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Dublin: 8 °C Saturday 6 June, 2020

Leinster far from convincing but Cullen's men dig deep to see off Edinburgh

Jamison Gibson-Park’s late score sealed a fourth win of the campaign for the eastern province.

Joey Carbery goes over just before half-time.
Joey Carbery goes over just before half-time.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Leinster 21

Edinburgh 13

Ryan Bailey reports from RDS

THERE WAS NO late flourish to paper over the cracks of another horribly disjointed performance from Leinster here, but Leo Cullen’s men did just enough again to come out the right side of a helter-skelter contest.

Just as they did a few weeks ago against Cardiff Blues, the eastern province huffed and puffed their way to the points and the result could have so easily gone the other way before Jamison Gibson-Park’s score in the far corner ensured there would be no upset.

With the game in the balance at 14-13, Edinburgh had appeared to have stolen a march heading into the home straight but Dougie Fife’s brilliantly-finished try was chalked off by the referee for crossing in the build-up.

As it was, Leinster managed to control the final quarter and see the game out on a night when so many aspects of their game again failed to function; the line-out was the main cause for concern while the returning Lions didn’t really turn up, although Johnny Sexton was named the sponsor’s man-of-the-match.

Sean Cronin and Jordi Murphy were both excellent but Edinburgh were desperately unlucky not to come away with anything.

Richard Cockerill’s side brought a real physical edge to proceedings and while Leinster will face sterner tests in the weeks ahead, they were given a firm appraisal of their early-season credentials here.

Cullen had spoken in the build-up about how last week’s failings in Bloemfontein had sharpened minds in the camp, but another slow start set the tone for a display which leaves more questions than answers heading into Munster at the Aviva and then Europe.

Jamison Gibson-Park celebrates scoring a late try with Andrew Porter Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Yet, they still got the job done. Murphy marked his first appearance at the RDS in over a year with a first-half try which got Leinster up and running after a sleepy start and Joey Carbery’s magical footwork in the corner on the stroke of half-time tilted the game in Leinster’s favour.

The hosts didn’t lose control of it from there, even though Edinburgh could have snatched the points in the same corner only for the referee’s intervention. Gibson-Park’s finish was met with relief from the stands as much as anything else.

“It was a win and it was important to get back to winning ways today,” Cullen said afterwards.

As lacklustre and as sluggish Leinster were, Edinburgh were sharp, abrasive and stubborn right up until the death and brought a huge amount of fight to the game.

They came out of the traps bristling with purpose and intent, and had two penalties on the board before Leinster even had a meaningful touch of the ball.

With Jason Tovey playing the role of orchestrator, the visitors had immediate luck in cutting through Leinster’s porous defensive line with a combination of direct running and an offloading game which exposed the unconvincing tackling efforts of Noel Reid and Rory O’Loughlin.

James Johnstone proved to be a threat all evening and the Scottish side had clearly done their homework in targeting the midfield channel, an area of real weakness for Leinster with Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose still sitting in the stands.

Leinster were lucky to escape an opening onslaught — during which Edinburgh enjoyed 88% possession — just six points in arrears and with a full complement still on the field having conceded a succession of penalties.

Devin Toner was penalised for a high tackle under the posts and then having been stretched on the left by Johnstone and Glenn Bryce, Leinster strayed offside. Tovey’s sweet left boot made it 6-0 after 10 minutes.

Scott Fardy fails to ground the ball under pressure from Dougie Fife Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Leinster weren’t going to have it all their own way, but they found a route into the game and onto the scoreboard straight away. Sexton switched the angle of attack from the kick off and after Dave Kearney had gathered in the air, Fife upended the winger a couple of yards inside the touchline.

Referee Ian Davies asked his TMO to have a closer look, but Jon Moson ruled that ‘blue propelled himself directly into the space that red was standing in’ and the outcome was just a penalty. Sexton was understandably perplexed, kicked for the corner and let the set-piece do the rest.

Cronin peeled away from the back of the maul and when he was stopped just short of the whitewash, Murphy was on hand to pick and drive over for his 16th try for the province.

