Bonus-point win gets Leinster's European season off to solid start at the RDS

Leo Cullen’s men were dominant at the scrum and maul to secure maximum points.

Leinster 33

Castres 15

Murray Kinsella reports from the RDS

IT WAS A Top 14-esque win for Leinster to get their Champions Cup campaign off to the ideal five-point start at the RDS.

Scrum dominance was guaranteed by Mike Ross, Tadhg Furlong and co., while Sean Cronin benefited from the power of Leinster’s mauling. Castres, with a pack who pride themselves on outmuscling opposition, were a clear second best in Dublin.

Robbie Henshaw with Remi Grosso Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Captain Isa Nacewa was among the try-scorers for Leinster in a bonus-point victory that was a far cry from last year’s dire European opener at this ground – when Cullen’s men were dismantled by the vivacious Wasps.

Cronin scored two tries against Castres, while the scrum earned a penalty try and Ireland prop Jack McGrath forced his way over from a metre out for another score that came from Leinster’s ability to win the physical battle.

While the game never truly excited on a consistent basis in front of a 13,890 crowd, it wasn’t all about the grunt work – even with rain falling for two spells during the game.

20-year-old out-half Joey Carbery was tidy on his European debut and also demonstrated his creative attacking threat with ball in hand, while the centre pairing of Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose again formed an impressive unit.

Ringrose is always a pleasure to watch, with his ghosting breaks and intelligent understanding of the game well complimented by Henshaw’s footwork and ability to stay square and carry up the pitch.

The major frustration for Leinster on a day that must be viewed as positive was that they left many more chances to press their dominance onto the scoreboard untaken. The big lesson moving forward will be that visits to the opposition 22 must yield more consistent scoring.

Cullen’s side enjoyed a dominant opening stanza, leading to an eight-minute try for hooker Cronin at the back of a powerful maul.

The impressive midfield trio of Carbery, Ringrose – a gorgeous offload – and Henshaw had created a nice linebreak down the left touchline two minutes before, only for Henshaw to hit Nacewa on his outside when Luke McGrath was in space inside him with the tryline in sight.

Sean Cronin scores a try Sean Cronin was in try-scoring form. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Nacewa was nudged into touch, but Leinster came again with force and Cronin flopped over the tryline after a trundling maul dragged him to within striking range. Nacewa – taking the place-kicking duties ahead of Carbery – missed the conversion.

Cronin’s second came in the 26th minute and again stemmed from the maul. This time, the Ireland international broke off to the right, beat Antoine Dupont with sharp footwork and catapulted through Victor Moreaux’s tackle to score. Nacewa converted for 12-0.

A searing linebreak from Dupont to the right fringe of a midfield ruck, halted by Henshaw, led to Leinster going off their feet at the breakdown and Castres out-half Benjamin Urdapilleta got them off the mark from the tee.

A third Leinster try two minutes later appeared to put them totally in control. Carbery’s bust led the Castres defence to jump offside as it scrambled, with Cullen’s men opting for the corner.

The maul was repelled this time, with Luke McGrath sniping away to the left five metres out. The scrum-half slipped but Zane Kirchner did well to support his forward drive to within a metre, from where Jack McGrath forced his way over, aided by Furlong’s latch.

Furlong, who had won an impressive scrum penalty earlier in the half, was replaced only a minute later, as Leinster lost their focus and conceded.

Urdapilleta missed a penalty shot when Jamie Heaslip failed to roll away, but they got another chance with a maul in the left corner and referee Matthew Carley awarded the penalty try as Leinster committed multiple infringements in trying to stop it.

Isa Nacewa scores a try 15/10//2016 Nacewa powered over for a superb try. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Luke McGrath was binned for his part, coming in the side, and Urdapilleta converted for a 19-10 half-time scoreline that ensured the game was very much alive.

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Nacewa filled in at scrum-half with McGrath in the bin and made a superb first of the switch. Leinster held possession for the majority of McGrath’s stint on the sideline, with Nacewa topping it off by sniping brilliantly from 25 metres out, beating two tackle attempts to score and seal the bonus point.

His conversion put Leinster out to a 16-point lead and from there it looked like they would start to rack up the tries. But Cullen would have been frustrated by his side’s profligacy in the Castres 22 in the 20 minutes that followed.

They spent much of that period of the game camped just metres out from the Castres tryline, but had to wait until minute 65 for the next try, a penalty try.

That reward was coming for the Leinster scrum, who utterly dominated the French side’s pack after the introduction of the veteran Ross, who showed he still has much to offer at set-piece time.

Nacewa’s conversion ensured a 33-10 lead for the home team, one they almost extended when James Tracy thought he’d scored at the back of yet another maul. However, TMO David Sainsbury’s review showed a knock-on.

Replacement back row Anthony Jelonch burrowed over for Castres’ second try in the closing minutes. There were further chances for Leinster, including after one breakout from deep in the their half, but with their bench emptied, the eastern province had to be content with their five tries.

Leinster scorers:

Tries: Sean Cronin [2], Jack McGrath, Isa Nacewa, Penalty try

Conversions: Isa Nacewa [4 from 5]

Penalties: Isa Nacewa [0 from 1]

Castres scorers:

Tries: Penalty try, Anthony Jelonch

Conversions: Benjamin Urdapilleta [1 from 2]

Penalties: Benjamin Urdapilleta [1 from 2]

LEINSTER: Rob Kearney (Cathal Marsh ’71); Zane Kirchner, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Isa Nacewa (captain) (Noel Reid ’68); Joey Carbery, Luke McGrath (Jamison Gibson-Park ’59); Jack McGrath (Cian Healy ’53), Sean Cronin (James Tracy ’53), Tadhg Furlong (Mike Ross ’37); Devin Toner, Ian Nagle (Ross Molony ’59); Rhys Ruddock (Dan Leavy ’49), Josh van der Flier, Jamie Heaslip.

CASTRES: Geoffrey Palis; Remi Grosso, Thomas Combezou, Robert Ebersohn (Florian Vialelle ’61), David Smith; Benjamin Urdapilleta (Maxime Javaux ’71), Antoine Dupont (Rory Kockott ’54); Antoine Tichit (Mihaita Lazar ’53), Jody Jenneker (Brice Mach ’20 to ’26, permanent ’37), Daniel Kotze (Damien Tussac ’59); Victor Moreaux (Anthony Jelonch ’59), Rodrigo Capo Ortega (captain) (Thibault Lassale ’54 (yellow card ’61)); Mathieu Babillot, Steve Mafi, Alex Tulou.

Referee: Matthew Carley [RFU].

Attendance: 13,890.

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Murray Kinsella

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