Contrasting fortunes for Kildare players on provincial duty
By Daire Walsh
IT was a winning start to the new Guinness PRO14 season for Leinster on Friday night as they emerged from a high-encountered against Cardiff Blues with one point to spare (33-32).
Despite trailing for the vast majority of the contest at Cardiff Arms Park, a late try courtesy of replacement Bryan Byrne helped Leo Cullen’s men to come through by the skin of their teeth. While a host of front-line internationals were absent for the visit to the Welsh capital, the former lock was able to call on a great deal of experience for this seasonal opener.
Alongside Dave Kearney and Barry Daly in the back-three, Adam Byrne was offered a chance to impress. Indeed, following an early injury to Daly, the Kill man was joined by Suncfort’s Fergus McFadden in a potentially-explosive Leinster defence.
A lot of the pre-match focus was on new recruit Joseph Tomane, but it was also a big game for fly-half Ross Byrne – who is expected to be the main alternative to Jonathan Sexton in light of Joey Carbery’s departure to Munster.
In a pack that was spearheaded by new vice-captain Rhys Ruddock, James Tracy (another native of Kill) was a notable inclusion in the Leinster front-row. After Ross Byrne had narrowed the gap in response to Cardiff building up an early eight-point cushion, Tracy crossed over to move Leinster back on level terms.
A McFadden penalty edged the holders into the ascendancy for the first time, only for Jason Harries to pounce for a converted score at the opposite end. Yet, determined to finish the opening half on a high, Ross Byrne nailed a stoppage-time place-kick to leave the bare minimum between the teams (15-14) during the interval.
However, when Harries and Rey Lee-Lo claimed their second tries for Cardiff on the resumption, Leinster were staring down the barrell of an opening day defeat.
Bryan Byrne re-ignited their challenge with a try on 52 minutes, though, and this was eventually supplemented by another five-pointer from Jamison Gibson-Park. While Jarrod Evans eased the pressure on Cardiff with an ice-cool penalty, Leinster were primed for a final assault inside their ’22’.
Following an extended spell of attacking play, Ross Byrne added a conversion on top of a second try for his namesake Bryan to give Leinster a precious triumph.
It was a memorable debut for the aforementioned Carbery on Saturday in Thomond Park, where Munster recorded a comprehensive 38-0 win over the Toyota Cheetahs. The Athy man was greeted with rapturous applause upon his second half introduction and he played his part in an accomplished display by the Red Army. Meanwhile, there was disappointment for Craig Ronaldson (Ballymore Eustace) and Connacht in their clash with Glasgow Warriors at the Sportsground on the same day.
At the end of a titanic battle, Ronaldson saw his long-distance penalty rebounding off the post – which meant the western province lost out on a final scoreline of 27-26.