Carbery sparkles on European debut while Donaldson kicks Connacht to victory
By Daire Walsh
JOEY Carbery produced an accomplished display on his European debut for Leinster at the RDS on Saturday afternoon, as Leo Cullen’s side began their Champions Cup Pool Four campaign with a comfortable 33-15 victory over Castres.
In the absence of Jonathan Sexton, Carbery was thrown in at the deep end against the Top 14 outfit, but on his eight appearance for the province, he once again played with great confidence and authority.
A hamstring complaint meant that Sexton was left out of the match-day squad, and having appeared from the replacements bench in Leinster’s three previous fixtures, Carbery partnered Luke McGrath at half-back for this game.
As expected, Jamie Heaslip of Naas was included in the back-row alongside Rhys Ruddock and Josh van der Flier, while James Tracy was a reserve option for the hosts. Following their disappointing 2015/16 campaign in the competition, Leinster were eager to hit the ground running on this occasion.
An early try from hooker Sean Cronin set them on their way, and when the Limerick native added another five-pointer in the 26th-minute, Blues captain Isa Nacewa was on hand to add the bonuses. Having Nacewa on kicking duties was perhaps beneficial to Carbery’s all-round game, but the Athy youngster did opt for touch with seven minutes left in the opening period.
This eventually paid off in the form of a third try courtesy of Jack McGrath, but when a Benjamin Urdapilleta penalty was supplemented by a converted penalty try, Castres had reduced Leinster’s lead to nine points (19-10) in time for the break.
A yellow-card for Luke McGrath left the home team with a numerical disadvantage in the opening ten minutes of the second-half, but a fourth touchdown by stand-in scrum-half Nacewa during this juncture meant that a bonus point would be heading Leinster’s way.
A 66th-minute penalty try created even greater daylight between the teams, and even though a game Castres responded with an Anthony Jelonch five-pointer, Leinster were not to be denied. Ahead of a crunch game with Montpellier next Sunday, Carbery and Heaslip played the full 80 minutes, and Tracy also impressed in his 27-minute cameo.
Meanwhile, there was a strong Kildare presence for the Leinster ‘A’s in London on Saturday, when they kick-started their British & Irish Cup pool with a comprehensive 68-19 win against Richmond. Adam Byrne (Kill) and Jeremy Loughman (Athy) both started for Hugh Hogan’s side, but it proved to be a particularly memorable game for Eadestown’s Jimmy O’Brien – who contributed two tries from inside centre.
Elsewhere, a final-quarter conversion by Ballymore’s Craig Ronaldson was the difference at the Sportsground on Saturday evening, when Connacht secured a memorable European Rugby Champions Cup triumph over Toulouse. Niyi Adeolokun had crossed over for the Pro12 champions in the first-half, and although they trailed 21-11 at the interval, tries from Tiernan O’Halloran and Bundee Aki worked Pat Lam’s men back into contention prior to Ronaldson’s two-point effort.