Leinster lose 100% record as Stormers earn thrilling draw at the RDS

Leinster 22 Stormers 22

Leinster players celebrate a second-half try. Image: Sportsfile.

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Before Friday night, Leinster had won 19 games in a row but they had to work hardest to draw with the Stormers and preserve their unbeaten record.

The United Rugby Championship holders threw everything at the pretenders to their crown in a thrilling contest that saw the home side come from 17-0 down to lead by five and then find themselves tagged back again.

Harry Byrne, who played well in general pay but managed just one from five from the tee in tough conditions, had a chance to win it but hit the post. In the end, he was happy to get the ball off the pitch to claim the draw.

Three points is enough for them to top the URC table and so they won’t have to leave the Aviva Stadium in the knockouts in either competition.

If they cross paths with the men from Cape Town again, they won’t have much trouble shifting tickets.

The Stormers showed Leinster no deference and tore into their hosts from the off.

Springbok out-half Manie Libbok got his side off the mark from the tee and missed an attempted drop-goal minutes later, but the Stormers were well on top in every area including the scrum and it was from there they got their first try.

Hacjivah Dayimani picked from the base of a dominant scrum; Joseph Dweba followed up with another hard carry, before Libbok dummied to go wide before stepping past Liam Turner and Scott Penny as if they weren’t there.

He converted his own try, but then kicked dead to invite Leinster to attack.

The chance came and went as John McKee knocked on and, though Seabalo Senatla escaped further punishment for a deliberate knock-on, it was the Stormers defence who profited as Luke McGrath’s pass sailed through Ciaran Frawley’s hands and Libbok was on hand to scoop it up and release winger Suleiman Hartzenberg who scored.

Libbok converted to take his first-half tally to 12 but Leinster had the final say of the half thanks to a clever Frawley kick in behind that Rob Russell couldn’t keep in play.

Dweba’s throw sailed over the grounded Stormers and Penny pounced, with the South Africans coughing up three penalties on their own line before Max Deegan freed his hands to send Michael Milne through Damian Willemse and Hartzenberg to score.

Harry Byrne’s conversion drifted wide, so Leinster retreated to the dressing-room in the unfamiliar position of being 12 points down.

They got it back to one score within four minutes of the restart, with Dweba straying offside. Byrne used the wind to find the corner and, from the maul, Penny peeled off and crashed over.

Again, Byrne’s conversion was just wide, but he nailed a 50:22 soon after as the Stormers repeatedly went to the air and Leinster began winning that battle and, when they coughed up another penalty, the out-half kicked to the corner.

This time, Kitshoff read McKee’s intentions and found Dayimani. The No 8 almost went the length, but he was hunted down by Turner. Dayimani found Hartzenberg, but Frawley made it back and Russell got over the ball with help from Rhys Ruddock and earned a penalty.

Instead, it was Leinster who struck next thanks to a calamity of errors in the Stormers back-field where Clayton Blommetjies got himself in a muddle under Byrne’s kick, Turner pounced and, after a strong Ross Molony carry, Milne found Russell who scored.

Byrne’s missed conversion allowed Stormers keep their lead but when a visiting attack broke up he dotted in another superb 50:22.

Their maul earned a penalty and Hartzenberg was sent to the sin-bin, before McKee tapped the penalty and went before Deegan crashed over.

Byrne made no mistake at the fourth attempt, but back came the South Africans through their scrum and maul – working their way into position for Libbok to dab the ball in behind Dave Kearney for Blommetjies.

Libbok’s kick was wide, leaving it at 22-22 and, despite Byrne’s best attempt, it stayed that way.

LEINSTER – J Larmour; R Russell, L Turner, C Frawley, D Kearney; H Byrne, L McGrath (N McCarthy 69); M Milne (E Byrne 62), J McKee (L Barron 62), M Ala’alatoa (V Abdaladze 62); R Molony, J Jenkins (B Deeny 69); R Ruddock (W Connors 62), S Penny, M Deegan.

STORMERS – C Blommetjies (JL du Plessis 73); S Hartzenberg, D du Plessis, D Willemse, S Senatla; M Libbok, P de Wet (H Janthies 56); S Kitshoff (capt) (B Harris 62), J Dweba (JJ Kotze 62), F Malherbe (N Fouche 56); R van Heerden, M Orie (E van Rhyn 72); D Fourie (M Theunissen 64), BJ Dixon (W Engelbrecht 61), J Dayimani.

Ref – S Grove-White (Scotland)