Anxious Leinster scramble through

 

Leinster 12 Edinburgh 3:LEINSTER KEPT their nerve sufficiently and, with grim determination, dominated for large tracts to ensure they topped Pool Two and sustained their interest in Europe into the third week of April. With that, those remaining in the rapidly dwindling 18,214 attendance along with players, coaches and administrative staff alike heaved a collective sigh of relief.

That was the primary purpose of the exercise yesterday, although in avoiding what would have been a disastrous exit Leinster looked at times like a team with that responsibility weighing heavily on their shoulders. In truth, they had pretty much won this long before the end but despite having a makeshift Edinburgh team up against the ropes and on their own line couldn’t apply the knock-out punch in a scoreless second half.

For the third game in a row, Leinster were totally reliant on three-pointers from Felipe Contepomi, another four-from-four haul by the Puma adding to his seven from seven against Cardiff and four from five against Wasps. Of all the three games though, this was the one when they wasted possession.

As in the win over Cardiff, they also butchered one or two try-scoring chances which, for them, ought really to have been well within their compass. There was the novel sight, both yesterday and in recent games, of the ball travelling along the backline to the wings, with Luke Fitzgerald hitting the line. At times, they became vary flat and narrow, as well as choosing some curious options, not least off four five-metre scrums in the second period, and the 8-9-10 axis just didn’t work nearly as efficiently as it should have done. For all the hard-won possession, the pack also overplayed the ball repeatedly.

At least Leinster won, and can hopefully breathe a little easier now. It’s clear that as well as the technical problems in their game which have made try-scoring so hard for them, an increasing level of anxiety has crept into their game. Edinburgh were typically cussed, gamey and spoiling foes, who weren’t remotely inclined to roll over and be tickled.

The scrums began well enough but the early brace of penalties against Edinburgh loosehead Kyle Traynor for his illegal binding were promptly undone by the loss of the opening two lineouts. Chris White was particularly harsh on players becoming isolated and not releasing, and Leinster’s momentum was stopped almost at source as Stanley Wright was pinged accordingly and Rob Kearney for going off his feet after Simon Cross stopped Shane Horgan in his tracks.

Too often forwards appeared just to get in the way, a notable example coming when Cian Healy took up quickly recycled ball after one of Kearney’s thrilling counters when the ball should have been moved wide. We also had the bizarre sight of Wright taking up second-phase ball as Brian O’Driscoll went in to clear out. The Irish captain was used noticeably more and, looking sharper, carried plenty and well. But too often backs weren’t seeing or supporting breaks.

Ironically, it was the extra edge the likes of former Leinster lock Ben Gissing brought to their game which at times took them over the line and the latter’s needlessly off-the-ball obstruction on Chris White and ensuing dissension which afforded Contepomi the chance to open the scoring.

As White’s concerto saw an 11-7 first-half penalty count to the home side, they were fortunate to double the lead when White missed a knock-on by Horgan and harshly penalised Niek de Luca for stealing the ball, but Edinburgh could have no complaints when John Houston took out the supporting Contepomi off the ball after Jamie Heaslip had carried on Rocky Elsom’s break and offload.

Contepomi made it 9-0 as Houston was binned but in the ensuing 10 minutes Shane Jennings was penalised for playing the ball after a ruck had been called for Chris Paterson to make it 9-3. Another hard carry by O’Driscoll led to Contepomi making it 12-3 and at least Kearney’s second sumptuous counter-attack, picking out and dancing around four Edinburgh forwards in a searing 50-metre run ended the half on a relative high.

Alas, the tone for a distinctly frustrating second period was set within seven minutes when some strong rumbling by Heaslip, Jackman, O’Driscoll and Horgan was undone when Contepomi’s poor pass to Fitzgerald was adjudged marginally forward before the winger picked up and touched down. One try might have seen them relax and break free, and it did look a wrong call by White.

Employing O’Driscoll on a switch to crash the ball up off one of the five-metre scrums looked questionable, another move using Gordon D’Arcy up the middle was penalised for crossing while another saw Heaslip elect to pick and step into the more congested infield when it seemed perfectly set up for an 8-9-15 blindside move.

Otherwise, the forward runners overplayed the close-in rumbles so much that Elsom read them the riot act and it took the arrival of Ollie le Roux to rouse the crowd. At least Edinburgh didn’t have the wherewithal to even make it a one-score game and a desultory confirmation of Wasps’ defeat led to the day’s biggest cheer.

SCORING SEQUENCE: 14 mins: Contepomi pen 3-0; 18 mins: Contepomi pen 6-0; 24 mins: Contepomi pen 9-0; 29 mins: Paterson pen 9-3; 35 mins: Contepomi pen 12-3; (half-time 12-3).

LEINSTER: R Kearney; S Horgan, B O’Driscoll, F Contepomi, L Fitzgerald; I Nacewa, C Whitaker (capt); C Healy, B Jackman, S Wright, T Hogan, D Toner, R Elsom, S Jennings, J Heaslip. Replacements: G D’Arcy for Horan (54 mins), J Fogarty for Jackman (69 mins), O le Roux for Healy (72 mins). Not used: S Keogh, S O’Brien, C Keane, G Dempsey.

EDINBURGH: C Paterson; A Turnbull, N De Luca, J Houston, J Thompson; D Blair, G Laidlaw; K Traynor, A Kelly, G Cross, C Hamilton, B Gissing, S Newlands, S Cross, A Hogg (capt). Replacements: G Kerr for Traynor (55 mins), A MacDonald for Hogg (59 mins), R Reid for MacDonald (60-67 mins), B Cairns for Houston (65 mins), S Lawrie for Kelly (72 mins). Not used: B Meyer, A Eassen. Sinbinned: Houston (24-34 mins).

Referee: Chris White (England).