Johnny Sexton celebrates his try. Dan Sheridan/INPHO
end to end

Leinster overcome the Sharks in 13-try thriller at the RDS

The province proved too strong in a gripping URC clash packed with flashpoints.

Leinster 54

Cell C Sharks 34

THEY MAY HAVE left their Springboks at home but the Sharks still brought plenty of bite to a gripping clash at the RDS, where Leinster had to weather a couple of scares to keep their winning start to the new United Rugby Championship season in tact.

With perfect conditions at the RDS, both teams never let up in an absorbing 13-try encounter in front of almost 17,000 supporters.

In the end, Leinster eventually had too much quality for the Sharks as captain Johnny Sexton played a starring role on his first start of the season, ably supported by Robbie Henshaw and the brilliant Garry Ringrose, who scored two tries after entering the game as a first-half substitute for Jordan Larmour.   

The Sharks came to Dublin with two wins from two on the road, having started the season without their Springbok internationals, but the South African side still made Leinster work for the win as they tested Leo Cullen’s side with both their power game and some of their brilliant attacking play. 

The one black mark on a highly entertaining evening in Dublin 4 was the sight of Ryan Baird leaving on a medical cart after a hard fall following a collision in the air. 

It was the only time the stadium fell silent during a contest which didn’t take long to ignite. 

It took Leinster just three and a half minutes to open the scoring and by that stage they had already let a couple of early opportunities slip. The breakthrough came after they were awarded a penalty under the posts. Opting against an easy three points, Dan Sheehan charged for the line, with the hooker stopped short before Jason Jenkins crashed over from close range. Sexton added the extras and Leinster were up and running.

The Sharks had barely seen the ball but stuck back with their first attack of the game, the lightning Aphelele Fassi slicing through an inviting gap in the Leinster defence, in part due to a slip by Robbie Henshaw, after the visitors had moved the ball quickly through the hands from a lineout in the corner. Boeta Chamberlain converted and with 10 minutes in the clock, the game was level.

That score triggered a chaotic period where Leinster struggled to keep possession, a series of unpopular calls by referee Craig Evans inviting the Sharks to build pressure in the Leinster half, a Chamberlain penalty eventually pushing them into the lead.

Leinster were also forced into some early changes as they struggled to get a grip on the game. Shortly after the 20 minute mark, Jordan Larmour limped out after his ankle got caught under a tackle, with Ringrose taking his place. Earlier, the home side also saw Rhys Ruddock – a late replacement for Jack Conan, who dropped out of the starting team shortly before kick-off – exit for a HIA, with Martin Maloney taking his place at number eight. 

justin-basson-tackles-jonathan-sexton Cell C Sharks' Justin Basson tackles Johnny Sexton. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Then just like that, Leinster clicked back into life, flying at the Sharks defence after a lineout inside the Sharks 22. Sexton was central to the move, he delayed his pass sending Ringrose through, with the centre then bouncing off a poor tackle from Fassi before using his footwork to race clear, going full stretch to dot down. It was an outstanding try from a team that had looked a little out of sync in the early stages. 

Sexton clipped over his second conversion and Leinster led by four.

It should have been the score that allowed Leinster to push on, but again the Sharks came back, and again Leinster will have been disappointed with their defensive shape. 

Working off first phase from a Sharks scrum, the South African side creating an overlap and moved the ball wide at speed as Leinster were sucked infield, with Werner Kok darting over in the corner unchallenged. Chamberlain missed the conversion but the Sharks were back in front. 

With their tails up, they were now playing all the rugby and they soon extended their lead. With their big ball-carriers doing the early damage, the Sharks eventually spun the ball wide where Thaakir Abrahams was on hand to supply the finish, but Chamberlain dragged the conversion wide again.

thaakir-abrahams-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try Thaakir Abrahams celebrates his try. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Leinster still found time to reply before the break, with Robbie Henshaw swinging a perfect kick out to tee up Ringrose for his second try of the game. Sexton kicked the extra two and Leinster went again, Luke McGrath leaving for a HIA after a dart for the Sharks line ended with the scrum-half taking a heavy hit from Kok.

A thrilling, six-try first half came to a close with Leinster leading by the minimum.

After the break, Leo Cullen’s side came flying out of the traps. Another delayed Sexton pass unlocked the Sharks defence and sent Rob Russell through, but the winger was eventually smothered as he shot for the line. Jimmy O’Brien came in and clipped the ball out to the right, but his pass had just too much weight on it for Sheehan. 

Leinster then turned to their power game and pushed towards the line, only for Baird to be pinged for not releasing.

