DHL Stormers 20 Leinster 13
Despite falling to a second consecutive defeat on South African soil, Leinster secured top spot in the United Rugby Championship table by claiming a losing bonus point against DHL Stormers in Cape Town on Saturday evening.
Currently six points clear at the summit – with one game left to play against Munster – finishing in pole position also ensures the Blues will play all of their games in the forthcoming playoffs at home.
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen had retained eight of the team that started the previous weekend's 28-23 reversal to Cell C Sharks, with forward duo John McKee and Brian Deeny making their second appearances at professional level.
Following a tense opening to the action, the hosts edged in front courtesy of a 15th-minute penalty from Manie Libbok. However, the South African outfit weren't ahead for long as their Irish counterparts fired back with a place kick of their own just two minutes.
Starting at outhalf for the first time since February 2020 – he has mostly been used as an inside centre by Cullen – Ciarán Frawley stroked the ball between the posts to bring the Blues back on level terms. The Skerries native had contributed 14 points off the kicking tee this season in advance of this fixture and he added three to that haul with another strike just shy of the first-quarter mark.
It remained a tightly-contested affair with both sides only managing a single clean break in the opening 35 minutes. Stormers had gone to the corner from a number of penalties but, thanks largely to the fine work of Alex Soroka, it didn't pay dividends for them.
Although the home team shaded possession during the opening period, Leinster ultimately held out to bring a 6-3 cushion into the interval.
There was a setback for the visitors three minutes after the resumption when hooker John McKee was sent to the sin-bin. Lee Barron was introduced off the bench for fullback Max O’Reilly in his absence, but it didn’t prevent the Stormers from maximising their numerical advantage.
Before McKee had a chance to return, World Cup winner Warrick Gelant and Seabelo Senatla – in the 44th and 52nd minutes respectively – got over for tries. Wayward conversion attempts in the wake of these five-pointers did keep Leinster in the frame, however, and it didn’t take them long to restore parity.
Off a lineout maul move in the 60th minute, loosehead prop Ed Byrne drove powerfully over the line. His namesake Harry – who had come on for Adam Byrne moments earlier – split the uprights to set up a tense finale.
The Stormers had significantly ramped up the pressure from an attacking sense, though, and a penalty try moved them seven clear for the second time in the half 15 minutes from time. Cormac Foley was simultaneously yellow-carded with O'Reilly jettisoned into a new role of scrumhalf for a temporary spell.
While Leinster couldn’t muster an equaliser in the closing moments, denying the Stormers any extra scores was nevertheless crucial in the context of their campaign.
DHL STORMERS: W Gelant; S Senatla, R Nel, D Willemse L Zas; M Libbok, P de Wet; S Kitshoff, JJ Kotze, F Malherbe; A Smith, M Orie; D Fourie, H Dayimani, E Roos.
Replacements: S Moerat for Smith (35 mins), N Fouche for Malherbe, W Arnoldi for Kotze (both 61), B Harris for Kitshoff, J Pokomela for Fourie (both 70), G Masimla for de Wet (78).
LEINSTER: M O'Reilly; A Byrne, J Osborne, R O'Loughlin, R Russell; C Frawley, C Foley; E Byrne, J McKee, T Clarkson; B Deeny, J Murphy; A Soroka, S Penny, R Ruddock.
Replacements: L Barron for O'Reilly (43-54 mins), J Dunne for Deeny (49), V Abdaladze for Clarkson (51), H Byrne for A Byrne (54), S O'Brien for Ruddock (61), M Milne for E Byrne (68), L Barron for McKee (70), M Moloney for Penny (77).
Referee: C Evans (WRU).