Leinster nine clear of the rest after nine of the best
Province have bonus point in the bag after little over 25 minutes against Italian side
Leinster’s Seán Cronin charges over for a try in last night’s game at the RDS. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Leinster 62 Benetton Treviso 7: But for a misplaced pass after a Brian O’Driscoll break Leinster could have had Treviso plucked and stuffed after 24 minutes. With three tries after 22 minutes, last night’s spinning scoreboard on a perfect spring evening kept Leinster ambitions of a home semi-final not only alive but probable after last week’s addled visit to Liberty Stadium.
As thing’s unfolded, Zane Kirchner knifed through a crowded defence after a Jimmy Gopperth surge on 26 minutes and the home side’s body of work for the evening was complete with a bonus-point win. Well, has any Pro12 team ever come back from 29-0 down?
Nine tries and eight try scorers later, Leinster sit on top of the league table with 74 points and two matches, Ulster and Edinburgh remaining. And with Ulster going down to defeat in Glasgow later on in the evening, they start the weekend with a nine-point cushion.
The home side played their beloved running, off-loading game, which combined with the pints and sun on Good Friday provided a cheery backdrop to the teams mind to score, run, score.
Cian Healy, Seán Cronin and man of the match Darragh Fanning were lining up in the middle of the park sidestepping at every opportunity as Leinster sought to entertain as much as win against a ragged Italian defence.
Ulster will provide a different order of challenge on May 2nd but Matt O’Connor will take the easy points and use those to put distance on last week’s 25-19 defeat to Ospreys.
“Ulster will be a different proposition,” said O’Connor afterwards. “They need to win and will be very, very keen with a full house and a hostile environment. We will have to be physically and emotionally up for it. It would be a disappointment now for us to get a home semi-final and not be in the final. It is a huge advantage for us to have the home semi-final.”
Leinster were almost instantly motoring towards the bonus points after the opening phases when Fanning, Mike McCarthy, Jamie Heaslip, Rob Kearney and finally Jordi Murphy lurched over for the first try. The second came quickly after, this time Cronin wooing the crowd with his reactions and pace.
The hooker was first to the breaking ball as Devin Toner contested the lineout. From there it was all gear changes as Cronin took off and opened distance between himself and the covering Treviso defence for each and every yard, finding time to cut in under the posts for Gopperth to convert for 15-0. NB: giddiness breaks out every time the hooker makes a line break.
Healy extravagantly dummied and touched down before Kirchner’s angled run illustrated just how alive he was to the gap and how poor the Treviso commitment and organisation was. By then the tries were flowing and it was 29-0 before a silenced crowd saw the visitors pushover, or nearly.
Isaac Boss illegally held them up as Scottish referee Neil Paterson gave Treviso the penalty try and Boss the yellow card. Former Leinster man Mat Berquist closed the half with his conversion, 29-7.
A 15-minute phase after the break gave Treviso hope and territory but precious little on the board as they kept Leinster strapped in their own red zone. In a sign perhaps that the match was going nowhere for them, the first home attack earned the fifth try. Dispiriting for Treviso certainly but as Leinster edged towards the line Dominic Ryan spun and ripped away on the hour, once more catching the Italians gawking.
The ever-improving Noel Reid claimed the sixth try from a lineout, Luke McGrath making the break and Reid using his body to force the 68th-minute score for 41-7 and the magical 50 points a real possibility. Heaslip claimed the seventh try, a gain-line break and all his own work as he scooted in from 25 metres.
By the time McGrath struck himself four minutes from the end, Leinster players were forming an orderly queue to score and barely bothered to cover the ground to shake his hand. And that’s where it almost ended. Reid struck for his second of the night, the crowd wondering whether it was six or nine or seven tries and not too put out by the rout or by a lousy Italian team performance.