Dan Sheridan/INPHO
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Leinster put 9 tries past Gloucester in desperately one-sided Champions Cup clash

The province had little trouble dispatching the English side in at the RDS.

Leinster 57

Gloucester o

IMAGINE TRYING TO explain the madness that is the Heineken Champions Cup pool stages to a newcomer to the sport.

Billed as European club rugby’s premier competition, the format is so flawed that tonight Gloucester felt it was in their best interests to keep their frontliners at home and instead offer up a heavily-rotated side to be put to slaughter at the RDS. The English side have a big league clash with Leicester – two points behind them in the Premiership table – next week, and in the grand scheme of things, that is where their priorities lie for now. 

The most problematic part of it all is that tonight’s 57-0 defeat to Leinster doesn’t even kill their chances of advancing into this competition’s bloated knockout stages. Montpellier did similar here last January, losing 89-7 at this venue, and it didn’t work out so badly for them in the long run. The French side went on to be eliminated by eventual champions La Rochelle in the quarter-finals, and lifted the Top 14 title.   

If the tournament organisers were not already aware that the Champions Cup has an image problem, tonight it was put on full view for all to see at an icy RDS as Leinster stuck nine tries on their visitors with no reply. 

By half-time, Leinster were already 31-0 clear with a bonus-point in the bag despite turning in a rather error-strewn performance. Their lack of cohesion in that stop-start opening period didn’t matter. Every opportunity they let slip was quickly followed by another invitation to land a punch on the nose in what was a horribly one-sided affair.

Spare a thought for the Gloucester fans who had booked their flights hoping to at least see some sort of contest against one of the tournament favourites. 

Spare a thought too for the Gloucester players sent out by George Skivington, who were always going to be in for a tough night against a Leinster team stacked with internationals.

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for it all to quickly unravel for the visitors. They greeted an early penalty win enthusiastically but failed to find touch with the resulting kick into the Leinster half. It wasn’t the kind of night where they couldn’t afford such errors.

Leinster spent the opening stages butchering early opportunities to get the scoreboard ticking over. Their first real snipe saw Lowe go close in corner before being smothered by pink jerseys. Leinster then worked the ball infield, the move killed as Jimmy O’Brien lost possession under pressure from Giorgi Kveseladze. Their next venture into the Gloucester 22 saw Leinster fail to execute at the lineout.

seb-atkinson-with-ross-molony-and-michael-alaalatoa Gloucester’s Seb Atkinson with Ross Molony and Michael Ala'alatoa of Leinster. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Gloucester were hanging in there. In fact, it took a Gloucester error to finally allow Leinster take control of the game.

As Gloucester went through the phases in the Leinster half, they were too slow and inaccurate at the breakdown, allowing Caelan Doris to steal in and tear forward. He spun the ball wide to Lowe, who had the pace to beat Billy Twelvetrees to the corner. With only a gentle, biting breeze to contend with, the usually reliable Ross Byrne clipped his conversation attempt off the post.

Still, Leinster were up and running. A couple of minutes later, they added a second. Rónan Kelleher found James Ryan at the lineout, who fed Josh der Flier. The Leinster pack mauled forward and they were over again, this time Byrne adding the extras from the tee.

Gloucester momentarily threatened to respond, but instead a rare foray into the Leinster 22 ended with Twelvetrees clumsily sliding into Hugo Keenan as the ball ran dead. That was about as dangerous as they would look all night.

Leinster took possession back, went up the field and added a third try with another straight-forward, well-executed lineout maul, this time finished by Kelleher. Bread and butter stuff.

Even with Byrne missing another conversion, with a little over 25 minutes on the clock the province were 17-0 up and the game was over as a contest. 

Kelleher thought he had supplied the bonus-point try shortly after the half hour mark following a cleverly worked lineout one-two with Luke McGrath, but replays showed his initial pass hadn’t travelled the required five metres. 

A let off for Gloucester, quickly followed by another setback as Henry Walker saw yellow for a head-on-head collision with Josh van der Flier, the hooker making no attempt to wrap as the Leinster man carried hard into contact.

