A sunny Royal Dublin Showground witnessed a brief verse of Stand Up For The Ulstermen following an immaculately observed silence in tribute to the late Nevin Spence. Here at the Scottish Rugby Blog we also send our condolences to Nevin’s family friends and team-mates.
After that it was business as usual as the rugby began, with both sides willing to attack from anywhere. They had plenty of practice early on, but it wasn’t the silky-skilled backs but prop Cian Healy who was the first to open a gap in the Edinburgh midfield. The ball was recycled before Sexton took it at first receiver and found it pretty simple to slip between Ford and Gilchrist to score. He converted to make it 7-0 in just within 10 minutes.
The early period followed that pattern, with Leinster re-gaining lost territory all too easily – Sexton converted their next into 3 points – while Edinburgh offloaded well at times but didn’t really threaten Leinster’s line.
Richie Rees kept the pace up, delivering Laidlaw quick ball. There is as yet, no sign of them missing Mike Blair. The lively Rees made a great scything run but Edinburgh were a little directionless (think Hadden-era Scotland) during the following phases. They got a penalty though and 3 points got them on the board.
In the game by now, Edinburgh continued to probe, but Leinster’s hold-up “choke” tackle – where they try to create mauls rather than rucks – looked like it could be worryingly effective on attackers the size and weight of Greig Laidlaw.
The longer they held on to the ball – and kept Leinster off it – the more Edinburgh grew into the game, as Leinster earned ever greater attention from the ref. Laidlaw knocked over a second penalty on the half hour mark.
At times it also seemed like Edinburgh were relying on surprise, by looking directionless one moment and then suddenly picking an unexpected route through the Leinster defence. Matt Scott and Nick De Luca did this to good effect but Jones was unable to dance round his man when the ball went wide. When it came back inside, Nel (on for Cross after 37 minutes) was pinged for holding on.
Jones had another chance seconds later as Edinburgh again broke the line, and again they were penalised, but went in at half time clearly on the up and the score only 10-6. Leinster’s talisman Johnny Sexton looked visibly frustrated as he booted the ball to touch.
As expected in recent years, Leinster usually come out firing in such situations, as if insulted that the uppity Scots had deigned to be within a score of Ireland’s rugby aristocrats. To counter the pontential for this situation to occur, Netani Talei and De Luca responded with some bruising hits that settled the visitors and returned it to more of the same from the first half.
Both sides went wide looking for mismatches, but Edinburgh broke first as Leinster moved the length of the park and only a last ditch tackle by Tom Brown (actual full back Greig Tonks missed his man) slowed the move enough for the defence to regather. As it was, John Yapp gave away a penalty as Leinster scrambled for the score. 3 points might have been a let off but he was binned and Leinster opted for the 5m scrum to try and turn the screw further.
Edinburgh’s scrum had to this point been reasonably impressive. Hislop had to come off the bench and pray there were no penalty tries. Instead they produced a very good defensive scrum – clearly not what Leinster had hoped for, but the home side managed to extract a penalty in the loose. Matters got worse when Cox was binned moments after Yapp.
Edinburgh’s defence again held up and it seemed like they might weather the storm when the ball was cleared. So instead Leinster attacked from their own half, and a 4 on 1 overlap was not something they would butcher no matter how rusty they had been. Edinburgh at least forced them out wide and a missed conversion made it 15-6.
Laidlaw slotted a penalty to make it 15-9 as Yapp restored Edinburgh to 14 men, and nothing much happened until Cox returned. Bradley would be less than happy, but a measure of satisfaction could be gained – it could quite easily have been a cricket score in times past.
After a slightly dubious Brian O’ Driscoll pass put the ball through the hands for another home try, from looking like they might weather the storm and perhaps nick something, it started to look like Edinburgh might instead wilt with 12 minutes left.
Instead the determined Edinburgh pack got them within 5 metres of a crucial score; Richie Rees drew his man and popped it up for WP Nel to barrel over unopposed for his first Edinburgh try. Laidlaw converted 22-16 to get them back in bonus point range.
Leinster kicked a penalty ball deep in the Edinburgh half and set themselves up for a lineout to grab a four-try bonus point rather than close the game out. They didn’t get that as Edinburgh’s defence managed to claim the ball and push up field.
They couldn’t score themselves to claim an unlikely win, but earned a losing bonus point Leinster would have been hoping to deny them.