Dave Kearney hat-trick helps Leinster hold off Benetton challenge in Italy
Champions take advantage of sending off to seal bonus-point win in Treviso
Dave Kearney gets over for one of his three tries during Leinster’s Guinness Pro 14 game against Benetton Rugby at Stadio Monigo in Treviso. Photograph: Matteo Ciambelli/Inpho
Benetton 27 Leinster 32
Dave Kearney bagged a hat-trick of tries at Stadio Monigo on Saturday to help defending champions Leinster squeeze past 14-man Benetton to claim a bonus point in their Guinness Pro 14 season opener.
Despite being without a plethora of frontline international stars, Leinster enjoyed a whirlwind start to the action. Following Ross Byrne’s deadlock-breaking penalty on three minutes, Rory O’Loughlin released winger Adam Byrne to touch down in fine style.
Benetton were keen to lay down their own marker for the season and fired back with a brace of quick-fire tries. Derrick Appiah and Tomas Baravalle rounded off impressive attacking moves, with former Munster and Connacht flyhalf Ian Keatley adding the extras on his debut for the hosts.
While this was a major sucker punch for the Blues, they ultimately ended the opening period on a high. Adam Byrne’s elaborate skip pass picked out Kearney on the left flank for the latter to subsequently cross the whitewash.
Ross Byrne superbly dissected the posts to give Leinster a 17-14 interval cushion. This lead proved short-lived as Keatley slotted a routine place kick between the posts on the resumption.
However, the tide appeared to turn against Benetton on 49 minutes when Ratuva Tavuyara was red-carded for tackling Kearney in the air. Leinster immediately capitalised on this numerical supremacy – Jamison Gibson-Park brilliantly putting the Louth man through for his second try of the night.
This looked set to be the springboard for a convincing away victory, but a resilient Benetton refused to give in. Supplementing another Keatley penalty, Luca Sperandio crossed over for a converted finish.
Yet, with Leinster intensifying the pressure on the opposition defence, Kearney once again found a way over the line on 66 minutes. After older brother Ross converted to move the visitors back into the ascendancy, debutant Harry Byrne sealed the spoils for Leinster with a late penalty.
LEINSTER: J O’Brien; A Byrne, R O’Loughlin, J Tomane, D Kearney; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; P Dooley, R Kelleher, M Bent; R Molony, D Toner; M Deegan, W Connors, C Doris.
Replacements: J Tracy for Kelleher, V Abdaladze for Bent (both 53 mins); J Murphy for Molony, H O’Sullivan for Gibson-Park (both 61); H Keenan for A Byrne (65); H Byrne for R Byrne (69); M Milne for Dooley (71).
BENETTON: A Esposito; R Tavuyara, J Riera, A Sgarbi, M Ioane; I Keatley, L Petrozzi; D Appiah, T Baravalle, M Mancini Parri; I Herbst, E Snyman; M Lazzaroni, M Barbini, T Halafihi.
Replacements: L Sperandio for Barbini (49 mins); C Traore for Appiah (58); G Pettinelli for Halfihi (65), E Makelara for Baravalle, N Cannone for Herbst (both 68), F Alongi for Mancini Parri (70), C Trussardi for Petrozzi, I McKinley for Snyman (both 75).
Referee: B Whitehouse (WRU).