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Dublin: 8 °C Sunday 24 June, 2018
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Good evening and welcome along to the final Champions Cup game of the weekend and certainly it appears the organisers have saved the best for last.

Leinster have enjoyed a perfect start to their European campaign with bonus-point wins over Montpellier and Glasgow Warriors but face their stiffest test tonight at the home of the English champions, the Exeter Chiefs.

We’re expecting a big evening of European rugby under the lights at Sandy Park so throw another log on the fire and settle into our live coverage. Kick-off is at 5.30pm and we’ll have all the build-up between now and then.

TEAM NEWS: Before we go any further, let’s take a closer look at the teams named by Rob Baxter and Cullen on Friday.

Leinster have been able to call on their returning internationals for this round three clash, while Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw are reunited in midfield in what could very well be Cullen’s strongest XV of the season.

Plenty of familiar faces in the Chiefs side, too, with former Ulster out-half Gareth Steenson captaining the hosts and two-time capped Ireland international Ian Whitten named in the centre.

England international and Lion Jack Nowell is held in reserve following his recent return from injury.

Exeter Chiefs

15.Phil Dollman
14.James Short
13.Henry Slade
12. Ian Whitten
11. Olly Woodburn
10.Gareth Steenson (captain)
9. Nic White

1. Alec Hepburn
2. Luke Cowan-Dickie
3. Harry Williams
4. Mitch Lees
5. Jonny Hill
6. Don Armand
7. Matt Kvesic
8. Tom Waldrom

Replacements:

16. Jack Yeandle
17. Ben Moon
18. Tom Francis
19. Sam Skinner
20. Sam Simmonds
21. Will Chudley
22. Sam Hill
23. Jack Nowell

Leinster

15. Rob Kearney
14. Fergus McFadden
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. Isa Nacewa (captain)
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Luke McGrath

1. Cian Healy
2. Seán Cronin
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Devin Toner
5. Scott Fardy
6. Rhys Ruddock
7. Seán O’Brien
8. Jack Conan

Replacements

16. James Tracy
17. Jack McGrath
18. Michael Bent
19. James Ryan
20. Josh van der Flier
21. Jamison Gibson-Park
22. Ross Byrne
23. Jordan Larmour

Here’s the state of play before we get underway at Sandy Park; Leinster lead the way but Montpellier’s win in Glasgow on Friday night means it’s all very tight between the three sides as the battle for the quarter-finals begins to intensify.

Victory tonight would put the eastern province in a very strong position heading into next week’s return leg at the Aviva Stadium.

Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 17.06.46

Although other parts of England have been severely affected by adverse weather — Saracens-Clermont was postponed earlier and Ulster’s win at Harlequins was played in snowy conditions — temperatures aren’t quite as low in Devon and the Sandy Park pitch is in perfect condition.

Leinster supporters have travelled in numbers and there’s set to be an electric atmosphere under the lights.

Antoinette O'Brien,Tony Joyce and Audrey Hevey Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

A view of Sandy Park Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Leo Cullen and Rob Baxter Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

PRE-MATCH READING: As mentioned, Exeter are captained this evening by Irish out-half Gareth Steenson, who has been an ever-present in this Chiefs team during their remarkable rise.

Exeter v Wasps - Aviva Premiership - Sandy Park Source: Simon Galloway

The 33-year-old is the club’s leading points scorer and remains an integral part of Rob Baxter’s side and Ryan Bailey caught up with him during the week.

“The last time I played against Johnny was those couple of times five years ago. I spent a lot of time with him at underage rugby. We were U21s together, spent a month sharing a room. Johnny has been a fantastic servant to Leinster rugby and to Irish rugby. He has done really well in big games for the Lions. It is an exciting challenge for us as a group.”

KICK OFF: Romain Poite eventually receives the all clear, and Steenson gets us underway.

1Mins

1 min – Ollie Woodburn leaps into the biting night sky to claim the kick off, but good work from Leinster on the ground earns the scrum.

2Mins

2 mins – Welcome to Sandy Park, Robbie. Leinster look to run it from their own 22 but Henshaw is lined up by Steenson and the Exeter captain makes a crunching hit in midfield.

