EDINBURGH 29 LEINSTER 24
There was late drama at Myreside tonight as Leinster saw their three-month unbeaten run ended by resilient hosts Edinburgh in the GUINNESS PRO14.
Four tries from Max Deegan, Scott Fardy and Barry Daly (2) in a five-point defeat provided Leo Cullen’s men with two bonus points on their return to Dublin – which moves them ahead of Scarlets on score difference at the summit of the Conference B table.
However, the defending champions are back in action away to Benetton Treviso on Sunday afternoon, making this a missed opportunity for Leo Cullen’s charges.
It was a 79th-minute effort by Mark Bennett that ultimately decided the outcome of this encounter – after Luke Crosbie, Nathan Fowles and Duhan van der Merwe had earlier touched down for the hosts.
The TMO was consulted about a potential knock-on from Glenn Bryce in the lead-up to Bennett’s five-pointer, but referee Paul Williams ultimately ruled in favour of the Scottish outfit.
Leinster were searching for their 10th competitive win on the bounce, and they signalled their intent when Ross Byrne opted for touch from an early penalty. After the visitors worked the ball through several phases, Deegan powerfully drove over the Edinburgh whitewash.
This was the industrious No 8’s third try of the season – following previous efforts against the Dragons and Connacht – and Ross Byrne’s conversion made it a perfect start to the action for the Blues.
Edinburgh missed out on a chance to open their account when Jaco van der Walt was off-target from a penalty, but by the end of the first-quarter, they were the ones in the ascendancy.
Ross Byrne’s attempted kick into enemy territory was charged down by blindside flanker Luke Crosbie – who subsequently gathered the loose possession before breaking free for a 13th-minute score underneath the posts.
Van Der Walt’s bonus strike brought Richard Cockerill’s side back on level terms, and this was quickly supplemented by their second try of the half. Following Bennett’s turnover on Dave Kearney deep inside the Leinster half, Fowles dotted down at the end of an enterprising right-wing run.
Though van der Walt couldn’t secure the extras on offer, Edinburgh had responded brilliantly to the early set-back ditched out by Deegan. Some unforced errors made it difficult for Leinster to regain their attacking momentum, but they eventually settled back into a more familiar rhythm.
A protracted move on 25 minutes, that began with a line-out on the left-wing, was ended by Fardy on the opposite flank. Ross Byrne split the posts in majestic fashion to compliment the Australian lock’s five pointer, as Leinster hit the front once again.
It was proving to be an extremely open tie, with both sides seeing attack as the best form of defence. Indeed, following another patient move inside the Edinburgh ’22’, Jamison Gibson-Park and the increasingly-prominent Deegan put Daly through for a simple finish on the left-hand side.
In addition to putting them within touching distance of a bonus point, this unconverted effort offered Leinster some much-needed daylight. They had some work to do before a victory could be guaranteed, though, and Edinburgh’s persistence was rewarded in the form of a Murray McCallum try deep into second-half stoppage-time.
Another missed opportunity by van der Walt ensured that Leinster brought a slender (but nonetheless welcome) 19-17 lead into the break. In stark contrast to the 40 minutes that preceded it, the second half was a much scrappier affair, with quite a bit at stake for both teams.
At the expense of Richard Strauss and Peter Dooley, the Byrne twins – Bryan and Ed – were introduced to the front-row, where they joined the dependable Michael Bent on his 100th appearance in a Leinster shirt.
Despite finding themselves on the back-foot just after the restart, the growing influence of back-row Bill Mata edged Edinburgh closer to the Leinster line on the hour mark. A kick towards the left-hand touchline bounced awkwardly for Fergus McFadden – who made a brief but memorable return to the international scene in Paris last weekend – and South African winger Duhan van der Merwe pounced for his side’s fourth try of the evening.
Yet, Leinster’s response to this latest blow was emphatic, as Ross Byrne picked out Daly in space for another score in the corner on 65 minutes.
They were now a step closer to successfully negotiating a tricky fixture, which marked the first-team debut of flanker Will Connors. Adam Byrne also made his long-awaited return from injury in the closing moments, which looked set to end in frustration for Edinburgh.
The outstanding Bennett had other ideas, however, as his last-ditch converted try secured maximum points for the home team. Leinster will now look to dust themselves off for a top of the table clash against Scarlets at the RDS tomorrow week.