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Dublin: 8°C Monday 8 March 2021

Kelleher's hat-trick propels Leinster to eight-try hammering of Ospreys

Leo Cullen’s defending Pro14 champions produced an imperious performance at the RDS on Friday night.

Leinster 53 

Ospreys 5 

OFF BROADWAY AND away from the bright lights of the far east, Leinster are back doing what Leinster do best and, although we’ve come to expect just as much from Leo Cullen’s Pro14 champions, it was all refreshingly pleasant on the eye.

Even without 14 of their internationals on World Cup duty, Leinster have started their season with back-to-back bonus-point victories, and most impressive here was the manner in which those currently in possession of the jerseys laid down a marker.

ronan-kelleher-celebrates-scoring-his-second-try-with-james-lowe-and-rory-oloughlin Leinster celebrate Kelleher's second try. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Rónan Kelleher, on just his fourth senior appearance, again demonstrated his burgeoning potential at hooker with a standout display, as he scored a memorable RDS hat-trick, while Caelan Doris and Will Connors were superb in the back row and Hugo Keenan impressed at fullback. 

But to single out a couple of players for individual praise would be unfair on all 23 in blue, with this being another slick and ruthlessly efficient early-season outing from the eastern province, who return to their perch at the top of Conference A. 

With the experience of Michael Bent, captain Scott Fardy and Devin Toner adding real steel to their pack, Leinster dominated across all facets and had three tries on the board before the break courtesy of Fergus McFadden, Kelleher and Joe Tomane.

The back row unit of Josh Murphy, Connors and Doris put in big shifts on both sides of the ball, while quality service for Ross Byrne allowed the out-half to pull the strings and provide the platform for those outside him, including Rory O’Loughlin, to cause damage.

Kelleher went over twice at the start of the second period as Leinster pulled further clear and replacements Max Deegan, Harry Byrne and Michael Milne further embellished the victory with tries six, seven and eight shortly after their arrival. 

Even more satisfying for Leinster was the introduction of Trinity scrum-half Rowan Osborne for his first senior appearance having impressed Cullen and Stuart Lancaster in pre-season, while both Milne and Byrne were making their home debuts.

Ospreys, who suffered a heavy defeat in Belfast on the opening weekend, had lost their last five league outings against Irish sides and they were never in the contest here, with the Welsh visitors meekly rolling over in the face of a blue wave. 

Leinster, buttressed by the experience of Toner, Fardy and McFadden through the spine of their side, bristled with intent from the outset and raced into a two-try lead inside the opening quarter.

ross-byrne-kicks-a-penalty Ross Byrne got Leinster up and running with an early penalty. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

After Byrne had split the posts to open the scoring, the home side were obdurate in their defensive duties through a sustained period of Ospreys possession, with Fardy, and the back row unit all showing a huge appetite for work.

Allen Clarke’s side were patient in their approach but after going through 13 phases, were cut apart as O’Loughlin pounced on the loose ball in midfield to clinically turn defence into attack. 

Keenan, again impressively lively here, demonstrated his blistering pace to latch onto O’Loughlin’s kick and offload smartly back inside for the centre, who in turn hit the unmarked Lowe with a looping pass left.

Although Ospreys were able to get numbers back to block Lowe’s route to the line, further carries from Peter Dooley and Murphy yielded a penalty advantage, allowing Byrne to execute his trademark kick-pass right for McFadden to fall over the whitewash.

Leinster’s second arrived four minutes later. Dooley was again involved, carrying to the line and showing good hands to pop it to Connors, with the space opening up invitingly for the openside to charge through midfield.

With only Cai Evans at home for the visitors, Connors waited for support to arrive on his left shoulder and it was left to Kelleher to show all his athleticism to evade the final tackle for his first Leinster try, with Byrne tacking on the extras.  

Ospreys continued to enjoy large tracts of territory attacking the Simmonscourt Road end of the ground, but they were consistently, and frustratingly, thwarted by their own inaccuracy and Leinster’s resolution, most notably when Fardy towered into the night sky to steal a lineout on the hosts’ line.

ronan-kelleher-on-the-way-to-scoring-their-second-try Kelleher races clear for his first Leinster try. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

From there, Leinster struck for their third as Keenan again provided an exciting glimpse of his dangerous and evasive running ability from the backfield to bring Cullen’s men within striking distance. 

Ospreys initially held firm but in conceding a succession of penalties, allowed Byrne kick for the corner and Leinster’s forwards to punch holes, with Jamison Gibson-Park spotting the space down the short side for Tomane, via a Byrne assist, to score his maiden RDS try.

Leinster’s surge towards a bonus point was briefly halted by another scoreless Ospreys attacking foray at the end of the first half, but the back-to-back champions didn’t have to wait long for their fourth following the restart. 

Lowe kicked down the left on turnover ball and even after Keelan Giles had come across to cover, a powerful counter-ruck from the winger, Gibson-Park and Kelleher saw the ball squirt out for the Leinster hooker to collect and gratefully score his second of the evening. 

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It only got better for the 21-year-old as, just minutes later, he claimed his hat-trick off the back of a powerful rolling maul, with Kelleher falling over the line à la Sean Cronin, before Deegan, Byrne and Milne got in on the act.

Edinburgh here next week in the final game of this initial three-match block and the 11,259 will be back expecting much more of the same. Some start to the title defence. 

Leinster scorers:

Tries: Fergus McFadden, Ronan Kelleher [3], Joe Tomane, Max Deegan, Harry Byrne, Michael Milne. 
Conversions: Ross Byrne [4 from 6], Harry Byrne [1 from 2].
Penalties: Ross Byrne [1 from 1].

Ospreys scorers:

Tries: Luke Morgan.
Conversions: Cai Evans [0 from 1].

LEINSTER: 15. Hugo Keenan, 14. Fergus McFadden, 13. Rory O’Loughlin, 12. Joe Tomane (Conor O’Brien 61′), 11. James Lowe, 10. Ross Byrne (Harry Byrne 56′), 9. Jamison Gibson-Park (Rowan Osborne 56′); 1. Peter Dooley (Michael Milne 52′), 2. Rónan Kelleher (James Tracy 52′), 3. Michael Bent (Vakh Abdaladze 52′), 4. Devin Toner, 5. Scott Fardy (captain), 6. Josh Murphy, 7. Will Connors (Ross Molony 64′), 8. Caelan Doris (Max Deegan 52′) 

OSPREYS: 15. Cai Evans, 14. Luke Morgan, 13. Scott Williams (Tom Williams 68′), 12. Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, 11. Keelan Giles, 10. Luke Price (Hanno Dirksen 57′), 9. Shaun Venter (Matthew Aubrey 61′); 1. Rhodri Jones (Gareth Thomas 51′), 2. Sam Parry, 3. Tom Botha (Gheorghe Gajion 51′), 4. Dan Lydiate (captain), 5. Lloyd Ashley (Ben Glynn 36′)(Scott Otten 40′), 6. Olly Cracknell, 7. Sam Cross, 8. Dan Baker (Gareth Evans 28′).

Referee: Stuart Berry [SARU]. 

Attendance: 11,259. 

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey  / Reports from the RDS

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