Monday 22 January 2018

Returning Lions fail to spark in close call for Leinster

LEINSTER 21 EDINBURGH 13

Luke McGrath, left, and Jonathan Sexton of Leinster during the Guinness PRO14 Round 5 match between Leinster and Edinburgh at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Luke McGrath, left, and Jonathan Sexton of Leinster during the Guinness PRO14 Round 5 match between Leinster and Edinburgh at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

IF LEINSTER repeat this lacklustre performance at the Aviva Stadium in a week’s time they could be in for a long afternoon against Munster.

They got the win, but this return was far less comfortable than it needed to be and while that was in part down to a battling Edinburgh performance the home team will be disappointed with the standard of their own display.

Their Lions had decent individual games on their first game back, but there was little fluency in their play as they struggled to break the stubborn Scots down.

Their discipline let them down at times with Johnny Sexton conceding a particularly silly penalty when their opponents were down to 14 men and Leinster were camped in the ‘22’.

An inexperienced bench didn’t help either and replacement hooker Bryan Byrne had a difficult night out of touch which hindered momentum in the final quarter.

Leo Cullen billed this as the real start of his side’s season, but the players didn’t get the memo. They started slowly and a Devin Toner high tackle saw them cough up three early points to Jason Tovey.

Edinburgh, in contrast, looked sharp and the home side needed a despairing Luke McGrath tackle to keep James Johnstone at bay after the centre’s arcing run took him outside Rory O’Loughlin, while the Leinster defence was struggling when stretched.

They strayed offside and handed Tovey a second penalty, but Edinburgh were lucky to maintain a full complement of players from the kick-off when the airborne Dave Kearney crashed into the static Dougie Fife and came down awkwardly.

The winger escaped a yellow as Sexton kicked to the corner. Seán Cronin was stopped short around the corner, but Jordi Murphy wouldn’t be denied and when the out-half converted, his side were in front.

Referee Ian Davies was in lenient form and he let Scott Fardy away with a swing after Daryl Marfo had playfully tapped him on the head in an incident that injected some life into the 13,213-strong RDS crowd as the shemozzle unfolded beneath them.

A fallow period followed with both teams struggling to get into their rhythm and the game was littered with turnovers and errors.

And it was one of those that saw the Scots go in front as Sexton tapped a penalty to try and up the tempo but, having gained ground through Rory O’Loughlin and Fergus McFadden, the out-half’s pass was picked off by his opposite number who raced clear before converting his own score.

Leinster almost hit back instantly as Seán Cronin came through a ruck and surged into the ‘22’ and Sexton chipped for Scott Fardy who gathered, but couldn’t hold on to the ball under pressure from an excellent Tom Brown covering tackle.

Sexton turned down a certain three points after Edinburgh strayed offside, calling a scrum as he looked to get his team back in front before the break. That attempt didn’t pay dividends, but Hamish Watson was penalised for going off his feet and the captain kicked to the corner. Once again, they couldn’t penetrate but again the penalty came and Sexton went to the corner.  This time they wouldn’t be denied as the forwards pounded the line and then the ball was worked wide to Joey Carbery who stood Tovey up and broke Glenn Bryce’s tackle to score.

Sexton’s conversion gave the home side a 14-13 lead as they headed to the dressing-room.

They might have had a third try within four minutes of the restart as beautiful hands from Tadhg Furlong released Murphy and he drew the last defender and found Jack McGrath. Unfortunately, the prop couldn’t outpace winger Fife and when Leinster moved the ball wide Cronin was turned over.

Their next venture into the ‘22’ was denied by good work over the ball by Watson, but the night got a lot tougher for the visiting team when James Ritchie was sent to the sin-bin for a late tackle that blindsided Luke McGrath.

Looking to turn the screw, Sexton kicked to touch and Leinster’s maul took them from 15 metres to the line, but despite Murphy and Toner having a go, they couldn’t get the try and Jack McGrath ended up held up over the line.

They got the ball back at the scrum, but a silly piece of ill-discipline from Sexton cost them possession in the ‘22’ as the skipper needlessly grabbed Sam Hidalgo-Clyne around the neck and threw him to the ground.

The game was beginning to break up, with both sides having a cut but the final pass wasn’t there and all the good work came to nothing and it remained a one-point game as Ritchie returned and the clock ticked past the hour-mark.

Radar

Sexton turned down another penalty to kick to the corner, but replacement hooker Bryan Byrne’s radar was off and his throw sailed over the lineout allowing Edinburgh to clear.

Shaken, Byrne’s next throw was picked off, allowing the Scottish side to attack and again Luke McGrath was called on to make a last-ditch tackle to keep Anton Bresler at bay.

They thought they’d scored when Phil Burleigh released John Hardie who put Fife away, but Davies reviewed the build-up and spotted a block by Cornell du Preez on Scott Fardy and chalked it off.

Things were getting nervy as Blair Kinghorn surged forward only to be chopped down by Dave Kearney and the replacement full-back handed Leinster the insurance score when he sliced a clearing kick under pressure from Jordan Larmour under his own posts.

Max Deegan did brilliantly to claim it in the air, before Jamison Gibson-Park dummied and dived over to score the third try.

Ross Byrne converted brilliantly and a scarcely deserved bonus point became a possibility, but it never materialised as the game limped to a finish.

LEINSTER – J Carbery; F McFadden, R O’Loughlin, N Reid (J Larmour 59), D Kearney; J Sexton (capt) (R Byrne 69), L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 65); J McGrath (E Byrne 59), S Cronin (B Byrne 59), T Furlong (A Porter 59); D Toner, S Fardy; R Ruddock, J Murphy (R Molony 74), S O’Brien (M Deegan 59).

EDINBURGH – C du Preez; D Fife, J Johnstone, P Burleigh, T Brown (B Kinghorne 59); J Tovey, S Hidalgo-Clyne (N Fowles 55); D Marfo, S McInally (N Cochrane 31-38, 59), S Berghan (K Bryce 51); F McKenzie (capt) (A Bresler 46), G Gilchrist; J Ritchie, H Watson (J Hardie 61) (R Fruean 76), C du Preez.

Ref – I Davies (Wales)

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