Leinster celebrate Hugo Keenan's try. Billy Stickland/INPHO
Top seeds

Six-try Leinster made to work before pulling clear of dogged Racing

The province led by just two points at half time but eventually had too much firepower for the French side.

Leinster 36

Racing 10

THE SCORELINE READS like another straightforward bonus-point Champions Cup win for Leinster but for over an hour of this tense, gripping encounter at Aviva Stadium a dogged Racing 92 side threatened to pull of a shock result away from home.

Leinster have rarely been troubled in Europe this season – beating today’s opponents 42-10 in Le Havre back in December – but today they were tested and made to work hard for their fourth straight bonus point win.

At half-time they led 7-5. Forty minutes later that lead had been stretched out to 26 points.

The killer blows were landed across a superb final quarter against a tired looking Racing as Leinster pulled clear with three late tries. The result sees them finish their Pool A campaign as top seeds with a maximum haul of 20 points and home advantage in the knockout stages secured, while Racing bow out.

Leinster will now enjoy home advantage all the way through should they make it as far as the final – which will be played at this venue – in May.

Racing arrived in Dublin in ninth place and with just five points to their name, needing to win to keep their knockout ambitions alive. And after a disappointing showing in the return fixture last month the Parisians were much improved against a Leinster team who recovered from a sloppy first half to push their current winning run to 16 games.

The odds were heavily stacked in favour of a Leinster team that started with 14 players named in Andy Farrell’s Six Nations squad on Thursday, but it quickly became evident that the province wouldn’t be coasting through this fixture with the same comfort they did their opening three pool games.

Across the opening stages at a chilly Aviva Stadium both sides poked and prodded at each other without any real conviction.

Leinster had the best of the early play. A Caelan Doris block led to Ross Byrne spinning a beautiful crossfield kick out wide to Jimmy O’Brien, who charged for the line before playing the ball infield. Leinster had numbers up in the Racing 22 but the ball was spilled forward as Doris and James Ryan appeared to get in each other’s way. With penalty advantage, Leinster went again but this time Joe McCarthy lost possession under pressure.

A sustained period of kick tennis did little to warm up the 40,000-plus crowd.

Then out of nowhere Leinster sparked into life with a brilliant move, cutting Racing open with fast, wonderful interplay.

Jordan Larmour stepped in as first receiver to take the ball from Gibson-Park, the Leinster wing hitting in-form centre Jamie Osborne, who showed great hands to release Byrne. The out-half played in captain Garry Ringrose, who tore deep into the Racing half before sending O’Brien over in the corner. Bryne clipped over the extras and Leinster had their opening score.

jimmy-obrien-scores-a-try Jimmy O'Brien scored Leinster's first try. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

From there Racing managed to stunt Leinster’s momentum. The visitors moved into the Leinster 22 but were repeatedly repelled; a charging maul stopped short before James Ryan rose to pinch a Racing lineout.

Leinster were doing themselves no favours as their discipline slipped and the penalty count rose, a series of errors inviting Racing in.

Byrne, who had started brightly, got his angles wrong and a miscued kick allowed Racing to counter. Larmour intervened as the French side attacked the corner but was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on.

With a man advantage, Racing kept the pressure up, attacking in numbers under the Leinster posts but failing to find any way through. 

They then put huge pressure on a Leinster scrum – with good work from Trevor Nyakane – and at the next lineout McCarthy was pinged.

christian-wade-is-tackled-by-caelan-doris Racing 92's Christian Wade is tackled by Leinster's Caelan Doris. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Racing went to their maul again and hooker Janick Tarrit managed to burrow right through the centre of the Leinster maul, squeezing by Doris and McCarthy to cross. Finn Russell pulled his conversion wide but five minutes from half-time Racing had cut Leinster’s lead back to just two points having caused their hosts issues at both the maul and scrum – something which is becoming a concerning theme for this Leinster team.

Leinster did have a chance to respond just before the break but turned down a shot at the posts to try their luck at the lineout. The ball was spilled and the half ended with Leinster leading 7-5.

Russell – who is set to swap Paris for Bath in the summer – had a chance to push his team ahead just after the interval but his long-range penalty dropped short.

