Leinster find their mojo again as Benetton lose their grip
Bonus-point victory puts visitors at top of league table after rainswept clash in Treviso
Leinster’s Max Deegan passes to Jamison Gibson-Park in their Pro14 clash against Benetton at Stadio Monigo in Treviso. Photograph: Elena Barbini
Leinster clambered back to the summit of the league table with a bonus-point victory over Conference B rivals Benetton, the only issue arising from a largely successful afternoon a shoulder injury suffered by Rob Kearney, which necessitated his departure after 46 minutes.
The Leinster and Ireland fullback shipped a heavy tackle, blindsided to the impact, at the end of the slaloming counter-attack. He had been enjoying an excellent match on his return to competitive action following a quad strain. He didn’t seem in significant discomfort leaving the field, but a more definitive update will be forthcoming when he’s been examined by the Ireland medical team after hooking up with the squad.
Rain, a greasy ball and a heavy pitch was never going to be conducive to an expansive approach; both teams were pragmatic in their attacking patterns and the game became an arm-wrestle up front, sporadically interrupted by bouts of kicking.
Benetton had the effrontery to beat the Irish province 17-15 when the teams met last season at the RDS, and that defeat had dominated the pre-match conversation from a Leinster perspective. The visitors won’t care that it was a scrappy match.
The foundation for Leinster’s victory was the lineout maul and scrum which provided the visitors with huge traction while also permitting the Irish province to significantly disrupt their hosts in this regard, a point endorsed by their captain Seán O’Brien.
The boys struck to their guns and can be very proud of each other after that win
“There was a big focus on set piece during the week and I think we did a good job on our maul and our scrum. That got us into the game early on,” he said.
“[The initial focus] I suppose just to control the game as much as we could. It is important away from home. It’s a tough place to come and we know what type of team we were coming up against. They beat us at home last year and we had to come here fully prepared and ready for a battle. The boys struck to their guns and can be very proud of each other after that win.”
Leinster’s defence was excellent too: just five missed tackles in the entire match. The pack, to a player, grafted very hard in eking out metres, patient for the most part and, given the conditions, the rate of handling errors was reasonable. The only minor grumble will be the 12 penalties that the visitors conceded.
Jamison Gibson-Park was named man of the match, a fitting accolade. His awareness, speed and game management gave his team an edge in attack, and his covering and tackling were first-class. He admitted: “We came here knowing that Treviso were going to be ruthless. We had to play the game in the right areas and for the most part we did that. Our forwards were very physical and obviously Treviso fronted up physically, put in a few good shots as you could see out there, but we knew that was coming and we had to absorb that pressure.”
Robbie Henshaw was another standout player behind the scrum, even during his stint at fullback, while try-scorer Adam Byrne was positive despite living off scraps, in just his second match of the season. It would be invidious to single out one member of the pack when all contributed handsomely.
With a view to Ireland’s upcoming November test series, starting with Italy in Chicago next weekend, Jack McGrath, Tadhg Furlong and Seán O’Brien were withdrawn on 60 minutes, Ross Byrne after 65 and James Ryan on 70. Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will be happy that all bar Kearney emerged unscathed from the match.
Benetton, but for a 20-minute spell in the first half, when they camped inside the Leinster 22 and a couple of times got to within millimetres of the line, became increasingly ragged as the game wore on and offered little threat after the interval.
Leinster initially chose to rely on the box-kick through Gibson-Park, with limited success for the most part, but a doozy of a chip from the scrumhalf led to the Irish province’s first try, superbly claimed by right wing Adam Byrne. He was facilitated by some sloppy defending but showed good strength and sharpness to grab the ball and dot down.
During Benetton’s purple patch the visitors’ discipline was a real issue, as they conceded six penalties during that period of time; from the final transgression, Antonio Rizzi tapped one over from eight metres to leave the home side trailing 5-3.
Leinster’s lineout maul propelled hooker James Tracy over the line on 30 minutes for a try, with Ross Byrne adding the conversion to give the visitors a 12-3 interval lead. The Irish province grabbed a third try within six minutes of the restart, replacement Conor O’Brien demonstrating good strength and footwork to score his first try for the province.
Ross Byrne added the conversion and would do so again eight minutes later as Leinster scored their fourth – and bonus point – try, when replacement prop Andrew Porter proved unstoppable from about two metres.
Leinster did claim a fifth try with three minutes remaining and again it was a landmark score, with Joe Tomane claiming a first try in a blue shirt, a nice way for the visitors to end a productive afternoon.
4 mins: A Byrne try, 0-5; 24: Rizzi penalty, 3-5; 30: Tracy try, R Byrne conversion, 3-12. Half-time: 3-12. 50: C O’Brien try, R Byrne conversion, 3-19; 58: Porter try, R Byrne conversion, 3-26; 76: Tomane try, 3-31.
Benetton Treviso: J Hayward; R Tavuyara, I Brex, A Sgarbi (capt), M Ioane; A Rizzi, D Duvenage; D Appiah, H Faiva, M Ricconi; I Herbst, F Ruzza, G Pettenelli, M Lamaro, M Barbini. Replacements: A Zanni for G Pettennelli half-time; S Ferrari for Ricconi 48 mins; M Lazzaroni for Barbini 48 mins; T Tebaldi for Duvenage 51 mins; T Baravalle for Faiva 51 mins; A Esposito for Hayward 60 mins; A de Marchi for Appiah 61 mins; I Iannone for Herbst 71 mins.
Leinster: R Kearney; A Byrne, R O’Loughlin, R Henshaw, J Tomane; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; J McGrath, J Tracy, T Furlong; S Fardy, J Ryan, S O’Brien, D Leavy, M Deegan. Replacements: C O’Brien for Kearney 46 mins; A Porter for Furlong 51 mins; B Byrne for Tracy 51 mins; E Byrne for McGrath 51 mins; R Ruddock for S O’Brien 60 mins; R Molony for Fardy 61 mins; N Reid for R Byrne 65 mins; H O’Sullivan for Gibson-Park 70 mins; Fardy for Ryan 70 mins.
Referee: B Whitehouse (Wales).