Ruddock leads Blues to bonus territory after thriller
Connacht 24-37 Leinster
A shadow Leinster side emerged from a thrilling see-saw contest with the bonus-point win that regains them their hold on top spot in the Guinness Pro12 on a day when an all-Irish final in the Aviva at the end of May moved a step closer.
Two early tries from Adam Byrne and Zane Kirchner earned a commanding early lead but they were pegged back by the enterprising champions, reprising some of the style that won them this title against Leinster's first string last May.
A Danie Poolman try and Craig Ronaldson's boot got them within a point, 20-19, at half-time - Rory O'Loughlin responding for the visitors.
But although Dave Heffernan's try edged them ahead, Leinster were ultimately more clinical, pouncing on errors to finish strongly with Ross Daly and Rhys Ruddock adding late tries as the visitors finished with a flourish.
Connacht deserved a bonus themselves but, a bit like much of their season, they fell well short. They were given the first early fillip when Ronaldson slotted a penalty after just 90 seconds.
Leinster responded almost immediately, going to the corner before moving the ball inside and then back again, a sweeping pass from Noel Reid skipping to Byrne who flicked the scoring return pass inside to Zane Kirchner.
The howls of the home crowd decreed that referee Ian Ritchie consulted the TMO briefly as Ross Byrne attempted a quick conversion; his haste was unnecessary as the seventh-minute touchdown was awarded.
Tiernan O'Halloran dotted down for the second try after just 14 minutes and Byrne converted for a 12-3 lead.
Poolman hit back with a five-pointer which Ronaldson converted to give his side an advantage for the first time, 13-12, before Leinster responded with a penalty of their own in the 20th minute. Ronaldson nailed another kick as his side edged 16-15 ahead after a half-hour of a quite frantic contest
Rory O'Loughlin then squeezed into the left corner from the omnipresent Josh van der Flier's pass, having himself been found by wondrous looping pass from Byrne.
So Leinster led again, 20-16.
Connacht had the last word of a busy half, winning a fifth penalty on the ground, Ronaldson's penalty leaving the minimum between the sides.
Heffernan gleefully pounced for a 49th-minute score to edge Connacht 24-20 ahead before Rhys Ruddock bundled himself and the ball over and Byrne converted to regain a 27-24 lead for Leinster. Barry Daly then capitalised on an error by the hosts and he followed up in the open prairie for an easy score to make it 34-24.
Ten points ahead with ten points left, the game was up.
Byrne stroked a late penalty; not a 300th appearance for Connacht legend John Muldoon to remember fondly.
Connacht: T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun (E Griffin 12), B Aki, C Ronaldson; D Poolman, J Carty (S Crosbie 71), K Marmion (C Blade 37-40 blood; 74); D Buckley (JP Cooney 70), D Heffernan (S Delahunt 65), F Bealham (D Robertson-McKay 70), Q Roux (S O'Brien 21), A Browne, E McKeon N Dawai HT), J Heenan, J Muldoon (capt)
Leinster: Z Kirchner; A Byrne, R O'Loughlin (T Daly 74), N Reid, D Kearney (B Daly 48); R Byrne, L McGrath (N McCarthy 74); C Healy (P Dooley 52), J Tracy (S Cronin 52), M Ross (M Bent 52), R Molony, H Triggs (I Nagle 62), D Ryan, J van der Flier, R Ruddock capt (P Timmins 74)
Ref: I Ritchie (WRU)
Sunday Indo Sport