With half-time approaching, it allowed Leinster move back into the Gloucester 22 and land the bonus-point score, James Ryan squeezing over after the home side had failed to find a way through under the posts, the score converted by Byrne.

billy-twelvetrees-tackles-ross-byrne Gloucester's Billy Twelvetrees tackles Ross Byrne. Tom Maher / INPHO Tom Maher / INPHO / INPHO

There was just enough time for one more before the break – Kelleher peeling off the back of a lineout maul to run in his second, converted again by Byrne.

That score may have taken some of the edge of Cullen’s half-time message – for all their dominance, Leinster had been a off-colour around some of their execution and inaccurate across the park. 

They saw another scoring chance slip two minutes after the restart, Lowe’s trailing leg put into touch as he attempted an acrobatic finish in the corner.

Instead the opening score of the second half came just three minutes later as Luke McGrath displayed good footwork to jink over from the back of a dominant Leinster scrum. 

The scores kept coming. After Leinster refreshed their front row, Lowe went over unchallenged in the corner. 

To further illustrate Leinster’s vastly superior wealth of resources, shortly after world player of the year Van der Flier departed the action, Leo Cullen sent in world player of the year nominee Johnny Sexton to steer the ship home for the final 20 minutes. His introduction, alongside fellow Ireland international Jamison Gibson-Park, also served to spark some life back into the crowd.

Sitting on a 45-0 lead, it would have been easy for Leinster to take the foot off. Cullen will have loved Garry Ringrose’s brilliant last-ditch tackle to deny Lloyd Evans getting over as the game moved into the final quarter. He’ll also have enjoyed replacement lock Joe McCarthy’s rampaging run down the middle of the park.

joe-mccarthy-makes-a-break Leinster’s Joe McCarthy makes a break. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Leinster perhaps even saved the best for last – Dan Sheehan’s lovely offload sending the returning Jordan Larmour over for a late try, before Sexton was badly off target with the conversion.

With full-time fast approaching, it looked as though Gloucester may have at least been saved the ignominy of being nilled as Jacob Morris darted over the line, but the covering Sexton brilliantly nailed his tackle and also turned the Gloucester wing to prevent him grounding the ball. 

To further hammer home their dominance, the final act of the game saw Caelan Doris bundle over from yet another powerful lineout drive. Sexton called game as he clipped the extras over. 

It was a score lapped up by the home crowd. For all the Champions Cup’s flaws, Leinster still love this competition.

If it’s to retain it’s magic in the years ahead, it needs less nights like this.

Leinster scorers –

Tries: Lowe (2), van der Flier, Kelleher (2), Ryan, McGrath, Larmour, Doris

Conversions: Byrne [5/7], Sexton [1/2]

LEINSTER: Hugo Keenan; Jimmy O’Brien (Jordan Larmour, 53), Garry Ringrose (captain), Charlie Ngatai, James Lowe; Ross Byrne (Johnny Sexton, 60), Luke McGrath (Jamison Gibson-Park, 60); Andrew Porter (Ed Byrne, 47), Ronan Kelleher (Dan Sheehan, 47), Michael Ala’alatoa (Cian Healy, HT); Ross Molony, James Ryan (Joe McCarthy, 47); Caelan Doris (Josh van der Flier, 69 HIA-79), Josh van der Flier (Max Deegan, 55), Jack Conan.

GLOUCESTER: Lloyd Evans; Alex Hearle (Kyle Moyle, 22 HIA, (Kirill Gotovtsev, 54)), Giorgi Kveseladze, Billy Twelvetrees, Jacob Morris; George Barton (Seb Atkinson, 11 HIA), Ben Meehan (captain); Harry Elrington (Alex Seville, 47), Henry Walker (Seb Blake 47), Ciaran Knight; Freddie Thomas, Arthur Clark (Alex Craig, 35); Jake Polledri, Jack Clement, Albert Tuisue (Harry Taylor, 57).

Yellow cards: Walker 37, Knight 46

Referee: Luc Ramos (France)

Attendance: 15,469 

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