RUGBY COLUMN – OCTOBER 9
Leinster prove unbeatable at Aviva again
By Daire Walsh
IN front of a crowd of 50,120 at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening, Leinster moved five points clear at the summit of the Guinness PRO14 Conference B table with a 30-22 triumph over arch rivals Munster.
This represented a fourth consecutive victory for Leo Cullen’s men at the expense of the southern province and was achieved without the services of club captain Jonathan Sexton, Garry Ringrose, Jordan Larmour or Tadhg Furlong.
Kildare duo Fergus McFadden (Suncroft) and James Tracy (Kill) were selected in the Blues starting line-up while, in the red corner, Athy native Joey Carbery was joined by Eadestown man Tadhg Beirne.
Ahead of next weekend’s Champions Cup action – not to mention Ireland’s forthcoming November Series – there was plenty of scope for fringe players to establish their credentials.
Ross Byrne was one such player to step up to the plate, but it was New Zealand winger James Lowe who shone brightest during the opening-quarter. Referee Ben Whitehouse dominated much of the post-match talk, and his decision to award a penalty try on the stroke of 10 minutes proved to be a divisive call.
In addition to Leinster breaking the deadlock, Keith Earls was deemed to have deliberately prevented Lowe’s advance towards the line and was subsequently sent to the sin-bin. In his absence, the Maori All Black crossed over for Leinster’s second try – which was brilliantly converted by Byrne.
After putting Ulster to the sword at Thomond Park seven days earlier, Munster were staring down the gauntlet of a Leinster juggernaut. It’s to their credit that they managed to wrestle back control of the play, with Beirne at the heart of all that was good about their display.
He finished off a line-out maul on 20 minutes to edge Munster back into contention and a converted CJ Stander try left them just two points in arrears.
Leinster’s composure was evident in the closing stages of the half, though, as a brace of Byrne place-kicks gave them a 20-12 interval lead.
After Earls had a breakaway score ruled out on the resumption, a second Lowe try looked set to seal a convincing Blues success. However, Munster roared back once more.
Carbery increased his personal haul with a 56th-minute penalty and then added the extras to an Alby Mathewson touchdown.
Yet, this was as close as they came to reining in a clinical Leinster. Byrne smoothly clipped a final-quarter penalty between the posts, capping a memorable man-of-the-match performance in the Ballsbridge cauldron for the St Michael’s College alumnus.
Meanwhile, the Kill-Eadestown axis made their mark in the Celtic Cup on Saturday as Adam Byrne and Jimmy O’Brien contributed two tries apiece in Leinster ‘A’s comprehensive 48-29 win against Dragons U23 at Ystrad Mynach.
Ahead of their meeting at Energia Park this Friday evening (which will precede Leinster’s Champions Cup clash with Wasps), Peter Smyth’s side just edge out Munster ‘A’ on score difference in the Ireland Conference section.