James Crombie/INPHO Benetton celebrate a famous win.
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Benetton stun the RDS as sloppy Leinster suffer shock defeat a week out from Scarlets
Leo Cullen’s side suffered their first home loss this season and missed the chance to secure a home Pro14 semi-final.

Leinster 15

Benetton Treviso 17

Ryan Bailey reports from the RDS

WELL, NOBODY SAW this coming, and if Leinster are to extract any sort of positive from this shock home defeat, it is that it should not prove fatal in the grand scheme of things, rather focus minds and serve as a wake-up call heading into the serious business.

The stunned silence which greeted the full-time whistle spoke volumes, as this was a horribly sloppy and underwhelming performance from Leo Cullen’s side, even more surprising when you think it offered so many a chance to stake their claim for Scarlets next week.

Instead, the province will go into their Champions Cup semi-final off the back of just their fourth reversal of the campaign and with work to do to secure a home Pro14 playoff after Benetton — brilliant Benetton — secured a famous victory here.

After almost a decade of failed attempts, an Italian side have won in Dublin and Kieran Crowley’s charges were fully deserving of their win as they boosted their chances of catching fourth-place Ulster in Conference B.

As for Leinster, a night to forget for many out there in blue, as there was no late salvo to paper over the cracks of an error-strewn display on this occasion, despite the hosts holding a 12-5 half-time lead, and in hindsight the decision to turn down half a dozen penalty attempts will be questioned.

To compound matters, Sean O’Brien played 40 nondescript minutes on his return from injury and appeared to be carrying his left shoulder at times during the first half, and never reappeared for the second.

Similarly, Jordan Larmour was a little rusty on his comeback and, at times, tried a little too hard to force the issue, as Leinster slumped to a first home defeat since Scarlets almost 12 months ago.

Buoyed by a record-equaling 10 victories this season, Benetton were hungrier and more accurate in many areas, bringing an intensity and ferocity to proceedings this second-string Leinster side simply couldn’t match.

They played some stunning rugby and won many of the collisions and this was another brilliant example of the strides they have made as a club in recent times.

Sebastian Negri and Tommaso Allan celebrate with fans James Crombie / INPHO Tommaso Allan celebrates with Italian fans. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Richardt Strauss had given Cullen’s charges the perfect start and from there it seemed a formality, but Benetton are a different proposition these days, and struck back through Luca Bigi before Federico Ruzza and Tommaso Allan crossed after the interval.

The visitors dominated the second period and even when they were reduced to 14 men after Tito Tebaldi’s needless sin-binning, Benetton held firm and never looked in danger of losing the game.

Leinster’s opening try came from a compact rolling maul, with Strauss peeling off the back to crash over, but the visitors struck back almost instantly through a carbon-copy score, finished off by their hooker Bigi.

Early carries into contact by O’Brien had the crowd purring, and the sight of Joey Carbery with the number 10 on his back was a piquant backdrop to this contest, as Leinster enjoyed early possession and territory.

Ian Nagle picked a good line off crash ball and then Leinster moved it through the hands before Noel Reid fired a loop pass out to Max Deegan, who charged down the right.

The hosts then changed the angle of attack, this time utilising the pace of Barry Daly on the left, as the winger broke through the first tackle after Jamison Gibson-Park had spotted space down the short side.

Strauss, playing his first game since early February and just his second start of a truncated season, provided the support on the inside and although he was pulled down yards from the line, there was no stopping him a couple of phases later from the set-piece.

Anything Leinster could do and all that, as Benetton quickly followed suit, with their rolling and compact maul from a lineout just inside the 22 proving to be just as potent and clinical.

While Leinster had looked to stretch the Italians in the early passages, with Daly and Fergus McFadden hugging the touchlines, it all become distinctly similar to last week as the province — albeit a completely different XV — lacked cohesion and the type of quick, go-forward ball they needed to hurt Benetton, thus making the set-piece the most likely avenue of success.

Richardt Strauss scores his sides opening try despite Tommaso Allan James Crombie / INPHO Strauss opened the scoring from close range. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The forwards provided the platform, the Carbery-Reid-Larmour axis was unleashed and Leinster looked to strike from there, but Benetton — as they’ve shown all season — are a far more obdurate and hungry defensive unit.

Larmour injected a bit of life into proceedings with a trademark turn of pace after Carbery and Reid had combined in midfield, and then Gibson-Park darted for the line after a clever show-and-go.

Leinster recycled furiously, committing numbers to the breakdown as Benetton looked to slow the ball down, and after the forwards had kept it tight through the phases, working their way infield, the visitors forced the turnover on the ground. Frustration.

