McFadden recovered from his earlier misses to bang over a fantastic penalty from just over the half-way line for 20-16 with five minutes left.
They saw that out comfortably and cruise on towards a home Magners League semi-final while Ospreys will be content with their six-point return from their mini-tour to Ireland. This victory will allow Cheika to mix and match against Connacht on Wednesday but McFadden and Berne can expect to see action again as the planning continues for their daunting Toulouse assignment.
LEINSTER -- G Dempsey; S Horgan, F McFadden, G D'Arcy I Nacewa; S Berne, P O'Donohoe; C Healy, J Fogarty, M Ross (S Wright 40); L Cullen (capt), N Hines (M O'Kelly 40); K McLaughlin (S Keogh 65-70), S Jennings, J Heaslip.
OSPREYS -- G Owen (T Prydie 80); N Walker, S Parker, A Bishop, S Williams; D Biggar (J Hook 49), J Nutbrown (M Phillips 64); P James, E Shervington, A Jones (C Mitchell 58); I Gough, AW Jones (I Evans 49) ; J Collins, M Holah, F Tiatia (R Jones 64).
REF -- A Lewis (Ireland)