RUGBY – LEINSTER PRE-SEASON FRIENDLY
Big season ahead for Lilywhite quartet
By Daire Walsh
Kill’s James Tracy was amongst the try-scorers in France on Friday night as Leinster kick-started their 2018/19 pre-season campaign with a narrow 18-17 victory over Pro D2 outfit US Montauban.
This proved to be a worthwhile run-out for Leo Cullen’s squad ahead of the forthcoming Guinness PRO14 Championship. They will face Newcastle Falcons at Energia Park (Donnybrook) this Friday, in the final friendly before the real action gets underway.
In addition to Tracy, Kildare natives Adam Byrne (Kill), Jimmy O’Brien (Eadestown) and Will Connors (Donadea) also featured for the blue province. With the county’s contingent reduced by the retirement of Jamie Heaslip and the high-profile departure of Joey Carbery to Munster, it will be a big 12 months in the capital for this aforementioned quartet.
Despite making his senior Ireland debut in last November’s Guinness Series encounter against Argentina, Byrne found himself down the pecking order in the second-half of an outstandingly successful season for Leinster.
Connors was a regular presence for Leinster ‘A’ in the now-defunct British & Irish Cup, while O’Brien has had no time to rest since returning from the recent Rugby Sevens World Cup in San Francisco. Although he may well remain within the sevens programme, he will nevertheless be eager to re-establish himself within the 15s game.
With his fellow Lilywhites restricted to spots on the replacements bench, Byrne was afforded an opportunity to impress from the very start against Montauban. He lined up alongside James Lowe and Barry Daly in the back-three, and there was also a place in the Leinster defence for summer recruit Joe Tomane.
The game served as an ideal platform for fringe players to impress Cullen and senior coach Stuart Lancaster ahead of what promises to be another rollercoaster season. After being named as the new Leinster vice-captain (Jonathan Sexton takes on the main captaincy role), Rhys Ruddock was a welcome presence in the visitors’ back-row.
He was joined in the Leinster pack by the likes of Peter Dooley, Bryan Byrne, the evergreen Michael Bent and former Munster lock Ian Nagle.
Just eight minutes into the contest, Montauban edged in front with a converted Pierre Klur try. Leinster quickly reduced their deficit through a Noel Reid penalty and the Clontarf club man added another three-pointer towards the end of the opening quarter.
The Montauban try-line remained unbreached, however, and their dependable out-half Jerome Bosviel converted a tricky place-kick to move them into a 10-6 interval advantage.
As is common in games of this nature, both sides opted to make wholesale changes at the break. This helped to re-ignite the Leinster challenge, with Rory O’Loughlin crossing over for their maiden try in the 53rd-minute.
This was swiftly supplemented by Tracy’s five-pointer – which was converted by Tom Daly – giving Leinster a commanding 18-10 buffer inside the final-quarter. Montauban set up an interesting climax when Bosviel added the bonuses to a Cyril Guilpin try, but Leinster ultimately held out for a slender triumph.