Second-string Gloucester ruthlessly swept away by nine try Leinster

Leinster secure another impressive Champions Cup win on a Baltic night at the RDS

Leinster 57 Gloucester 0

Leinster don’t turn down gift-wrapped presents like this, whether before Christmas or not. A second-string Gloucester side were ruthlessly swept away on a Baltic Ballsbridge night which won’t have made for compelling, never mind competitive, viewing on terrestrial television.

Leinster won’t care. While this nine try rout won’t have left them on cloud nine, it is likely to leave them in pole position atop a competitive Pool A into the January rounds.

In truth, Leinster will review some inexact executions and may even feel that they left a few tries behind, but ultimately they exacted a huge return out of the night. As pleasing as the nine tries will be the nil part, not least as this included two superb try-saving tackles in the final quarter by Garry Ringrose and the returning Johnny Sexton.

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As with the scoreline, there was no real blemish on their 80 minutes-plus, and it said everything about Leinster’s understanding of this format that every point might count – witness two converted tries in overtime at the end of both halves.

The additional time even permitted Caelan Doris to return to the pitch, so assuaging any concerns about him after departing for an HIA. Doris was outstanding, laying on to tries for James Lowe, and fittingly Doris had the final say when touching down Leinster’s fourth try off a catch-and-drive.

There were a couple of lineout misfires and some of Leinster’s back play wasn’t as slick as usual, leaving the pack to build up the lead, which is never likely to engage a shivering crowd.

Judging by the empty seats (attendance was 15,469), it looked like there were a few stayaways who instead opted for the comfort of home and terrestrial television. The somewhat subdued crowd perhaps anticipated an early score or two, but save for one big scrum and a clever launch play before Lloyd Evans shot off the line to make a good read and tackle Jimmy O’Brien, there was little else in the opening dozen minutes.

But the breakthrough, as so often with Leinster, came somewhat out of the blue and was largely down to the opportunism of Caelan Doris. Pilfering unprotected Gloucester ruck ball inside his own 40 metre line, Doris galloped upfield into the opposition half before having the vision and skill set to hit James Lowe with a long right to left pass. The winger completed the 30 metre finish.

And so Leinster’s pack began asserting itself. From a penalty into the corner, Kelleher hit Ryan before van der Flier was driven over the line.

Billy Twelvetrees compounded his overhit grubber into the in-goal area by daftly sliding in foot first on Luke McGrath as he touched down, so conceding a penalty. A Jimmy O’Brien 50/22, shepherded into touch by unaware replacement Kyle Moyle, led to another powerful catch-and-drive and try for Kelleher.

Summing up Twelvetrees’ and Gloucester’s night, he then executed a crosskick that cleared the touchline by a distance with no one seemingly anticipating it either.

Kelleher had Leinster’s fourth try ruled out when video replays showed McGrath was within five metres of the throw, but in any case Henry Walker was soon binned for a high hit on van der Flier. As was the case for each of Racing’s yellow cards last week, Leinster exploited the advantage with two tries from two more penalties toward the corner.

A powerful lineout drive and sequence of pick-and-jams led to James Ryan plunging over the line and with the clock in the red, Kelleher’s throw hit Ryan before the hooker broke off to the blindside and scampered over untouched for the bonus point try.

There was a much better tempo to Leinster’s play immediately upon the restart and a sequence of scrums led to a yellow card for Ciaran Knight and, for variety, a try by McGrath when he sidestepped both Twelvetrees and Jack Clement.

Jordan Larmour, with his first carry since October, was involved in try number seven, Ringrose also figuring prominently with a carry and offload to the rampaging Joe McCarthy, with his first carry after also coming on. Doris then scooped a no-look pass from the ruck for Lowe to score untouched – Doris’ second try assist to the left-winger.

Cometh the hour, Jamison Gibson-Park and Johnny Sexton came on but their first involvement was a six-minute defensive effort which culminated in Ringrose’s try-saving tackle on Evans.

The pity then was that after McCarthy’s intercept, charge upfield and basketball pass to Larmour, Gibson-Park’s clever grubber squirmed away from Dan Sheehan.

Even so, the eighth try to bring up the half century was the pick of the bunch. A nicely worked strike play off a lineout saw Keenan make inroads off Ringrose’s offload as the forwards permitted the backs in on the action again, albeit off the recycle it was Sheehan’s one-handed offload for Larmour to finish which drew the night’s biggest gasp.

That was until Sexton’s intervention with barely two minutes left to tackle Jacob Morris and turn him on to his back over the try-line in preventing the winger from touching down. The referee had to change his initial view that it had to have been a try, and the tackle was that good.

If that was worth five or seven points, a ninth Leinster try followed with the clock in the red, which also allowed Doris to return. Sheehan’s lovely, looped throw was caught by Ross Molony and the pack powered over for Doris to have his deserved try. Sexton even landed the touchline conversion to send the home fans into the night happy.

Scoring sequence – 13 mins: Lowe try 5-0; 18 mins: van deFr lier try, Byrne con 12-0; 25 mins: Kelleher try 17-0; 31 mins: Ryan try, Byrne con 24-0; 40 (+2) mins: Kelleher try, Byrne con 31-0; (half-time 31-0); 45 mins: McGrath try, Byrne con 38-0; 56 mins: Lowe try, Byrne con 45-0; 75 mins: Larmour try 50-0; 82 mins: Doris try, Sexton con 57-0.

LEINSTER: Hugo Keenan; Jimmy O’Brien, Garry Ringrose (capt), Charlie Ngatai, James Lowe; Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath; Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher, Michael Ala’alatoa, Ross Molony, James Ryan, Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Cian Healy for Ala’alatoa (half-time), Dan Sheehan for Kelleher, Ed Byrne for Porter, Joe McCarthy for Molony (all 47 mins), Jordan Larmour for O’Brien (53 mins), Max Deegan for van der Flier (56 mins), Jamison Gibson-Park for McGrath, Johnny Sexton for Byrne (both 60 mins), van der Flier for Doris (70-82 mins).

GLOUCESTER: Lloyd Evans; Alex Hearle, Giorgi Kveseladze, Billy Twelvetrees, Jacob Morris, George Barton, Ben Meehan (capt); Harry Elrington, Henry Walker, Ciaran Knight, Freddie Thomas, Arthur Clark, Jake Polledri, Jack Clement, Albert Tuisue.

Replacements: Seb Atkinson for Barton (10 mins), Kyle Moyle for Hearle (22 mins), Alex Craig for Clark (35 mins), Seb Blake for Moyle (44-46 mins) Walker (46 mins), Alex Seville for Elrington (47 mins), Kirill Gotovtsev for Moyle (56 mins), Harry Taylor for Tuisue (58 mins).

Sinbinned: Walker (37-46 mins), Knight (47-57 mins).

Referee: Luc Ramos (France)

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times