Back Leinster came, though. This time Benetton were pinged for not rolling away and again, for the fifth time of the half, Leinster turned down a shot at the posts, opting for the scrum five metres out, and they eventually got the maximum reward.

Larmour stood directly behind, and when Carbery darted around the back to the short side, Leinster worked the numbers and space, with Daly showing dexterity and strength to ground it under pressure in the corner for a 12-5 half-time lead.

Then came the talking point of the night, as O’Brien didn’t reappear, a collective groan echoing around the 12,586 inside the RDS.

Simone Ferrari and Sean O’Brien James Crombie / INPHO O'Brien only played 40 minutes. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

On Leinster went, and so too another decision to forgo a straightforward three-pointer when it seemed the sensible choice. Instead, Carbery kicked for the corner and nothing came out of it, as Benetton held firm again, much to the delight of the pocket of Italians braving the cold in the South Stand.

And they had even more to shout about shortly after, as their side — out of nothing — struck back through flanker Ruzza.

Scrum-half Tebaldi chipped over the top and McFadden was caught out by the bounce of the ball, with Jayden Hayward soaring to gather and offload inside for Ruzza to run it home uncontested.

Allan spurned the chance to draw his side level from the tee, but he more than made up for it minutes later. Jack McGrath inexplicably threw a wayward pass to nobody and when the blue shirts were remarkably slow to react, Allan didn’t need a second invitation to come through, grubber it on — not once, but twice — and then dive on the bouncing ball.

He converted this time, for a 17-12 lead.

A roar of ‘COME ON, LEINSTER’ bellowed down from the stand, but things didn’t get much better. Rory O’Loughlin was left stricken on the turf after being struck in the head by a clearing kick from point-blank range and after Carbery had belatedly called for the tee, cutting the deficit to two points, he then carved one out on the full. His reaction said it all.

Cullen unloaded the rest of his bench on the hour mark, and shifted Carbery to fullback after the introduction of Ross Byrne, but it changed little, even allowing for the sin-binning of Tebaldi, which threatened to undo all his side’s hard work.

With a penalty advantage and his side five metres from the Leinster line, the Benetton scrum-half mindlessly, and criminally, lost the plot and proceeded to stamp twice on Deegan’s arm in front of referee Ben Whitehouse. He was fortunate it wasn’t red.

Tito Tebaldi receives a yellow card James Crombie / INPHO Tebaldi was fortunate not to see red for stamping on Deegan. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

As it was, the visitors actually enjoyed all of the possession with a man less and had they showed more patience and composure in the final third, may have killed off Leinster. Not that they needed to.

Basic mistakes and a lack of conviction in decision-making undermined Leinster’s feeble attempts to find the field position to overturn the scoreline at the death, allowing Benetton — the green and white shirts tackling like dervishes — to comfortably see out a famous win.

A remarkable result — acknowledged by the ovation from many of the locals — on a forgettable night for Leinster. At least it’s out of their system now.

Leinster scorers:
Tries: Richardt Strauss, Barry Daly
Penalties: Joey Carbery [1 from 1]
Conversions: Joey Carbery [1 from 2]
Benetton scorers:Tries: Luca Bigi, Federico Ruzza, Tommaso Allan
Conversions: Tommaso Allan [1 from 3]

LEINSTER: 15. Jordan Larmour, 14. Fergus McFadden (Ross Byrne 62’), 13. Rory O’Loughlin (Noel Reid 52’), 12. Noel Reid, 11. Barry Daly, 10. Joey Carbery, 9. Jamison Gibson-Park (Nick McCarthy 62’); 1. Jack McGrath (captain) (Ed Byrne 62’), 2. Richardt Strauss (James Tracy 51’), 3. Andrew Porter (Michael Bent 62’), 4. Ross Molony, 5. Ian Nagle (Mick Kearney 66′), 6. Jordi Murphy, 7. Seán O’Brien (Peadar Timmins 40’), 8. Max Deegan.

BENETTON TREVISO: 15. Jayden Hayward, 14. Andrea Bronzini, 13. Tommaso Iannone, 12. Alberto Sgarbi (captain), 11. Monty Ioane, 10. Tommaso Allan, 9. Tito Tebaldi; 1. Federico Zani, 2. Luca Bigi, 3. Simone Ferrari, 4. Marco Lazzaroni, 5. Alessandro Zanni, 6. Federico Ruzza, 7. Sebastian Negri, 8. Nasi Manu.

Replacements: 16. Engjel Makelara, 17. Cherif Traore, 18. Tiziano Pasquali, 19. Irné Herbst, 20. Marco Fuser, 21. Dean Budd, 22. Ian McKinley, 23. Tommaso Benvenuti.

Referee: Ben Whitehouse

Attendance: 12,856.

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