| 16°C Dublin

Macken gets Leinster over the line on poignant night

Night and day. The first part started poignantly, in beautiful autumn sunshine, with the Leinster crowd following up a minute's silence for the Spence family, who suffered such horrendous loss last weekend, with a rendition of Stand Up for the Ulstermen.



The night part ended with the home team trying to stave off an Edinburgh comeback that had seen them creep back to a position where they could win the game with one strike.

They were still trying to unload that strike when referee Neil Hennessy blew for the last time. So Michael Bradley took a bonus point home with him -- good enough in the circumstances -- and Joe Schmidt got a win that puts his team second in the table.

The home coach also got unwanted injury news with the removal of Gordon D'Arcy in the first half with rib cartilage damage, having lost Eoin Reddan pre-match after he failed to recover from a quad injury. The silver lining on the D'Arcy cloud was the performance of his replacement Brendan Macken, who got two tries for his efforts.

The first of those came after the most unusual sequence in the game. We don't often see referees binning twice in roughly the same passage of play but Mr Hennessy punished Edinburgh, first with John Yapp, and then Sean Cox, as Leinster piled on the pressure in the third quarter.

The most interesting thing about this was how Leinster reacted. With a scrum close in, and only six defenders in red unattached, the home team huffed and puffed, and then Jamie Heaslip picked and ploughed into a defender with Andrew Conway unmarked outside him.

"I think directly from the set-piece to go to the right-hand side wasn't a bad option and once we didn't get any success with that we just didn't set ourselves well enough to get across the field," Schmidt said of it afterwards. "It's pretty hard to get the ball across the field when the defenders are lined up on the line -- they fire off very quickly, but again we're kind of working out way through a full plan at the moment. There are a lot of guys who are mixing and matching in the last two weeks."

And a load of them missing tomorrow courtesy of the Ireland squad session. The good news for Schmidt is that those who are left behind have the right stuff. Fionn Carr is one of them. Regularly he must wonder about the wisdom of moving from Connacht but he has beefed up the defensive side of his game, and going forward he is top class. He ghosted past two Edinburgh defenders in the lead-up to those incidents that saw Yapp and Cox binned. Then, a few minutes later, you had to pity Tom Brown, who literally was left single-handed as Carr was one of four attackers bearing down on the Edinburgh wing, with a predictable result: try for Macken, with his second coming nine minutes later.

The good bits for the away team, who after a summer of recruitment are on a mission to atone for last season coming one place above the now defunct Aironi, were in the second and fourth quarters. To have survived the eight-minute spell with 13 men at the cost of only seven points was good going, and they recovered strongly with a Greig Laidlaw penalty -- his third of the night -- and a try from replacement prop Willem Nel.

They were less productive, however, when actually playing better. Having been blitzed by Leinster for a 10-point start -- great rugby at high tempo -- Edinburgh got lots of time on the ball through the combined power of Netani Talei, Ross Ford and Stuart McInally up front, and Nick de Luca behind. They got enough go-forward to carve out a handful of really promising positions in the last third of the field, but came away from the first 40 minutes with only six points, from Laidlaw.

Jonny Sexton had led Leinster's early charge with a 10-point contribution -- including a handy try attacking a soft shoulder when Edinburgh were short-staffed after a great Cian Healy break. He set the tone again early in the second half before being replaced by Ian Madigan. Only Brian O'Driscoll and Isa Nacewa were left of the senior players for the last quarter, which is indicative of the faith Schmidt has now in his support cast.

They were up to the task again here, despite having to defend hard against the sweeping red tide in those final minutes. More accuracy when they had Edinburgh on the rack would have made for a handier finish. It's still September. Leinster look like they know where they're going. And Edinburgh at least seemed destined for a higher finish than last season.

Scorers -- Leinster: J Sexton try, pen, 2 cons; B Macken 2 tries; Edinburgh: W Nel try; G Laidlow 3 pens, con.

Leinster: I Nacewa; A Conway, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy (B Macken 27), F Carr; J Sexton (I Madigan 68), J Cooney; C Healy (H ven der Merwe 52), S Cronin, M Ross (J Hagan 60), L Cullen (capt) (D Toner 60), T Denton, K McLaughlin, J Heaslip, S Jennings (J Murphy 48).

Edinburgh: G Tonks; L Jones, N De Luca, M Scott, T Brown; G Laidlaw (capt), R Rees; J Yapp, R Ford (A Titterrell 74), G Cross (W Nel 37), G Gilchrist, S Cox, S McInally, N Talei, R Grant.

Referee: N Hennessy (Wales)

Sunday Indo Sport