4Mins

4 mins — Magic from Leinster. A wonderful flowing move involving Rob Kearney and Johnny Sexton cuts the Chiefs to shreds, and Luke McGrath is on hand to collect the offload and dive over for a quite superb score…but we’re going upstairs to the TMO.

5Mins

5 mins — NO TRY!

After lengthy deliberations with his TMO, Poite rules that Sexton’s white boot was in touch before he could offload for McGrath and that’s a real pity for Leinster. It was an incredibly tight call and perhaps the benefit of the doubt should have gone with the attacking team.

7Mins

ACTION SHOT: McGrath finished off that Leinster move down the left but the celebrations were cut short.

Luke McGrath dives over for a try that was later disallowed Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

8Mins

8 mins – Leinster have made a very bright start and have really imposed themselves in the opening exchanges with some direct running and sharp defensive work. Thomas Waldrom is penalised at the breakdown and Sexton will have the chance to open the scoring from the tee.

9Mins

9 mins – But Sexton pushes his effort to the right and instantly looks down at the tee. Not the best strike from the Ireland out-half, who had a 100% in the competition until that miss.

11Mins

11 mins — Nic White has just had a shocking few minutes as two loose kicks puts his side under pressure, the second gifting possession to Jack Conan yards from the Exeter line.

12Mins

12 mins – Exeter are scrambling in defence as Leinster rumble towards the line through Conan and Toner. The second-row appears to be over but there are pink shirts blocking the referee’s view and we’re going back upstairs.

14Mins

14 mins — NO TRY!

Poite asks his TMO if it was a try yes or no, and after studying various angles he decides the French official CAN award the try. However, Poite says no and asks did he see the grounding, at which point the TMO said he didn’t. No try, five metre scrum Leinster.

16Mins

16 mins – Leinster knocking on the door but have lacked accuracy in the attacking third so far. Conan, Healy and then McGrath look to force their way over before we go back for a penalty advantage. Nacewa calls for the scrum under the posts.

16Mins

16 mins – Leinster are dominant at the set-piece and after three penalties, Poite loses his patience and sends Harry Williams to the bin. The visitors need to convert this territory into points.

17Mins

ACTION SHOT: Scott Fardy carries with support from Sean O’Brien.

Scott Fardy Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

17Mins

17 mins – Heroic Chiefs defence and somehow the 14 men have got themselves out of trouble with a huge shove at the scrum.

20Mins

TRY! Exeter Chiefs 0-5 Leinster (Sexton 20′)

Finally, and it was worth the wait. Sexton’s delicate cross-field kick finds Nacewa and opens up the space. Leinster recycle it quickly and the out-half is on hand to finish the move in the corner. No more than Cullen’s side deserve.

Sexton’s conversion from the left touchline falls just short, an indication of the strength of breeze out there.

25Mins

25 mins — Exeter Chiefs 3-5 Leinster (Steenson, pen 25′)

That’s poor from Leinster as they almost immediately concede a penalty down the other end — Healy pinged for not releasing — and Steenson just doesn’t miss from that range.

26Mins

ACTION SHOT: Sexton finds the breakthrough for Leinster to finish off a move he started.

Johnny Sexton scores a try despite Henry Slade Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

27Mins

27 mins – Exeter have been forced into an early change with Phil Dollman hobbling off clutching his ribs. His replacement, England international and Lions wing Jack Nowell, isn’t a bad one to bring on.

30Mins

30 mins – Luke McGrath, as lively as ever, makes a wonderful break but his decision to kick through with support on his shoulder wasn’t the best choice. The Chiefs clear.

31Mins

31 mins – For the third time in the opening 30 minutes, the TMO has been asked to have a look at an incident, this time involving Chiefs hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie. There was suspicion of a no-arms tackle on Cian Healy and Poite decides the punishment is nothing more than a penalty.

33 mins — Exeter Chiefs 3-8 Leinster (Sexton, pen 33′)

Sexton makes no mistake from under the posts.

36Mins

36 mins – Nacewa with an uncharacteristic error in midfield as he knocks on and when Exeter win the scrum penalty, Steenson pings it deep into Leinster territory. Waldrom charges towards the line but the blue shirts do enough to hold him up.

