On paper this looked like it had the potential for a horor show, but Edinburgh started this game in Dublin with massive intent and an early Jason Tovey penalty was just reward for all their good pressure. In the backline, James Johnstone and Dougie Fife showed why Richard Cockerill is keen to return them to the fold full time with incisive running and pace which Leinster struggled to cope with.
With the possession all in Edinburgh’s hands, Leinster were bound to infringe and were on a warning from referee Ian Davies after just 8 minutes, Jason Tovey slotting another penalty.
Dougie Fife perhaps got off lightly – although it was difficult to see what he could have done differently – when Dave Kearney leapt into his airspace for a high balland ended up on the deck. Johnny Sexton and Leinster fancied a card, and although they didn’t get one they were sufficiently riled to score a simple try on their next possession, retaking the lead.
With momentum back with the hosts, there was a spot of handbags on the quarter hour mark as the recently penalised Scott Fardy took exception to Darryl Marfo patting him on the head. It was silly, but a misnomer in a half played in reasonable spirits – aside from the endless high tackles by either side going unpunished. Well, Leinster’s ones anyway.
Phil Burleigh gave Edinburgh a good attacking platform with a nicely judged grubber kick that saw the defender bundled into touch, but an overthrown and squint lineout in prime position undid all the good work.
The lineout was pretty poor, but the scrum was doing a decent job against the pedigree front row.
Behind the packs it was a tussle of wills between experienced standoffs Jason Tovey and Sexton, and Tovey nudged ahead on the half hour mark with a perfectly judged interception of the Ireland fly half that he ran in for the try.
Leinster came charging back, Sexton showing his own skillset with a well-judged chip kick but superb cover work by Tom Brown stopped the try.
The home side kept their foot on the throat with five minutes left in the half, trying to punish Edinburgh via the set piece. First the the scrum (which held) then the through the lineout, each time spurning three points with supreme confidence even as Edinburgh conceded penalties on the deck. The pack couldn’t make it count though against Edinburgh’s dogged defence, and it took Joey Carbery out wide to finish off the pressure with a try going into the break.
Half time: Leinster 14-13 Edinburgh
Leinster, as kings of the “championship minutes” in days gone by, came out hard in the second half, the all international front row and bullocking back rows led by Rhys Ruddock and Sean O’Brien testing Calum Macrae’s defensive system to straining point.
As they ended the first half, Edinburgh were soon defending their line again, against hordes of the blue zulus. They managed to hold firm until Jamie Ritchie and Hamish Watson combined to steal the turnover.
Unlikely as it seemed at this point, there wouldn’t be another score until the last six minutes of the match.
Edinburgh were doing well to keep Leinster at bay but then there was the oh-so-frustrating shoot yourself in the foot moment as Jamie Ritchie clattered into Luke McGrath after his clearance kick was away.
Tails up, Leinster smelled a chance to pull clear and their pack battered Edinburgh’s line once again. Their first effort was held up over the line, but the set scrum gave Leinster a crack at replacement tighthead Kevin Bryce.
Bryce and his teammates held, and then Sexton cleared Sam Hidalgo-Clyne out round the neck and gave the visitors a respite. Leinster are at their best, very streetwise, but at their worst?
The good news for Edinburgh wa”s that cracks were appearing.
Speaking of “worst”, 14-man Edinburgh seemed to be unnecessarily in game chasing mode with too many indecisive or risky passes putting them under pressure – and they weren’t coming from the Sevens boys either.
Edinburgh so nearly had a try after a super offload by John Hardie put Dougie Fife over, but the officials adjudged the otherwise effective Cornell du Preez to have obstructed a defender in the build up phases.
With no score for 25 minutes and Edinburgh now restored to 15 men, it was becoming a bit of a chess match, admittedly played by slightly out of breath elephants. Bresler and Hardie made instant impacts with some powerful carries, while Jason Tovey continued an excellent game taking the ball to the line well. Players were tiring though, and mistakes were creeping in as passes went to ground. Edinburgh were however tireless at the breakdown, and kept forcing mistakes from the hosts.
Edinburgh had battled hard to keep the scores so close but then some heavy kick chase pressure from Leinster saw a poor clearance, bouncing balls in the 22 and once again a Leinster player high in the air and trouble brewing. This time John Hardie took a knee to the back of the head, then Jamie Gibson-Park dove over for the try.
It was heart-breaking stuff.
Ross Byrne converted Leinster’s third try from the touchline which meant Edinburgh were not even in with a losing bonus, something that they would have thoroughly deserved.
They had one final chance, some big carries from Fruean earning them good ground before Kinghorn steamed into space.
But Edinburgh were unable to make it count when the ball was recycled, an offload flew loose and then the ball was smothered in blue players.
Dave Kearney looked like he’d made a major blunder by kicking to touch too early but referee Davies blew up, leaving more than a few puzzled looks.
It was a very useful performance by Edinburgh, and they will be aggrieved that they came away with nothing. Results like this should only add to their determination to bend this sort of game to their will in future, and Cockerill’s coaching team will have plenty to work on to make that happen. There are at least signs of something decent in the embers of this one.
Oh, and if you believe in an anti-Edinburgh refereeing conspiracy, some of the calls in this game might add fuel to your fire.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Sam Hidalgo-Clyne is back looking sharp, and Grant Gilchrist charged hard at Leinster all night. For me though, Jason Tovey ran the Edinburgh backline very well, even off limited ball in the middle 40 of the game. Scored all of Edinburgh’s points in a gutsy team performance that will give the big (or at least more regularly selected) names left out this week pause for thought.
Referee: Ian Davies (WRU)