Tries from Peadar Timmins and Jack Kelly helped Leinster ‘A’ to dethrone defending British & Irish Cup champions Munster ‘A’ in a 17-6 quarter-final win at Energia Park this afternoon.
Noel McNamara’s men finished with 11 points to spare over their provincial rivals, and can now set their sights on a semi-final trip to Jersey Reds, the 22-10 conquerors of Doncaster Knights, in three weeks’ time (20th/21st/22nd April).
This was the first meeting between the Leinster and Munster ‘A’ sides in the knockout stages of the cross-border competition since April 2014. With Cathal Marsh helping himself to a 27-point haul, Leinster ‘A’ secured a comprehensive 47-15 quarter-final victory on home turf that day.
Although the Leinstermen progressed to win their second B&I Cup title against Leeds Carnegie the following month, Munster ‘A’ entered this contest as reigning champions. Peter Malone’s charges edged out English Championship outfit Jersey in last season’s final, adding to their 2011/12 success.
Ian Nagle was a key member of the visitors’ squad during that campaign, but he partnered Mick Kearney in the Leinster ‘A’ second row on this occasion at Energia Park. Both provinces included a number of senior squad members, while there was also space for several players from the current Ireland Under-20 set-up.
With five wins each from their respective pools, there was little to separate the teams on paper. Some handling errors by the hosts allowed Munster ‘A’ to establish an early foothold and this led to a close range penalty.
Playing alongside his brother Dave in the Munster ‘A’ back-line, young out-half Bill Johnston made no mistake with his opening effort from the tee. Yet, once they put some early jitters behind them, Leinster ‘A’ started to express themselves in attack.
After Ciarán Frawley kicked to touch from a long-range penalty, the home side built through the phases in the 22. An initial incision by scrum-half Charlie Rock put them within inches of the whitewash before flanker Timmins drove over in powerful fashion.
This score was followed by a routine Frawley conversion, giving Leinster ‘A’ an encouraging 7-3 cushion. However, Munster ‘A’ quickly got themselves back on the front foot, as Darren O’Shea combined effectively with fellow lock Fineen Wycherley.
English referee Karl Dickson awarded the visitors another place-kick, this time just outside the 10-metre line. It was an awkward kick for Bill Johnston in wet conditions, but the Tipperary native split the posts to reduce the deficit to 7-6.
Moving into the second quarter, Munster ‘A’ were able to retain possession in an efficient manner. They struggled to penetrate a tight-knit Leinster defence, however, and looked set to fall further behind just past the half-hour mark.
Frawley stepped forward to attempt a 22-metre penalty to the left of the uprights. Although firmly-struck with his right boot, the Skerries man could only watch as his effort rebounded off the left-hand post and it remained a one-point game.
With the heavy rainfall making life difficult for both sets of players, it came as no surprise that try-scoring opportunities were at such a premium. As the half-time whistle sounded, Leinster ‘A’ held onto their slender advantage on the scoreboard.
Hooker Kevin O’Byrne’s withdrawal through injury saw Munster ‘A’ call on the services of one-time Ireland international Mike Sherry. Similarly, Michael Bent added his considerable experience to the Leinster ‘A’ front row when he replaced Vakh Abdaladze in the early stages of the second period.
Munster ‘A’ threatened to turn the game on its head as Johnston kicked to a 49th-minute penalty to the left corner, but Leinster ‘A’ held their own from the ensuing lineout. With the hour mark quickly approaching, the hosts chipped away through a number of attacking phases.
A second try was not forthcoming on this occasion, though another kicking opportunity for Frawley was just reward for their endeavours in the final third. A crisp strike by the former Ireland U-20 international got Leinster’s second-half account up and running at 10-6, and it was quickly supplemented by an outstanding team score.
Centre Gavin Mullin, who made a fleet-footed initial break, connected with winger Tommy O’Brien out wide and he picked out full-back Jack Kelly on his inside for a clinical 62nd-minute try. Frawley added the extras to increase the gap between the sides to 11 points.
Munster ‘A’ produced a big push in the closing stages, and the defending O’Brien brilliantly fielded a dangerous cross-field kick above Jack Power, seven minutes from time. The visitors struggled to break down the well-organised Leinster ‘A’ defence, as Kelly’s crucial try propelled his province into their first semi-final since 2015.
Referee: Karl Dickson (RFU)
Tries: Peadar Timmins, Jack Kelly; Cons: Ciaran Frawley 2; Pen: Ciaran Frawley
Pens: Bill Johnston 2
Jack Kelly; Tommy O’Brien, Gavin Mullin, Conor O’Brien, Barry Daly; Ciaran Frawley, Charlie Rock; Ed Byrne, Bryan Byrne, Vakh Abdaladze, Mick Kearney, Ian Nagle, Oisin Dowling, Peadar Timmins, Josh Murphy.
Replacements used: Michael Bent for Abdaladze (45 mins), Peter Dooley for E Byrne (62), Hugh O’Sullivan for Dowling (76), Ronan Foley for Rock, Harry Byrne for Frawley (both 80). Not used: Sean McNulty, Sean O’Brien.
Stephen Fitzgerald; Calvin Nash, David Johnston, Alex McHenry, Ronan O’Mahony; Bill Johnston, Jack Stafford; Jeremy Loughman, Kevin O’Byrne, Brian Scott, Sean O’Connor, Darren O’Shea, Dave O’Callaghan, Conor Oliver, Jack O’Sullivan.
Replacements used: Mike Sherry for O’Byrne (half-time), Ciaran Parker for Scott (48 mins), Scott for Loughman (55), Jack Power for Fitzgerald (60), John Poland for Stafford (62), John Foley for O’Sullivan (69), Alan Tynan for O’Mahony (73), Jack Daly for O’Callaghan (80).