Redemption tantalisingly out of reach for Leinster
Those tries gave Exeter a foothold in the match and the English club proved doughty opponents over the 80 minutes producing an integrity of performance from which others could learn. Leinster were deserving winners and it was based on superior creativity and ability.
Their first three tries may have been scored by backs, Gordon D’Arcy, Rob Kearney and Brian O’Driscoll dotting down but the groundwork was completed by the pack. Cian Healy carried ball prodigiously, his back was festooned with Exeter players looking to hitch a lift. Seán O’Brien also swatted aside tacklers and make serious yardage in what was a fine performance from the whole pack.
Leinster captain Leo Cullen had an outstanding game, the high point of which might have been a deft offload for O’Driscoll’s try. There were little cameos here and there; Mike Ross giving the excellent Jamie Heaslip the perfect angle from a five-metre scrum or replacement Seán Cronin (Richardt Strauss had limped off at half-time with an ankle injury) and Kevin McLaughlin mowing down Exeter ball carriers.
Eoin Reddan’s quicksilver service was a key component in two of the tries and the scrumhalf ensured that his team retained an up-tempo rhythm. There will have been an element of frustration among the backs, that they weren’t given more ball as when they did get good possession they converted it into tries.
D’Arcy demonstrated good feet in claiming his try; Rob Kearney’s the by-product of O’Driscoll’s soft hands and Jonathan Sexton’s quick ones. The Irish province trailed 17-12 at the interval a reminder of costly lapses that undermined their dominance of possession and territory.
O’Driscoll and Heaslip crossed for tries to ensure the bonus point within 13 minutes of the resumption but just as Leinster needed to kick on and stockpile more five-point scores, their execution and decision making went on the blink.
Exeter dug in and there were no more tries. The visitors did come tantalisingly close on a number of occasions but to no avail, an image that could describe their campaign.