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Dublin: 9 °C Monday 24 September, 2018
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Leinster lose Sexton, but battle from 14 points down to beat Chiefs

The inspirational Isa Nacewa kicked six from six as Leinster reeled in the English champions.

Leinster 22

Exeter Chiefs 17

Sean Farrell reports from the Aviva Stadium

IF SUNDAY NIGHT in Sandy Park was a statement of how clinical Leinster’s front-line can be. Saturday in the Aviva was a salient follow-up example of how the eastern province can navigate their way out of the deepest trouble.

Only in his most feverish nightmares could Leo Cullen have imagined a start as bad as the one Leinster found themselves in as both Jonathan Sexton and then his replacement Ross Byrne suffered head injuries after the English champions had rumbled under the posts.

Exeter pulled clear to 3 – 17 in the opening period too, but thanks to a nerveless display of goal-kicking from Isa Nacewa, the gap was narrowed inch by inch until Luke McGrath completed the comeback to ensure Leinster remain five points clear of the chasing pack in Pool 3.

Jonathan Sexton receives treatment Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The double blow of a seven-pointer conceded and the loss of Sexton to a suspected concussion befell Leinster with only 2.30 on the clock.

Nic White, a Wallaby with amends to make after a poor outing last weekend, broke the blue line and the Chiefs didn’t need the long run of phases that characterised Sunday’s heavyweight clash. Don Armand popped the ball up for lock Sam Skinner to barrel over.

The hosts were soon forced deeper into contingency mode four minutes later. Byrne just about got his hands warmed by the ball in the out-half slot, but he joined Sexton in the HIA room after he charged into White’s shoulder while chasing a high kick.

As long as Nacewa is around however, Leinster have a Swiss Army knife that is ready to perform any role in this team. The captain took the reins at out-half and kicked a penalty to get his side on the board before Byrne returned from his assessment.

Exeter were more reluctant to aim for the posts, and they passed up chances to build on their lead. Instead, two kickable penalties were aimed for the corner and both line-outs were lost to a blue jersey, the second at a time when Leinster needed the win as Cian Healy had been sent to the sin-bin.

It was on Healy’s return that Gareth Steenson took on a kickable penalty at the third time of asking, but he placed the onus back on his pack minutes later as the hungry Chiefs defence forced Leinster into playing behind the gain-line and forced a penalty. From the line-out, the pink pack showed their precision and rumbled over the line. Luke Cowan-Dickie dotting down and Steenson kicking the visitors into a 3 – 17 lead as Scott Fardy trotted to the sin-bin for his efforts to kill the maul.

Isa Nacewa talks to his team after they conceded their second try Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Leinster were down, but never lacked for fight, they hungrily dived on and chased loose balls, they smashed into tackles and tried desperately to force gain-lines. This Exeter side is a difficult beast to battle back against. But the evergreen Nacewa – save for his decision to try to catch a mis-hit Jack Nowell clearance -was unerringly accurate. The Aucklander slotted two penalties to narrow the gap to 9 – 17 at the half-time break, and kept the scoreboard ticking upward to make it 15 – 17 just after the hour mark.

Having been 14 points down in the cold winter sun, Leinster heated up in the evening gloam and the 40,064 in the Aviva could sense the tide had turned, every big carry from Jack Conan and clear-out from Josh van der Flier underlined the point further.

To ram it home then, James Tracy made the 66th minute half break ad Dan Leavy hit the pass at pace before offloading in to the ever-supporting Luke McGrath. The outpouring of joy behind the posts as the blue flags waved was a powerful reflection of the hole this team knew they had just climbed out of.

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The advantage was just five points, and there was still defending to be done to knock the Chiefs out of contention once and for all. Having done the hard work, Cullen’s pack refused to release their grip.

And with four wins from four, the number one slot in the pool surely can’t be prised from Leinster either

Leinster scorers:

Tries: Luke McGrath
Penalties: Isa Nacewa [5 from 5]
Conversions: Isa Nacewa [1 from 1]

Exeter scorers:

Tries: Sam Simmonds, Luke Cowan-Dickie
Penalties: Gareth Steenson [1 from 1]
Conversions: Gareth Steenson [2 from 2]
LEINSTER: 15. Rob Kearney; 14. Fergus McFadden, 13. Garry Ringrose, 12. Robbie Henshaw, 11. Isa Nacewa; 10. Johnny Sexton (Ross Byrne 3’), 9. Luke McGrath (Jamison Gibson-Park 73’); 1. Cian Healy (Jack McGrath 55’), 2. Sean Cronin (James Tracy 55’), 3. Tadhg Furlong (Andrew Porter 73’), 4. Devin Toner (James Ryan 55’), 5. Scott Fardy, 6. Sean O’Brien (Dan Leavy 55’), 7. Josh van der Flier, 8. Jack Conan.
EXETER CHIEFS: 15. Lachlan Turner (James Short 74’); 14. Jack Nowell, 13. Henry Slade, 12. Ian Whitten (Sam Hill 64’), 11. Olly Woodburn; 10. Gareth Steenson, 9. Nic White (Will Chudley 64’); 1. Ben Moon (Alex Hepburn 56’), 2. Luke Cowan-Dickie (Jack Yeandle 66’), 3. Tom Francis (Harry Williams 52’), 4. Mitch Lees (Jonny Hill 61’), 5. Sam Skinner, 6. Don Armand, 7. Matt Kvesic (Tom Waldrom 69’), 8. Sam Simmonds.
Referee: Pascal Gauzère.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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