38Mins

38 mins – Superb defence from Leinster, led by Scott Fardy. Exeter go through 13 phases in search of a breakthrough but Conan eventually forces the handling error in the tackle and Leinster win the scrum.

An interesting first 40 minutes of rugby, with Leinster enjoying the possession and territory but only going into the break with a five-point advantage.

Leo Cullen’s side have left a few chances out there but their defensive defiance right at the end of that half will give them a huge boost going into the break having repelled Exeter’s powerful pick-and-go approach.

It’s all to play for at Sandy Park.

41Mins

KICK OFF: We’re back underway at Sandy Park.

42Mins

42 mins – The Chiefs look to counter-attack through Nowell and as he bears down on the Leinster line, Sean Cronin comes across and takes him out with a high tackle. The TMO is going to have a look at this and it could be a penalty try.

43Mins

43 mins — NO PENALTY TRY, YELLOW CARD

A lucky escape for Leinster as Cronin is sent to the bin and Poite decides it’s not a penalty try. Meanwhile, Rhys Ruddock has been helped off the field with a leg injury and Josh van der Flier is on.

47Mins

47 mins – It’s hugely physical out there and both Scott Fardy and Isa Nacewa are down receiving treatment.

49Mins

ACTION SHOT: Cronin is sent to the bin for that seat belt tackle on Nowell.

Romain Poite gives Sean Cronin a yellow card Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

52Mins

52 mins – Leinster are back to their full complement with James Tracy staying on for Cronin and Fergus McFadden returning. Cian Healy has also been replaced by Jack McGrath after another big shift in the front row.

56Mins

TRY! Exeter Chiefs 8-8 Leinster (James Short 54′)

Leinster’s rearguard finally breached. Woodburn makes the initial break and they have numbers out wide, with Short on hand to race clear and dot it down in the corner. Steenson’s conversion attempt drifts just wide.

56Mins

56 mins – We’re all-square now at Sandy Park with a fascinating last 25 minutes ahead.

60Mins

60 mins – Here come Leinster again. Phase after phase of probing is met with aggressive defence from Exeter as they drive the visitors back. Eventually the hosts concede a penalty and with Sexton down receiving treatment, Nacewa calls for the tee.

61Mins

61 mins — Exeter Chiefs 8-11 Leinster (Nacewa 62′)

The Leinster captain strikes it between the posts and Leinster have the lead again.

65Mins

65 mins – Fardy has been colossal this evening and he makes another huge hit to force the turnover, and Sexton’s perfectly-weighted kick finds McFadden but the winger is unable to gather. It’s tight.

67Mins

ACTION SHOT: The game is in the balance heading into the final 14 minutes.

Mitch Lees and Devin Toner contest in the line out Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

68Mins

68 mins – Good attacking platform for Leinster here as Woodburn slices his clearing kick. The visitors rumble on towards the line through multiple phases of possession, the forwards picking and going for now.

69Mins

69 mins – Leinster have now gone through 38 phases of play but need to score from this passage of play. They’re within inches…

73Mins

TRY! Exeter Chiefs 8-18 Leinster (Conan)

Leinster’s pressure pays off as they eventually wear down the Exeter defence after 44 phases of possession. Jack Conan is the man to finish it off and Nacewa nails the conversion.

73Mins

73 mins – That was an epic few minutes of play as Leinster patiently recycled and edged their way towards, all the while being held by some tireless defensive work from Exeter. In the end, their resistance was broken and the blue flags around Sandy Park are blowing in the wind.

74Mins

74 mins – Leinster have made a couple of changes with Ross Byrne and Jordan Larmour on for Sexton and Nacewa. Jamison Gibson-Park and Michael Bent have also entered the action, replacing McGrath and Furlong.

76Mins

76 mins – What a performance this has been from Leinster as they send out a real statement of intent with victory at the home of the English champions, a ground Exeter haven’t suffered defeat on since this time last year.

79Mins

79 mins – Leinster running down the clock as Conan and O’Brien put the head down. Exeter have made 222 tackles in total.

Not many teams come to Sandy Park and dominate the way Leinster did as Leo Cullen’s side consolidated their grip on Pool 3 with a big away win. Thanks for joining us this evening and until next weekend, goodbye!

About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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