T. Daly (1 try), C. Rock (1 try), P. Timmins (1 try), R. Byrne (3 conversons and 1 penalty)
C. Gaffney (1 try), R. Loughney (1 try), G. Naoupu (1 try), N. Adeolokun (1 try), C. McKeon (4 conversions and 5 penalties)
Adam Byrne; Rory O’Loughlin, Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, Ian Fitzpatrick; Ross Byrne, Charlie Rock; Peter Dooley, Sean McNulty, Michael Bent, Tadhg Beirne, David O’Connor, Josh Murphy, Peadar Timmins CAPTAIN, Tony Ryan.
REPLACEMENTS USED: Jeremy Loughman for Dooley, Royce Burke-Flynn for Bent (both half-time), Joey Carbery for Fitzpatrick (57 mins), Jack Power for Byrne (60), Max Deegan for O’Connor, Harrison Brewer for Daly (both 62), Will Connors for Ryan (68).
Ciaran Gaffney; Niyi Adeolokun, Rory Parata, Peter Robb, Ed O’Keeffe; Conor McKeon, Ian Porter; Ronan Loughney, Jason Harris-Wright, Saba Meunargia, Cian Romaine, Daniel Qualter, Sean O’Brien, James Connolly, George NaoupuCAPTAIN.
REPLACEMENTS USED: Caolin Blade for Porter (51 mins), Rory Moloney for O’Brien (56), Conan O’Donnell for Meunargia (60), Peter Claffey for Romaine (66), Cormac Brennan for O’Keeffe (70), Aidan Moynihan for Gaffney (73), Jack Dinneen for Harris-Wright, Jacob Walshe for Loughney (both 78).
This was only the second game of the campaign for Connacht Eagles, as their proposed encounter with Munster ‘A’ was called off recently. Prior to that, Nigel Carolan’s westerners enjoyed a 36-17 success against Ulster Ravens at Deramore Park in early October.
Indeed, with experienced captain George Naoupu leading by example, the Eagles had Leinster ‘A’ under plenty of pressure during the early stages.
The centre pairing of Peter Robb and Rory Parata were creating space inside the Blues’ half, and after receiving a short offload, full-back Ciaran Gaffney – one of the former Ireland Under-20 internationals in action – touched down under the posts at the end of a lung-bursting run from halfway.
Out-half Conor McKeon, who featured prominently for Lansdowne in their successful Ulster Bank League title run last season, converted with relative ease, as the Eagles secured a promising early cushion.
However, Leinster ‘A’ soon found their rhythm and in a similar vein to Gaffney’s five-pointer, imposing Ireland Sevens captain Tom Daly broke through midfield and despite the best efforts of the Eagles back-three, he grounded just beyond the whitewash.
Ross Byrne, a recent senior debutant for Leinster, converted to level matters and his opposite number McKeon missed an opportunity to respond from an 18th minute penalty.
Returning front rowers Jason Harris-Wright and Ronan Loughney, both on the comeback trail from injuries, were part of a solid Eagles pack, and the latter finished off a fine attacking move on the right for their second try.
McKeon restored Connacht’s seven-point advantage with a superb conversion from a tight angle. As the first half wore on, they continued to ask questions of the home side. Yet, Leinster ‘A’ always posed a strong offensive threat, and young scrum half Charlie Rock raced over for an excellent converted effort seven minutes before the interval.
There was little to separate the teams and even though McKeon fired over a penalty on the 40-minute mark, an expertly-struck three-pointer from Byrne made it 17 points apiece at the break.
This set up a mouth-watering second period and it was Leinster ‘A’ who made the greater inroads just after the restart. Exceptional approach work by the home pack led to a 47th minute try from skipper Peadar Timmins, and Byrne once again found the range from his fourth attempt off the kicking tee.
With the province’s head coach Leo Cullen keeping a watchful eye on proceedings, Leinster ‘A’ looked to build further momentum. However, Connacht were relentless in their pursuit of scores, and after replacement scrum half Caolin Blade collected the ball from the back of a five-metre scrum, number 8 Naoupu notched the sixth try of the evening.
Another conversion by McKeon meant that the sides were level for a fourth time (24-24). The dependable number 10 moved the Connacht outfit back in front near the hour mark, landing a superb penalty from long range.
With the Eagles growing in confidence, Leinster ‘A’ opted to unload their replacements bench which included in-form Clontarf star Joey Carbery and Jack Power, a late call-up to the matchday squad in place of Darragh Fanning.
Indiscipline in defence was working against Leinster ‘A’, though, and the Eagles stretched their lead to nine points with back-to-back penalties from the assured McKeon. The Hugh Hogan and Shaun Beirne-coached home team were also hamstrung by the 75th minute sin-binning of Carbery.
The visitors duly saw out the result in clinical fashion, with a fifth successful penalty from McKeon followed by a brilliant late breakaway try from Niyi Adeolokun that was converted by McKeon.
That brought the curtain down on a disappointing result for Leinster ‘A’, but it was a very worthwhile exercise for the Blues as they prepare for Saturday week’s British & Irish Cup pool opener away to Rotherham Titans.
REFEREE: Sean Gallagher (IRFU)