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Hard-fought win sees Leinster move four points clear at the summit of the United Rugby Championship

Dave Kearney, Michael Ala’alatoa and Scott Penny were amongst the tries.

Leinster's Tommy O'Brien.
Leinster's Tommy O'Brien.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Leinster 21

Emirates Lions 13

Daire Walsh reports from the RDS

LEINSTER MOVED four points clear at the summit of the United Rugby Championship table with a hard-earned victory over a stubborn Emirates Lions side at the RDS last night.

Dave Kearney, Michael Ala’alatoa and Scott Penny were amongst the tries and with the ever-dependable Ross Byrne adding six points off the kicking tee, the Blues established themselves as the competition’s pace-setters without necessarily firing on all cylinders.

Jaco Kriel broke through for a late try, but it wasn’t enough to secure a losing bonus point for the Lions.

Coming into this game in 14th position with just two wins to their name from eight matches, the Lions had a couple of chances to edge in front during the early exchanges. Fly-half Jordan Hendrikse was off-target with scoreable penalties on either flank, however, and Leinster duly punished these missed opportunities from their first meaningful attack of the game.

Following intricate build-up play by Jamie Osborne and Max O’Reilly, Kearney crossed over in the seventh minute for his first competitive try since scoring a hat-trick against Zebre in March of last year. Ross Byrne added the bonuses from the touchline and with Kearney combining to good effect with Academy duo Osborne and O’Reilly for this move, the signs were already ominous for the visitors.

Still, Ivan van Rooyen’s side weren’t just there to make up the numbers and eventually opened their account when Hendrikse slotted between the posts at the third time of asking on 13 minutes.

Leinster remained a threat in possession, but — much like their recent wins at the expense of Edinburgh and Ospreys — there was a lot of patchy play from Leo Cullen’s men thrown into the mix. Captaining the side on his 200th appearance, Rhys Ruddock temporarily left the field of play with a blood injury just shy of the half-hour mark.

In his brief absence, the Blues dug deep on their own line to keep the Lions attack at bay with returning Irish international Dan Leavy leading the charge. The Johannesburg outfit had also tightened up in the defence after being exposed out wide for Kearney’s try and continued to apply physical pressure on their opponents in the attacking half of the Ballsbridge pitch.

After they were awarded another close-range penalty, Hendrikse routinely split the uprights to reduce their deficit to the bare minimum (7-6). Leavy looked set to cap his latest comeback with a stoppage-time try but, following consultation with the TMO, referee Craig Evans judged that his effort off a line-out maul had been held up.

Despite being just a point in front at the interval, it was anticipated that Leinster’s bench power would push them forward on the resumption. Before the cavalry could be called upon, it was tighthead prop Michael Ala’alatoa who reinforced the eastern province’s authority with a powerful finish over the line on 48 minutes.

After Ross Byrne added the bonuses, Penny entered the fray to take over from Leavy at openside flanker. The former Ireland U20s back-row made an immediate impact as he got on the end of a line-out move to crash over for his third try in as many games.

This moved Leinster a step closer to a bonus-point success and a maximum tally of 15 points from the three home games they have played over the past fortnight. Yet the Lions weren’t prepared to go down without a fight and it took an outstanding recovery tackle from Tommy O’Brien (which drew a standing ovation from the home supporters in the Grandstand) to deny them a certain try just past the hour mark.

This proved to be a pivotal intervention as Lions flanker Kriel capitalised on a defensive lapse to drive over with just one minute of normal time remaining. However, the gap was too big for the South Africans to bridge and Leinster ultimately did enough to come out on top.

Leinster scorers:

Tries: Dave Kearney, Michael Ala’alatoa, Scott Penny

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Conversions: Ross Byrne [3 from 3]

Emirates Lions Scorers:

Tries: Jaco Kriel

Conversions: Tiaan Swanepoel [1 from 1]

Penalties: Jordan Hendrikse [2 from 4]

Leinster: Max O’Reilly, Tommy O’Brien, Jamie Osborne, Harry Byrne (Adam Byrne ’65), Dave Kearney, Ross Byrne, Nick McCarthy (Luke McGrath ’48), Ed Byrne (Peter Dooley ’48), James Tracy, Michael Ala’alatoa (Thomas Clarkson ’59), Devin Toner (Jack Dunne ’55), Joe McCarthy, Josh Murphy (Max Deegan ’59), Dan Leavy (Scott Penny ’48), Rhys Ruddock (Max Deegan ’26-30).

Emirates Lions: Quan Horn, Stean Pienaar, Wandisile Simelane, Burger Odendaal (Tiaan Swanepoel ’58), Edwill van der Merwe, Jordan Hendrikse (Manuel Rass ’70), Morne van den Berg (Nico Steyn ’79), Sti Sithole (Morgan Naude ’53-65), Jaco Visagie (PJ Botha ’70), Carlu Sadie (Ruan Dreyer ’53), PJ Steenkamp (Sibusiso Sangweni ’46), Ruben Schoeman, Jaco Kriel, Ruan Venter (Lunga Ncube ’57), Francke Horn.

Referee: Craig Evans (WRU).

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