Leinster make their play for final spot
The visitors work at re-starts was sloppy; they were schooled by the Exeter pack at the breakdown, and could not figure a way to legitimately stop the Chiefs’ driving maul from lineouts. It negated Leinster’s ascendancy at scrum time, their superior back-play and some excellent ball carrying from O’Brien and Cian Healy in particular.
Exeter underlined their intent by kicking a penalty to the corner and from the lineout 15 metres out they cleverly protected the ball to foil Leinster’s attempt to twice sack the maul for hooker Neil Clark to plunge over the line. It was a soft try. Gareth Steenson kicked the conversion.
Leinster responded on 27 minutes with a typically classy try. O’Brien once again made prodigious yardage in traffic and a couple of rucks later in the Exeter 22, Reddan whipped the ball to the shortside, Brian O’Driscoll’s soft hands and Sexton’s quick ones, allowed Kearney to slide over. The Leinster outhalf couldn’t add the difficult conversion.
If the visitors thought they could kick on from this point, their hosts quickly disabused them of the notion in emphatic fashion. Leinster were conceding too many turnovers at the breakdown. Their discipline had slipped a little in this facet of the game.
On 32 minutes Steenson elected to kick an 18-metre penalty to the corner rather than go for the posts and reminiscent of Warren Gatland’s 13-man lineout from his Connacht and Ireland days, the Chiefs got all their players involved in the drive. The visitors brought down the maul illegally according to Romain Poite and the French official raced under the posts to award a penalty try.
Steenson converted and kicked a penalty on 38 minutes to give the home side a 17-12 interval advantage. Leinster coach Joe Schmidt and his backroom team recalibrated the patterns at half-time because the Irish province returned with a renewed vigour and clarity of purpose after the interval.
The had the four-try bonus point within 13 minutes of the re-start, O’Driscoll grabbing the first after a wonderful charge and offload by Cullen and the second a typically robust carry from Heaslip who powered over from a five-metre scrum: credit to Mike Ross for giving his number eight the angle. Sexton converted both to put the visitors 26-17 in front.
Leinster lost the excellent Reddan, following a clash of heads with the industrious Kevin McLaughlin, and the latter soon followed as Isaac Boss and Rhys Ruddock were introduced to the contest. Still the errors flecked the visitors’ performance: kicking out on the full, a high tackle, continuing to turnover ball at ruck time, all of which made life for the Leinster supporters a little more fraught.