Minutes later he made amends with a superb piece of individual play. The Scottish 10 opened the space by cutting inside McCarthy and Michael Ala’alatoa and then played a wonderful pass off his left out wide to Christian Wade, who raced over. Russell’s conversion attempt struck the post as the home crowd fell silent.

It took Leinster just two minutes to summon a response. Ringrose did well to release Byrne, who broke forward before finding Dan Sheehan. The replacement hooker probably should have sent the ball wide again to Larmour but instead backed himself. Racing almost forced him out of play but Larmour stepped in to recover the ball, and the supporting Hugo Keenan took possession to finish the move. Byrne was off target with the conversion and with 25 to play, Leinster led by two.

They began to move the ball nicely through the hands as they looked to further their advantage but Racing’s linespeed and excellent defensive organisation allowed Leinster little room to manoeuvre, a patient series of possession ending with a turnover on the edge of the Racing 22.

gary-ringrose-is-tackled-by-finn-russell Leinster’s Gary Ringrose is tackled by Racing 92’s Finn Russell. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Yet for all Racing’s dogged defending it felt as though Leinster could strike at any moment. Larmour made a brilliant break forward but was cut down before he could find a support player. Gibson-Park made a couple of snipes only to be swallowed up by covering Racing defenders. O’Brien broke down the right but his pass inside bounced off Ringrose just inches from the tryline.

Maybe it was going to be one of those days. Or maybe not. With the next passage of play Leinster’s maul got a good shove on Racing and opened the door for Josh van der Flier to score their third. After all the huffing and puffing, it looked like bread and butter stuff for the home side. Byrne was uncharacteristically off target from the tee again but the province now led by seven.

As the clock edged towards the final 10 minutes Racing let their foot off and Leinster let their hair down.

O’Brien – who had been heavily involved throughout – took possession in a central position, sped through a gap and produced a smart offload inside to Keenan, who had the time and space to cross and run the ball under the posts for the bonus-point score. This time Byrne nailed the extras and finally, the Leinster crowd could breathe easy.

O’Brien capped a strong individual display by adding his second try of the evening, the winger left with a simple finish after a magic bit of play from Ringrose, who booted a loose ball upfield, won the footrace and still had the vision to find O’Brien, with Harry Byrne converting.

Leinster played out the final minutes camped in the Racing 22 and the final play of the game saw the excellent Ringrose squeeze over in the corner – taking a heavy knock to the abdomen for his troubles. Harry Byrne knocked over the extra two as Leinster signed off for their pool campaign with another high-scoring win.

This time they really had to work for it. It might just stand to them in the long run.

Leinster scorers:

Tries – O’Brien (2), Keenan (2), Van der Flier, Ringrose

Conversions – R Byrne [2/4], H Byrne [1/2]

Racing scorers:

Tries – Tarrit, Wade

Penalty – Russell [0/1]

Conversions – Russell [0/2]

LEINSTER: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose (captain), Jamie Osborne (Harry Byrne 68), Jimmy O’Brien; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park (Luke McGrath, 66); Andrew Porter (Michael Milne, 73), Rónan Kelleher (Dan Sheehan 50), Michael Ala’alatoa (Cian Healy, 58); Joe McCarthy (Ross Molony, 50), James Ryan; Caelan Doris (Ryan Baird, 58), Josh van der Flier (Scott Penny 71), Jack Conan.

Yellow card: Larmour 27

RACING: Warrick Gelant ( Antoine Gibert 72); Christian Wade, Olivier Klemenczak (Francis Saili 68), Gael Fickou (captain), Louis Dupichot (Max Spring, 15-28 blood, 55); Finn Russell, Nolann Le Garrec; Eddy Ben Arous (Guram Gogichashvili, 46), Janick Tarrit (Péniami Narisia 68), Trevor Nyakane (Gia Kharaishvili, 40); Baptiste Chouzenoux (Anthime Hemery 73), Boris Palu; Wenceslas Lauret, Mahamadou Coulibaly (Maxime Baudonne, 50), Kitione Kamikamica.

Referee: Matthew Carley (RFU)

Attendance: 43,560

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