Return of big guns puts pep in Leinster step
Edinburgh 16 Leinster 31:Leinster emerged comprehensive winners in last night’s match against an Edinburgh side that struggled to contain the power and pace of the visitors who also secured a four-try bonus point.
The return of Brian O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald was a big factor in what was a confidence-inducing win but it was the strength of the Leinster pack and that of the frontrow in particular that paved the way for this success.
Edinburgh led after Leinster were penalised at a scrum and Greig Laidlaw converted the subsequent penalty. The scores were quickly levelled in similar style when Jonathan Sexton slotted the ball between the uprights following a high tackle on O’Driscoll as the returning centre threatened to split the Edinburgh defence.
Sexton missed a second penalty chance after after Leinster had achieved a heel against the head but the visitors were looking sharp with ball in hand in a varied repertoire of attacking moves that had a nervous Edinburgh side having to put in a massive number of tackles and when Sexton flipped an inside pass to Fitzgerald the home side were again on red alert.
The move ended with Edinburgh straying offside allowing Sexton to kick to the corner and the forwards to drive the line-out. Edinburgh number eight David Denton was judged to have stopped the drive illegally resulting in a yellow card for the Scotland backrower and penalty try for Leinster converted by Sexton.
Leinster quickly used their one-man advantage to launch an attack from the restart and when Seán Cronin prised open the Edinburgh defence the ball was spun wide for Gordon D’Arcy to stroll over for his side’s converted second try.
Then right on half-time Leinster were penalised at the contact area giving Laidlaw his second goal of the evening but the visitors led 17-6 at the interval.
Leinster attacked again at the start of the second half as Sexton found touch just a metre from the Edinburgh line. But the home side took a quick throw and relieved pressure.
Minutes later after a penalty kick to the corner by Sexton, Leinster attacked from the ensuing lineout, Devin Toner made the initial surge and then when the ball was moved right Cian Healy appeared to stretch his arm out to dot the ball down for a try but the referee had spotted an earlier crossing offence and Edinburgh were again handed a reprieve.
Edinburgh’s misfortunes continued with an injury to the league’s top scorer, Tim Visser, following his tackle on Carr. But a drop goal by outhalf Piers Francis helped to revive the home side’s hopes.
That was soon dented when from some vintage handling by replacement Shane Jennings dummied his way through the Edinburgh defence before off-loading to Sexton for an impressive try, which the outhalf converted for a 24-9 lead.
Edinburgh galvanised themselves into an attacking force but their attempt to get the ball over the line was thwarted by illegal poaching from Jamie Heaslip that earned the Leinster number eight a yellow card.
But depleted Leinster launched themselves at the Edinburgh line ending with replacement Ian Madigan plunging over for the bonus point try, converted by Sexton. A late try for Edinburgh by prop Willem Nel and the conversion by Francis made the scoreline look better for Edinburgh but it was a comprehensive Leinster win.
Leinster's returning trio Clockwatch
25 seconds: Rob Kearney’s natural authority is evident early on, catching a punt and seeking contact.
1 minute: Brian O’Driscoll takes a heavy tackle on his first carry off an inside pass from Jonathan Sexton.
13 minutes: O’Driscoll and Kearney are both involved in a try chance but Fionn Carr clumsily chips into touch.
18 minutes:Kearney catches Sexton’s restart. O’Driscoll switches the flow of an attack, stepping two defenders before Allan Jacobsen catches him square on the chin. Sexton’s resultant penalty levels matters at 3-3 as O’Driscoll receives treatment.
24 minutes:Kearney goes up highest to catch a garryowen that initiates a sustained period of Leinster pressure.
25 minutes: Luke Fitzgerald gets his paws on the ball for the first time since April 29th, taking contact and recycling possession.
32 minutes:Using the same move that shredded the Cardiff defence in last season’s Heineken Cup quarter-final, Sexton puts Fitzgerald into space. A penalty try follows moments later.
Half-time:17-6 but it’s Gordon D’Arcy’s try and general excellence that outshines his returning team-mates.
42 minutes: Fitzgerald is immediately more noticeable in the second half, actively seeking the opportunity to run with the ball.
44 minutes: Fitzgerald passes to Kearney just inside the Leinster half. But the fullback knocks on.
57 minutes:Kearney and Fitzgerald track Sexton over the try-line for Leinster’s third and killer touchdown. Neither shows any sign of fatigue after long lay-offs. O’Driscoll is also still motoring.
61 minutes: After taking plenty of hits to his back, Kearney is replaced by Andrew Conway but shows little sign of any recurring problems.
62 minutes: Ian Madigan replaces an understandably drained looking Fitzgerald. It has been eight months.
69 minutes: Clearly eager for the Ireland captain to regain match sharpness, Joe Schmidt replaces D’Arcy with Isaac Boss and leaves O’Driscoll on.
80 minutes: O’Driscoll’s ankle, and the rest of him, holds up as he even makes two tackles in the final skirmish. His latest return, from a second surgery in 12 months, keeps alive the prospect of becoming Lions captain for a second time on what would be his fourth tour this summer.
Compiled by GAVIN CUMMISKEY