Leinster were up and running, but Edinburgh hadn’t showed up to roll over. Scott Fardy didn’t react kindly to Darryl Marfo patting him on the back of the head and tempers flared as both sets of players became embroiled in an almighty melee.

TMO Mason was called upon again but Fardy’s half-hearted swing towards Marfo went unpunished and the referee was happy to continue without brandishing a card in any direction. And off we went again.

Just as Leinster were beginning to gain a foothold, Sexton flung a pass aimed for Cronin in midfield but Tovey — superb throughout — read it brilliantly and had the pace to run it home from inside his own half. Edinburgh weren’t going away.

Sexton looked to make immediate amends down the other end after Cronin had picked a gap and exploded through it. Leinster recycled and the captain saw the space on the right, only for Fardy to fumble Sexton’s inch-perfect kick on the line under pressure from Tom Brown.

A reprieve for Edinburgh, and so Leinster came again.

The hosts hammered away at the wall of red shirts and eventually their pressure paid off. Sexton turned down a straightforward three points to kick for the corner and the set-piece delivered again, as Carbery danced his way over after standing Tovey up. 14-13 at the break.

And that’s the way it remained until Gibson-Park sniped over in the 74th minute to finally end Edinburgh’s hostile challenge — but the visitors will rue a missed opportunity to really ignite their campaign here.

Sean O'Brien with Phil Burleigh and Jamie Ritchie Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Having survived 10 minutes without Jamie Ritchie, who had been sent to the bin for a late tackle on Luke McGrath, the visitors then looked to land a killer blow. Defensively solid at one end, Cockerill’s side looked dangerous with ball in hand and looked to have hit the front with 16 minutes remaining.

Phil Burleigh, substitute John Hardie and then Fife combined down the right with the latter picking a great line and applying a powerful finish, only for the referee to rule it out.

It would prove to be the game’s defining moment and a serious let-off for Leinster, who then gathered themselves to control the final quarter and see out a far from convincing victory through Gibson-Park’s late score.

Bigger challenges lie ahead and the hope will be that a real scare tonight will put Leinster in good stead going forward. Cullen admitted there was huge for improvement, and he knows it needs to be made.

Leinster scorers:
Tries: Jordi Murphy, Joey Carbery, Jamison Gibson-Park
Conversions: Johnny Sexton [2 from 2], Ross Byrne [1 from 1]
Edinburgh scorers:Tries: Jason Tovey
Conversions: Jason Tovey [1 from 1]
Penalties: Jason Tovey [2 from 2]

LEINSTER: 15. Joey Carbery, 14. Fergus McFadden, 13. Rory O’Loughlin, 12. Noel Reid (23. Jordan Larmour 58’), 11. Dave Kearney, 10. Johnny Sexton (captain) (22. Ross Byrne 69’), 9. Luke McGrath (21. Jamison Gibson-Park 64’); 1. Jack McGrath (17. Ed Byrne 58’), 2. Sean Cronin (16. Bryan Byrne 58’), 3. Tadhg Furlong (18. Andrew Porter 58’), 4. Devin Toner, 5. Scott Fardy, 6. Rhys Ruddock, 7. Jordi Murphy (19. Ross Molony 75’), 8. Sean O’Brien (20. Max Deegan 58’).

EDINBURGH: 15. Glenn Bryce, 14. Dougie Fife, 13. James Johnstone, 12. Phil Burleigh, 11. Tom Brown (22. Blair Kinghorn 59’), 10. Jason Tovey, 9. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (21. Nathan Fowles 53’); 1. Darryl Marfo, 2. Stuart McInally (16. Neil Cochrane 59’), 3. Simon Berghan (18. Kevin Bryce 50’), 4. Fraser McKenzie (captain), 5 Grant Gilchrist, 6. James Ritchie, 7. Hamish Watson (20. John Hardie 60’), 8. Cornell du Preez.

Referee: Ian Davies (WRU).

Attendance: 13,213.

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Ryan Bailey

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