Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO
Sean Farrell reports from the RDS
CONNACHT ENSURED THERE was no shortage of intensity to the year’s opening inter-pro as they laid late siege to Leinster’s try-line in search of a first win in Dublin since 2002.
Ultimately though, the hosts delivered a derby victory thanks to an insatiable defensive effort to keep the westerners out, after the energy and class of James Lowe and Luke McGrath helped put the points on the board.
The provinces from east and west have similarly impressive records in their respective European tournaments this season, but the Pro14 form suggested a clear-cut favourite for this bank holiday Monday treat.
Source: Dan Sheridan
Instead, Connacht showed the character that has brought seven wins in their past 10 games to consistently ask hard questions of Leinster’s defence and twice make the hosts sweat after the RDS faithful were celebrating eight-point advantages that have been a springboard against other opponents this season.
Connacht dominated territory in the opening half and Bundee Aki was able to raid gaps in the defensive line outside the opposition 22. Indeed, it was in trying to run clear that Leinster showed some of their finest wares, particularly just before the 30-minute mark, when Lowe handed off his tackler, offloaded to Jonathan Sexton, who in turn offloaded to McGrath, allowing the scrum-half to charge 50 metres upfield before being snagged by Matt Healy.
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Leading 6 – 3, the breakthrough try for Leinster arrived shortly after. Again it was Lowe who adorned the game with a touch of class. The Kiwi wing took Noel Reid’s pass into contact and returned it with an audacious behind-the-back pass that freed the centre up to put Max Deegan away in the corner.
Eight points to the good with some big guns firing, there was reason to fear for Connacht, but they forced their way back. Initially through Carty’s straightforward penalty and then when Aki powered through a gap and released Healy, who immediately slipped a pass to Tiernan O’Halloran.
This time the pressure in Leinster’s 22 would yield a return, Finlay Bealham finding the gainline and the try-line just left of the posts.
Source: Bryan Keane
It was a double blow for Leinster, not only sending Connacht into the interval with an 11 – 13 lead, but the set of phases also brought about an injury to Dan Leavy, after a terrific 40 minutes from the natural seven who carved through breakdowns and mauls here when deployed on the blindside.
With Scott Fardy added to the back row, Leinster sought to turn the screw in the second half, though it took a monster Sexton penalty to nudge them back into the lead on 50 minutes.
Come the hour mark, Leinster once again forced an eight-point advantage, as McGrath backed up some first-half gallops with a short-range snipe over the try-line.
Still refusing to be burned off, Connacht mounted their pick-and-jam game and piled the pressure on Leinster’s pack. With 11 minutes remaining, they flung the pill wide and Healy danced his way inside of Fergus McFadden — who was fortunate to be on the field after a collision with Tiernan O’Halloran — and Sexton. Carty’s missed conversion meant Connacht were now chasing a three-point deficit into the closing stages rather than one.
And chase they did, relentlessly so through 28 gruelling phases long beyond the allotted 80 minutes. The pressure on the five-metre line was cranked by big carries from Ultan Dillane and Jarrad Butler, but after two rounds with Exeter, Leinster are well-versed in this kind of trench warfare and the longer the set of phases went on the stronger Leinster looked in the tight exchange. Inch-by-inch they began forcing their visitors back until, on the 22, Deegan forced the penalty to finally finish the game off.
Tries: M Deegan, L McGrath
Conversions: J Sexton (1/2)
Penalties: J Sexton (3/3)
Tries: F Bealham, M Healy
Conversions: J Carty (1/2)
Penalties: J Carty (2/2)
Leinster: Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Garry Ringrose, Noel Reid (Rory O’Loughlin ’61), James Lowe, Johnny Sexton, Luke McGrath (Nick McCarthy ’71): Peter Dooley (Ed Byrne ’50), Seán Cronin (Bryan Byrne ’64), Andrew Porter (Michael Bent ’50), Ross Molony, Ian Nagle (Mick Kearney ’64), Dan Leavy (Scott Fardy ’40), Josh van der Flier, Max Deegan
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher (Niyi Adeolokun ’27), Bundee Aki, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion: Denis Coulson, Tom McCartney (Shane Delahunt ’61), Finlay Bealham (Conor Carey ’61), Ultan Dillane, James Cannon, Eoghan Masterson, Jarrad Butler, John Muldoon (Naulia Dawai ’71).