On and off return for Johnny Sexton as Leinster beat Treviso
Irish province put a nervy start behind them as Italians fail to score in the second half
Leinster’s Jonathan Sexton in action against Treviso on Sunday. Photograph: Maurilio Boldrini/Inpho
Benetton Treviso 3 Leinster 27
The imperfections of performance will be softened slightly by the fact that Leinster returned home from Italy with a bonus-point, four-try victory that lifted them to fourth in the Guinness Pro12 table. The one discordant note was a shoulder/jaw injury sustained by Luke Fitzgerald that saw him replaced on 28-minutes.
Jonathan Sexton’s first game on his return to the province following a two-year playing hiatus with Racing Metro 92 was eventful, not least for the yellow card he picked up for a pullback on Treviso fullback Jayden Hayward.
When he was on the pitch, Sexton provided intelligent direction and canny distribution, that gave his side an attacking shape and his efforts were complemented by a willingness amongst the Leinster players to offload in the tackle that gave them impetus going forward.
As a gambit it was evident in Leinster’s first try. Fitzgerald took a superb line and demonstrated his excellent footwork to make the initial break, Sean Cronin took it on and his popped offload allowed McGrath to force his way over from close range.
It showed an awareness that was lacking in the Irish province’s play last season. Sexton added the conversion before departing to the sin bin on 10-minutes. The dash of those opening salvos quickly disappeared from Leinster’s play as Treviso dominated territorially and in terms of possession for much of the half.
The Italian side have lost their last 12 matches in this tournament a losing sequence that was easier to understand watching them huff and puff but without a cutting edge to largely toothless and pedestrian patterns.
Hayward kicked a penalty for the home side, Fergus McFadden responded in kind for Leinster before in first half injury time the visitors made a definitive move on the scoreboard. Sexton’s precise cross-kick was brilliantly won in the air by Dave Kearney and his offload allowed captain and fullback Isa Nacewa to race over unopposed for a try.
McFadden couldn’t add the conversion, a fate he suffered again on 56 minutes when excellent number eight Jack Conan finished off a superb team try. Noel Reid - Fitzgerald’s first half replacement - offloaded superbly out of the tackle and Jordi Murphy and Nacewa were on hand to provide Conan with a clear run to the try line.
Leinster’s bonus point try came on 61-minutes and appropriately it was centre Ben Te’o that crossed the whitewash. The Auckland born player, outstanding throughout the match, straightened and used a strong fend to evade what was a pretty brittle effort from a couple of would-be Treviso tacklers. McFadden tagged on the conversion.
Leinster coach Leo Cullen will be reasonably happy with the general nature of the performance. Recent recruit New Zealander Hayden Triggs had a decent first outing for his new club, Rhys Ruddock and Conan were excellent in all aspects of the game; Sexton provided a steady hand on the tiller while Te’o got his side over the gain-line from slow, static ball.
Leinster’s line speed in defence was reasonable but there was a poverty of imagination to Treviso’s attacking efforts other than a one-out trundle round the fringes.
There were aspects of Leinster’s display that won’t be as widely enjoyed in the review. The lineout creaked appreciably, resulting in a few turnovers, while there were some silly individual errors, both in tackling and decision-making. The scrum disintegrated a little following the raft of second half replacements.
There is no doubt that the patterns are a lot easier on the eye than last year’s and there are aspects of the game-plan that are coming together nicely. The problem for Leinster going forward is that the reintegration of returning Irish players needs to be done seamlessly over the next fortnight as Pro12 leaders the Scarlets and then Wasps (Champions Cup) visit the RDS.
3 mins: McGrath try, Sexton conversion, 0-7; 7: Hayward penalty, 3-7; 33: McFadden penalty, 3-10; 40 (+1): Nacewa try, 3-15. Halftime: 3-15. 57: Conan try, 3-20; 61: Te’o try, McFadden conversion, 3-27;
Benetton Treviso: J Hayward; L Nitoglia; A Pratichetti, S Christie, S Ragusi; L McLean, E Gori; M Zanusso, D Giazzon, R Harden; M Fuser, F Paulo; F Minto, A Zanni (capt), B Steyn. Replacements: E Bacchin for Pratichetti halftime; A di Marchi for Zanusso 51 mins; S Ferrari for Harden 51 mins; L Bigi for Giazzon 53 mins; , JF Montauriol for Fuser 58 mins; R Barbieri for Minto 58 mins; C Smylie for Gori 69 mins; , J Ambrosini, E Bacchin.
Leinster: I Nacewa (capt); F McFadden, B Te’o, L Fitzgerald, D Kearney; J Sexton, E Reddan; J McGrath, S Cronin, T Furlong; H Triggs, M McCarthy; R Ruddock, J Murphy, J Conan. Replacements: N Reid for Fitzgerald 28 mins; R Strauss for Cronin 50 mins; C Healy for McGrath 50 mins; M Moore for Furlong 50 mins; L McGrath for Reddan 62 mins; C Marsh for Sexton 62 mins; van der Flier for McCarthy 62 mins; D Toner for Triggs 65 mins; Triggs for Conan 71 mins.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Yellow card: J Sexton (Leinster) 10 minutes; L Nitoglia (Treviso) 60 minutes.