Leinster singing in the rain with bonus point win in Italy
Rob Kearney suffers shoulder knock in comfortable win against Benetton
Leinster’s Rob Kearney is tackled by Irne Herbst and Alberto Sgarbi of Benetton. Photograph: Elena Barbini/Inpho
Leinster avenged a defeat that rankled in emphatic fashion scoring five tries as they reclaimed top spot in Conference B of the Guinness Pro14. The slight concern was a shoulder issue that led to Rob Kearney’s replacement after 46-minutes. He took a blow to the joint in a tackle but didn’t seem in significant discomfort.
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. Leinster’s lineout was excellent so too their maul and the scrum, while Jamison Gibson-Park was sharp and managed the game intelligently for the most part.
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. The pack was excellent to a player. Leinster head coach Leo Cullen might be a little miffed at his team’s discipline at times, as they conceded 12 penalties but the positives aspects supersede other concerns.
The home side got more ragged as the game wore on and but for a 20-minute spell in the first half were comprehensively outplayed. There was significant mitigation in the conditions, 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.
Leinster chose to use the box-kick through Gibson-Park with limited success for the most part but a doozey 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.
It was the culmination of four minutes of continuous Leinster pressure from the opening whistle of the match, in which despite not making substantial progress in territory terms, the visitors did show patience and were precise in their carrying. Ross Byrne missed the conversion but Leinster had made an ideal start.
However it was Benetton that were galvanised by the score, dominating the next 20-minutes and twice came within a whisker of the Leinster line, but the visitors did manage to repel the green and white shirts. The visitors’ discipline was a real issue conceding six penalties during that period of time; from the final transgression, Antonio Rizzi tapped it over from eight metres to leave the some side trailing 5-3.
Leinster had managed to nick a couple of Benetton throws and the lineout was to provide the Irish province with the platform to claim their second try of the match on 30-minutes. The Italian club coughed up two quick penalties in a row and from the second, hooker James Tracy was tail gunner in a powerful maul that surged over the Benetton line. Ross Byrne added the conversion to push Leinster 12-3 ahead, an advantage they maintained to the interval.
The final eight minutes of the half were littered with mistakes and ill judged kicking that robbed the game of momentum as both teams settled for a safety first policy in deteriorating conditions.
Leinster grabbed a third try within six minutes of the re-start, replacement Conor O’Brien, demonstrating good strength and footwork, to force his way over the line from a five metre scrum. The Clontarf centre had been on the pitch barely a minute as a replacement for Kearney, the fullback’s last action an excellent break on a counter-attack.
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.
At 26-3 Leinster’s head coach Leo Cullen was able to remove Ireland squad members Jack McGrath, Tadhg Furlong, Sean O’Brien with a quarter of the match still to go. Ross Byrne was withdrawn after 65 minutes, James Ryan replaced after 70-minutes by the returning Fardy, who had earlier gone off for what may have been a Head Injury Assessment (HIA).
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will be happy that all bar Kearney emerged unscathed from the match. Tracy might have claimed a second try prior to his departure but was adjudged to have put a foot in touch; the replay suggested otherwise. Leinster did claim a fifth try with three minutes remaining. The pack pounded away at the line and on a penalty advantage replacement outhalf Noel Reid put in a nicely weighted cross-kick which Joe Tomane caught and then touched down.
Scoring sequence - 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).