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Lacklustre Leinster stumble past Edinburgh

Home side looked out of sorts as big names returned to the side for Pro14 meeting

Leinster’s Jamison Gibson-Park dives in to score a late try in their Pro14 win over Edinburgh. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Leinster 21 Edinburgh 13

By the end, Leinster were pressing for the bonus point that many in the 13,213 crowd had probably anticipated would have materialised long before then. So too were Edinburgh, even more forcibly, and in truth they were altogether more deserving of one.

Edinburgh made 16 line breaks to four and encouragingly they provided more evidence that this season’s Guinness Pro14 might well be more competitive than expected.

However, Leinster and their returning Lions needed this to dust off the cobwebs. And how. Munster and, even more ominously, Top 14 and Premiership leaders Montpellier and Exeter loom soon after. Their line-out malfunctioned five times, their loose defending and missed tackles (there were 25 in all) bordered on alarming, and their head-down battering ram approach in the red zone yielded little return.

The exception was provided, fittingly, by Joey Carbery, who was the most eye-catching and elusive player on view, while Sean Cronin made 63 metres from nine carries in characteristic fashion. Understandably, Jack McGrath, Tadhg Furlong, Sean O’Brien and Johnny Sexton, who did show some classy touches, will be the better for this, starting next week.

To begin with, Edinburgh flew out of the blocks like a team coached by Richard Cockeril stewing from successive defeats. Running straight and hard, they made relatively soft yards on the outside, and a mite too many in the middle too, as James Johnstone stepped Noel Reid and Cornell du Preez stepped Jack McGrath before Tom Brown beat Rory O’Loughlin on the outside and Reid on the inside.

Two Jason Tovey penalties were the least they mertied, and apart from a few plaintive cries of “C’mon Leinster” the home crowd were as muted as their team.

Dave Kearney enlivened them with his chase and catch off Sexton’s hanging restart but was sent tumbling by Dougie Fife, who didn’t even leave the ground. Despite recourse to replays, Ian Davies only awarded a a penalty. Fife was fortunate, for while it may have been merely clumsy, he had a duty of care to the airborne Kearney.

In a flash, Leinster were ahead. Cronin charged off the maul to within inches of the line, and Jordi Murphy was on hand to mark his first game here in a year and a week with a try. Sexton converted.

Not long after, Darryl Marfo goaded Scott Fardy to produce an open handed slap, in turn prompting a 30-man, all-in brawl. This, bizarrely, ended with a lecture from Davies and a handshake between the two initial protagonists.

After more lineout losses, Cronin burst up the guts of the Edinburgh defence. From the clearout, Sexton cleverly switched blind and chipped to the corner, where Fardy gathered, but in diving for the line the ball was dislodged by Tom Brown’s tackle.

Sexton twice eschewed certain three-pointers for an attacking scrum and lineout, either side of tapping another penalty into the corner. Third time lucky. After a barrage of straight hard carries by Ruddock, O’Brien, Cronin, Furlong and co, Joey Carbery provided something different when standing up Tovey to veer outside him and inside Glenn Bryce with his magical footwork. Indeed, even when there’s seemingly no space, he makes space. Sexton converted from wide for a 14-13 interval lead.

The Leinster think tank clearly demanded in injection of tempo for the second-half, and a lovely offload by Furlong released Murphy who transferred to McGrath, before Cronin lost the ball in contact after charging for the line. After a quick tap by Fergus McFadden, Hamish Watson poached, as he does, for a relieving penalty.

However, Jamie Ritchie was a little harshly binned when slipping late into Luke McGrath’s legs after the latter’s clearance. A potent maul took Cronin to within inches of the line, before Sexton was penalised for neck-rolling Sam Hidalgo-Clyne.

Leinster forced the passes and Edinburgh sought to break out from deep before the benches were emptied. Leinster turned down another three points, only to turn over another lineout, and another.

They were indebted to Luke McGrath for a try-saving tackle on Anton Bresler before a fine finish by Fife was ruled out for blocking by du Preez on Fardy. When Sexton was replaced, it meant all four Lions had departed as Leinster finished with a callow-looking team.

But they brought energy and delivered, even if the clinching try was keystone cops stuff. Ross Byrne’s kick found grass in the Edinburgh 22, Blair Kinghorn sliced his clearance under pressure from Jordan Larmour toward his own corner flag, Max Deegan gathered the bouncing ball, and Jamison Gibson-Park dummied to score. Ross Byrne’s touchline conversion even took them to beyond a score.

Scoring sequence: 5 mins Tovey pen 0-3; 11 mins Tovey pen 0-6; 12 mins Murphy try, Sexton con 7-6; 30 mins Tovey try and con 7-13; 40 (+1) mins Carbery try, Sexton con 14-13; (half-time 14-13); 74 mins Gibson-Park try, R Byrne con 21-13.

LEINSTER: Joey Carbery; Fergus McFadden, Rory O’Loughlin, Noel Reid, Dave Kearney; Jonathan Sexton (capt), Luke McGrath; Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, Scott Fardy, Rhys Ruddock, Jordi Murphy, Sean O’Brien.

Replacements: Bryan Byrne for Cronin, Ed Byrne for J McGrath, Andrew Porter for Furlong, Max Deegan for O’Brien, Jordan Larmour for Reid (all 59 mins), Jamison Gibson-Park for L McGrath (65 mins), Ross Byrne for Sexton (69 mins), Ross Molony for Murphy (74 mins).

EDINBURGH: Glenn Bryce; Dougie Fife, James Johnstone, Phil Burleigh, Tom Brown; Jason Tovey, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne; Darryl Marfo, Stuart McInally, Simon Berghan, Fraser McKenzie (capt), Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Cornell du Preez.

Replacements: Neil Cochrane for McInally (31-38 and 59 mins), Anton Bresler fro McKenzie (46 mins), Kevin Bryce for Berghan (51 mins),

Nathan Fowles for Hidalgo-Clyne (54 mins), Blair Kinghorn for Brown (both 59 mins), John Hardie for Watson (61 mins), Robbie Fruean for Hardie (76 mins).

Not used: Murray, McCallum.

Sinbinned: Ritchie (51-61 mins).