Their next charge came after another Sexton slip pass allowed Henshaw break clear. A penalty followed, Sheehan stuck it up the jumper, and after a bit of huffing and puffing Andrew Porter eventually squeezed over for the bonus point try. Sexton’s conversion put his team eight points ahead.

There was then lengthy delay as Baird took a nasty fall. Chasing a kick on the right touchline, Baird was caught in the air by Abrahams as the Leinster flanker jumped to claim the ball. Baird gave the crowd a thumbs up as he left the action on a medical cart. Evans kept his cards in his pocket, feeling the contest for the ball had been fair. The home crowd made their displeasure with the decision clear. 

With Baird’s injury naturally taking the momentum out of Leinster’s play, the Sharks swooped. After a brilliant bit of play to open Leinster with a kick in behind, Abrahams and Ringrose engaged in footrace for the line. Both players dived at the ball, and both appeared to get a hand on it. Evans gave the decision in the Sharks’ favour, Chamberlain converted and it was a one-point game. 

Leinster summoned an immediate response. After some good work by the Leinster pack, Charlie Ngatai chipped the ball over the top to send Henshaw over for a fifth Leinster try, converted by Sexton.

With 20 minutes to go it was still all to play for at the RDS – something which doesn’t happen too often at this venue.

Then Leinster found another gear. After a brilliant break by Sheehan, a Henshaw charge left them camped just short of the line. Cormac Foley stepped in and flicked a superb pass wide to Rob Russell, who marked his first start at the RDS with his first try for the province. Sexton’s sixth conversion put Leinster 42-27 up as the game entered the closing 10 minutes.

Having provided a number of brilliant moments to tee up his teammates, the captain then decided to get in on the action himself. Ringrose’s excellent chip and chase carved the Sharks open again, and just as it looked like the move might break down, Sexton kicked in behind and ran through to put the result beyond doubt, converting his own score for good measure.

Not that the Sharks had thrown in the towel. Just as Leinster supporters were beginning to breathe easy, Fassi chipped over Jimmy O’Brien to score the visitors’ fifth try, converted by Nevaldo Fleurs.

Then another flashpoint as Rohan Janse Van Rensburg delivered two high hits on Ross Byrne and Ringrose in quick succession. Sexton reacted angrily, Moloney followed suit, and soon all 30 players were involved as the argument spilled over the touchline. The centre was shown red for the Byrne hit and the Sharks played the final five minutes with 14 men.

tempers-flare-between-johnny-sexton-and-rohan-janse-van-rensburg Tempers flare between Johnny Sexton and Rohan Janse Van Rensburg. Tom Maher / INPHO Tom Maher / INPHO / INPHO

Leinster went to the corner from the resulting penalty, and from the lineout substitute John McKee beat two men to score his first Leinster try, with Sexton missing the conversion.

With his side 20 points up, it didn’t matter. The damage had been done during a brilliant second half rally as Leinster’s quality and depth eventually proved decisive. 

Leinster scorers:

Tries– Jenkins, Ringrose [2], Porter, Henshaw, Sexton, Russell, McKee.

Conversions – Sexton [7/8]

Sharks scorers:

Tries – Fassi [2], Kok, Abrahams [2]

Penalty – Chamberlain [1/1]

Conversions – Chamberlain [2/4]

LEINSTER: Jimmy O’Brien; Jordan Larmour (Garry Ringrose, 21), Robbie Henshaw, Charlie Ngatai (Ross Byrne, 72), Rob Russell; Johnny Sexton (captain), Luke McGrath (Cormac Foley, 40 HIA); Andrew Porter (Cian Healy, 62), Dan Sheehan, Michael Ala’alatoa (Vakhtang Abdaladze, 72); Ross Molony, Jason Jenkins; Ryan Baird (James Ryan, 49), Will Connors (John McKee, 74), Rhys Ruddock (Martin Moloney, 5 HIA). 

SHARKS: Aphelele Fassi; Werner Kok, Rohan Janse Van Rensburg, Ben Tapuai, Thaakir Abrahams (Marnus Potgieter, 68); Boeta Chamberlain (Nevaldo Fleurs, 72), Grant Williams (Cameron Wright, 60); Ntuthuko Mchunu (Dian Bleuler, 60), Kerron van Vuuren (Dan Jooste, 60), Thomas du Toit (captain) (Carlu Sadie, 60); Justin Basson (Reniel Hugo, 16 HIA), Hyron Andrews; James Venter, Dylan Richardson, Sikhumbuzo Notshe (Phepsi Buthelezi, 60).

Red card: Van Rensburg

Referee: Craig Evans [WRU] 

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