Leinster’s young guns earn draw in shoot-out with Opsreys
McGrath and Murphy inspire 14-man rally as home side run in three tries
Leinster’s Dave Kearney dives over to scores a try against the Ospreys. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
These two don’t do dull. In their 11th clash in five seasons, and first of at least four this season, almost inevitably both sides went at each other with both barrels to play out an exciting draw which matched anything the more hyped leagues of France and England.
Leinster assuredly emerged from the two dressing-rooms the more disappointed, having had more of the game and led from much of the night, right up to the last kick of the game. Yet when the dust had settled Leinster possibly had more right to feel pleased.
From looking likely winners to probable losers and then leading into the last play in scoring three tries to two, Leinster negotiated this rollercoaster ride with a mostly young, inexperienced side peppered with a few wise old heads, but without a plethora of frontline players including their Lions. Although missing Alun Wyn-Jones and Leigh Halfpenny, by contrast, the Ospreys played three of their five Lions in the second half.
The manner in which Jack McGrath especially, Martin Moore and the rest of a comparatively callow Leinster side rallied when a man and seven points down in the second-half was particularly encouraging. As influential was Jordi Murphy, whose towering take off Jimmy Gopperth’s up-and-under lit the blue touch paper when they needed a rallying call.
Gopperth had also provided further evidence of the competition he is going to give Ian Madigan. The polished Kiwi looks very content and composed in his new environment.
That Leinster were able to rally will have Matt O’Connor wondering why their collective work-rate and accuracy dipped in mid-game and especially the third quarter, although the Ospreys’ quality in that spell has to be acknowledged as well. O’Connor has looked to increase Leinster’s line speed in defence and reduce its workload, but they lapsed into a slightly passive mode in the second-half, particularly close to the fringes.
Leinster’s disappointment would have been compounded by looking likely winners for much of the first-half. A game that ebbed and flowed under clear blue skies had initially seen the home side manufacture a couple of classy tries as first Dave Kearney’s counter and Gordon D’Arcy’s rumble was the prelude to Jack McGrath deftly putting Richardt Strauss away in an unguarded blindside corridor.
Their handling, though by no means without its blemishes, was vastly superior to an error-strewn Ospreys, as evidenced by Richard Fussell and Eli Walker mucking up a counter, from which Darragh Fanning won turnover ball which Reddan, Madigan and D’Arcy worked the ball across the pitch to Gopperth who sped through a stretched defence, brilliantly passed to Dave Kearney who stepped Fussell to complete the 80-metre move.
Perhaps lulled into a false sense of security, they possibly became too lax then, became a little too lateral rather than direct. The Ospreys stayed in touch through the immaculate goalkicking of Dan Biggar – who was, as usual against Leinster, pretty faultless generally – and their effective spoiling around the fringes.
Eoin Reddan was given scant protection by his team or the referee, as the Ospreys stood off the breakdown, let Leinster players go beyond the ball, and then came through onto the scrumhalf, as Tito Tibaldi “fringed” with impunity.
The introduction of Adam and Duncan Jones at half-time galvanised the visitors who drew level when impressively keeping their attacking shape through over two minutes and 15 phases – with Tibaldi and the outstanding Biggar pulling the strings impressively before the latter attacked the gain line, drew the man and put Joe Bearman over.
Better still followed when they ran back the kick-off from deep, Tibaldi cleverly releasing Walker and the Ossreys again exposing a softness around the fringes before Fussell, James King and Walker offloaded in turn for Ashley Beck to score. Biggar landed a superb touchline conversion.
This at least awoke Leinster from their mid-game slumber with some hard direct running and recycling, and they responded equally well to the bizarre sinbinning of Seán Cronin after a fourth scrum reset five minutes from the Ospreys’ line after the visitors seemed equally culpable for wheeling.
Inspired by Murphy’s leaping take on the run, McGrath scored with his fourth carry of the move and they won the Cronin-less ten minutes 10-0 (with Shane Jennings twice throwing in) when Gopperth tagged on a penalty after a strong carry up the guts by Darragh Fanning.
Subsequently pushing for a bonus point that, of course, only made conceding an almost inevitable equalising penalty – seemingly against McGrath for going off his feet – all the more disappointing and of course that man Biggar duly nailed it. He had earlier scuffed a drop goal, which seemed at the time like his first mistake ever in this ground.