Leinster make their play for final spot
Exeter 20 Leinster 29:The benchmark was a four-try bonus point and the European champions Leinster achieved that feat before 10,198 spectators at a freezing Sandy Park. The return could have been greater but at one stage in the first half when the Chiefs scored 10 unanswered points to lead 17-12 at the interval, the visitors’ prospects looked a great deal bleaker
Leinster has issues in a number of areas, the breakdown, re-starts, discipline in the second half and from time to time the lineout. Still they overcame the travails on the strength of several outstanding performances, not least captain, Leo Cullen, Cian Healy Seán O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip (first half) and Eoin Reddan. Kevin McLaughlin worked hard with and without the ball while Gordon D’Arcy was sharp.
Leinster’s chances in trying to make the quarter-finals deteriorated appreciably prior to kick-off with the news that Montpellier had beaten Toulon, effectively leaving just a single runners-up spot available for the quarter-finals: Munster appear best placed to secure that final berth against a second string Racing Metro 92 side, although they need to score four tries at Thomond Park tomorrow.
Of course there is still an outside chance that neither Irish side will be in the draw, but only if Toulouse pick up two bonus points in a high-scoring defeat to Leicester at Welford Road in the final round of pool games tomorrow.
Heaslip wasn’t sure if the five points will be enough, but admitted how tough it had been against a stubborn Exeter outfit.
“I don’t know (if Leinster has done enough to qualify), we went out with a mission to win the game and after that chase the bonus point. We got that, hopefully we did enough,” said Heaslip
“Exeter really stuck it to us, it was a great game to watch, absolutely knackering to play in. It’s out of our hands now.
On failing to add any more tries after he touched down under the posts on 53 minutes, Heaslip added: “Exeter just weren’t letting up and at times we were probably our own worse enemy, knocking it on and not being clinical in their half and letting in some easy scores.”
Leinster conjured the perfect start to the match with a try from Gordon D’Arcy after just three minutes. Jonathan Sexton got every inch out of a penalty kicked to the corner. The pack did a little spade work in softening up the Exeter defence with O’Brien’s muscular charge bringing play to within metres of the line.
Eoin Reddan whipped the ball away, Sexton found D’Arcy and the centre stepped inside a tackle to scamper over. Sexton converted but Leinster’s fallibility in several aspects of the game would prove a troublesome handicap as the half progressed.
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.
There’s no doubt that the Irish province was the better side but there were too many peaks and troughs in the performance graph.
When Exeter were awarded a penalty on 68 minutes they tried another 13-man lineout but Leinster managed to defend this one. However their discipline at the breakdown, as least as far as Poite was concerned, remained an issue: another transgression and this time Steenson tapped it over to make it 26-20 to the visitors.
Leinster decided to turn down a kick at goal themselves soon after in favour of going to the corner but Seán Cronin overthrew and the opportunity was lost. Taking the points would have put the Chiefs two scores behind but Leinster were in pursuit of tries; well for 90 seconds at least because when Exeter flanker Ben White offended a ruck – he got a yellow card – Sexton tapped over the penalty.
There was time for Boss to be sin binned and Leinster to spurn a late try scoring opportunity but to their credit the Irish province achieved the four-try bonus point. It’s over to Munster.
Scoring sequence - 3 mins:D’Arcy try, Sexton conversion, 0-7; 16:Clark try, Steenson conversion, 7-7; 27:Kearney try, 7-12; 32:penalty try, Steenson conversion, 14-12; 39:Steenson penalty, 17-12. Half-time:17-12. 44:O’Driscoll try, Sexton conversion, 17-19; 53:Heaslip try, Sexton conversion, 17-26; 69:Steenson penalty, 20-26; 73:Sexton penalty, 20-29.
EXETER: L Arscott; I Whitten, S Naqelevuki, J Shoemark, M Jess; G Steenson, K Barrett; B Moon, N Clark, H Tui; T Hayes (capt), D Mumm; T Johnson, J Scaysbrook, R Baxter. Replacements:B White for Johnson 14 mins; C Mitchell for Tui 46-51 mins; W Chudley for Barrett 53 mins; C Rimmer for Moon 53 mins; C Mitchell for Tui 53-56 and 60 mins; J Hanks for Hayes 54 mins; N Sestaret for Shoemark 78 mins; J Yeandle for Clark 78 mins.
LEINSTER:R Kearney; I Nacewa, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross; L Cullen (capt), D Toner; K McLaughlin, S O’Brien, J Heaslip. Replacements:S Cronin for Strauss half-time; I Boss for Reddan 54 mins; R Ruddock for McLaughlin 60 mins; M Bent for Ross 65 mins; H van der Merwe for Healy 65 mins; I Madigan for O’Driscoll 78 mins.
Yellow card:B White (Exeter Chiefs) 73 mins; I Boss (Leinster) 76 mins.
Referee: Romain Poite(France)