Leinster four points clear at URC summit after hard-earned victory

Hosts establish themselves as the pace-setters without firing on all cylinders

Leinster’s Scott Penny scores a try against the Emirates Lions at the RDS. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Leinster 21 Emirates Lions 13

Leinster moved four points clear at the summit of the United Rugby Championship table with a hard-earned victory over a stubborn Emirates Lions side at the RDS on Friday night.

Dave Kearney, Michael Ala’alatoa and Scott Penny were amongst the tries and with the ever-dependable Ross Byrne adding six points off the kicking tee, the hosts established themselves as the competition’s pace-setters without necessarily firing on all cylinders. Jaco Kriel broke through for a late try, but it wasn’t enough to secure a losing bonus point for the Lions.

After visiting outhalf Jordan Hendrikse fired off-target during the early exchanges from scoreable penalties on either flank, Leinster duly punished the missed opportunities via their first meaningful attack of the game.


Following intricate build-up play by Jamie Osborne and Max O’Reilly, Kearney crossed over in the seventh-minute for his first competitive try since scoring a hat-trick against Zebre in March of last year. Ross Byrne added the two points from the touchline and with Louth man Kearney combining to good effect with academy duo Osborne and O’Reilly for this move, the signs were already ominous for the visitors.

Still, Ivan van Rooyen’s side weren’t just there to make up the numbers and eventually opened their account when Hendrikse slotted between the posts at the third time of asking on 13 minutes.

Leinster remained a threat in possession, but - much like their recent wins at the expense of Edinburgh and Ospreys - there was a lot of patchy play from Leo Cullen's men thrown into the mix. Captaining the side on his 200th appearance, Rhys Ruddock temporarily left the field of play with a blood injury just shy of the half-hour mark.

Physical pressure

In his brief absence, Leinster dug deep on their own line to keep the Lions attack at bay with returning Irish international Dan Leavy leading the charge. The Johannesburg outfit had also tightened up in the defence after being exposed out wide for Kearney's try and continued to apply physical pressure on their opponents in the attacking half of the Ballsbridge pitch.

After they were awarded another close-range penalty, Hendrikse routinely split the uprights to reduce their deficit to the bare minimum (7-6). Leavy looked set to cap his latest comeback with a stoppage-time try but, following consultation with the TMO, referee Craig Evans judged that his effort off a lineout maul had been held up.

Despite being just a point in front at the interval, it was anticipated that Leinster’s bench power would push them forward on the resumption. Before the cavalry could be called upon, though, it was tighthead prop Michael Ala’alatoa who reinforced the eastern province’s authority with a powerful finish over the line on 48 minutes.

After Ross Byrne added the bonuses, Penny entered the fray to take over from Leavy at openside flanker. The former Ireland Under-20s backrow made an immediate impact as he got on the end of a lineout move to crash over for his third try in as many games.

This moved Leinster a step closer towards a bonus point success and a maximum tally of 15 points from the three home games they have played over the past fortnight. Yet the Lions weren’t prepared to go down without a fight and it took an outstanding recovery tackle from Tommy O’Brien to deny them a certain try just past the hour mark.

This proved to be a pivotal intervention as Lions flanker Kriel capitalised on a defensive lapse to drive over with just one minute of normal time remaining. However, the gap was too big for the South Africans to bridge and Leinster ultimately did enough to come out on top in a scrappy affair.


Leinster: D Kearney, M Ala'alatoa, S Penny one try each. R Byrne three conversions.

Emirates Lions: J Kriel one try. J Hendrikse two penalties, T Swanepoel one conversion.


Leinster: M O'Reilly; T O'Brien, J Osborne, H Byrne, D Kearney; R Byrne, N McCarthy; E Byrne, J Tracy, M Ala'alatoa; D Toner, J McCarthy; J Murphy, D Leavy, R Ruddock.

Replacements: M Deegan for Ruddock, 26-30 mins; P Dooley for Byrne, L McGrath for N McCarthy, S Penny for Leavy, all 48 mins; S Cronin for Tracy, J Dunne for Toner, both 55 mins; M Deegan for Murphy, T Clarkson for Ala’alatoa, both 59 mins; A Byrne for H Byrne, 65 mins.

Emirates Lions: Q Horn; S Pienaar, W Simelane, B Odendaal, E van der Merwe; J Hendrikse, M van den Berg; S Sithole, J Visagie, C Sadie; PJ Steenkamp, R Schoeman; J Kriel, R Venter, F Horn.

Replacements: S Sangweni for Steenkamp, 46 mins; M Naude for Sithole, R Dreyer for Sadie, both 53 mins; L Ncube for Venter, 57 mins; T Swanepoel for Odendaal, 58 mins; Sithole for Naude, 65 mins; PJ Botha for Visagie, M Rass for Hendrikse, both 70 mins; N Steyn for van den Berg, 79 mins.

Referee: C Evans (WRU).