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Leinster Rugby (3) 21 - 16 (10) Aironi
RDS Showground, Dublin
Thursday, 10th February 2011, 19:05

Television: Live: RTE2

The first visit of Aironi to the RDS in the newly expanded Magners league took place on a mid 6 nations Thursday night. The timing of the fixture clashed with traditional Thursday night club rugby training as well as making attendance from the further reaches of the province even more difficult than usual and this was reflected in our lowest attendance to date this season - a reported 8,000. The timing also led to a decrease in the average age of the Leinster starting fifteen to 23 with first time captain Rhys Ruddock possibly setting a record as the youngest Leinster captain at 20.

The visitors got off to the better start when Kevin McLaughlin failed to take the kick-off and Leinster were penalised for not rolling away. Tebaldi kicked the visitors into a 3 point lead. It was almost cancelled out immediately when Nacewa was taken out in the chase for the re-start but the kick was missed by a possibly still shaky Nacewa. He got another chance almost straightaway when the Aironi tight head was penalised for off-side after his scrum-half had knocked on a garryowen from Paul O'Donohoe. This time Nacewa made no mistake and the sides were level. After a chaotic first 5 minutes play settled with some nice running play from the Leinster cubs. A forward pass from Stephen Keogh to Eoin O'Malley gave Aironi a scrum just inside their 22. Leinster were awarded a free kick for an early engage by the Italians which was taken quickly by Paul O'Donohoe. Leinster went through the phases before O'Donohoe was caught at the back of a ruck. Aironi took possession and sent Leinster almost back to their own 22. Leinster's pressure had yielded no points and had in fact cost them a centre as Brendan Macken left the pitch with what has since been reported as a broken collarbone. He was replaced in the centre by David Kearney with Niall Morris taking his place on the left wing. Leinster held onto possession but were penalised for crossing. The penalty hit the bar and O'Donohoe kicked to touch. The resulting line-out led to a good period of pressure from Aironi and Kevin McLaughlin was penalised for coming in from the side. This time the penalty looked good but the flags stayed down and the sides stayed level. Leinster had a chance to go ahead when a scrum penalty gave Ian Madigan a shot on goal from almost half-way. He had the distance but unfortunately his shot was slightly wide.

The match was punctuated by errors from both sides. Knock ons, forward passes, a crooked line-out throw from Aironi, kicks out on the full from both Madigan and Marshall....but there were also some positive signs from the young Leinster players - a couple of breaks from Niall Morris, one of which looked to have led to a try for Dave Kearney but was called back for a controversial forward pass earlier in the move. Leinster settled down and started to build the phases but a wayward pass from O'Donohoe was picked up by an Italian hand. Aironi looked to have the numbers but Leinster got back and earned a penalty. Madigan failed to find touch and the Aironi wing Danwel Demas kicked a Garryowen back which Leinster failed to deal with. Continued pressure gave the Italians a series of 5 metre attacking scrums and eventually a try from a face familiar to Leinster fans in ex-Munster number 8 Nick Williams. Aironi were almost in for another before the break when back row Jaco Erasmus intercepted a loose pass from O'Donohoe after a Leinster line-out but Morris showed great pace to chase back and execute a try saving tackle in the corner.

Leinster started the second half with purpose and earned a penalty in the 22, for an Aironi defender not rolling away, which Nacewa converted to reduce the gap to 4. He was kicking again just two minutes later after Strauss broke the Aironi defensive line before off-loading to Morris who had the pace to get in under the posts. Conversion added and Leinster led for the first time. Shane Jennings conceded a penalty which Marshall kicked to touch giving his side a foothold in Leinster territory. Leinster conceded another penalty when Devin Toner joined a ruck from the side in their 22 but again the Italians chose to kick to touch, perhaps thinking that their physicality close in would again serve them well. Having earned another penalty from an attacking 5 metre scrum, scrum half Tebaldi took a quick tap but knocked on giving Leinster a scrum and the chance to clear their lines. The clearance from Madigan went straight to Aironi full back Paolo Buso 40 metres out who sent the ball back straight between the posts to bring the sides level again. Leinster again appeared to settle and build phases and they were rewarded with a penalty which Nacewa converted to reclaim the lead for Leinster.

Kicks were exchanged from the restart before a kick through by Boss, who had replaced O'Donohoe early in the second half, was chased into touch by Boss and Richardt Strauss. Leinster upped the pressure but were turned over by a knock on in the Aironi 22. The ball was cleared to touch by Marshall. Leinster won their line out but Boss's clearance went direct to touch which would have given Aironi a line-out deep in Leinster territory. Instead they were awarded a penalty by Owens as a Leinster player threw the ball away. With Tebaldi having been substituted just a minute earlier the kick was taken by Buso and he missed the opportunity to bring his side back on level terms. With a precious 3 point lead going into the last 10 minutes Leinster pushed for more and showed patience building phases but it came to nothing as they were penalised for holding on and Aironi cleared to just beyond their 10 metre line. The throw was crooked and won by Leinster and a clever kick by Nacewa could only be kicked into touch by the Aironi defence giving Leinster a line-out in the Aironi 22. Again Leinster went through the phases but this time they were rewarded. Good footwork and strength saw Dave Kearney over the line with two tacklers in close attendance after collecting a pass from Boss 10 metres out. Into the last two minutes Leinster conceded a penalty from the restart. Buso kicked for goal earning Aironi a losing bonus point and leaving the final score 21-16 to Leinster.

Some may have been disappointed with the closeness of this match given the league positions on the two sides but it was valuable experience for our youngsters. Leinster continue their winning streak in the absence of internationals and climb to second in the Magners league table.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby

Teams Isa Nacewa
15 Paolo Buso
Andrew Conway
14 Kaine Robertson
Brendan Macken
13 Gabriel Pizarro
Eoin O'Malley
12 Horacio San Martin
David Kearney
11 Danwel Demas
Ian Madigan
10 James Marshall
Paul O'Donohoe
9 Tito Tebaldi

Heinke van der Merwe 1 Alberto De Marchi
Richardt Strauss
2 Roberto Santamaria
Clint Newland
3 Fabio Staibano
Devin Toner 4 Marco Bortolami (C)
Kevin McLaughlin
5 Joshua Furno
Rhys Ruddock (C) 6 Nicola Cattina
Dominic Ryan
7 Jaco Erasmus
Stephen Keogh
8 Nick Williams

Replacements Jason Harris-Wright 16 Luigi Ferraro
Jack McGrath
17 Andrea De Marchi
Simon Shawe
18 Luca Redolfini
Ed O'Donoghue
19 George Biagi
Shane Jennings
20 Andrea Benatti
Isaac Boss
21 Pietro Travagli
Ian McKinley
22 Alberto Benettin
Niall Morris
23 Matteo Pratichetti

Not Considered
due to Injury
Stan Wright,
Rob Kearney,
Shane Horgan,
Shaun Berne

Officials Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
Assistant Referees: Dave Wilkinson, Mark Hermin (both IRFU)
4th Official: John Montayne (Leinster Rugby Referees)
5th Official: James Fegan (Leinster Rugby Referees)
TMO: Peter Ferguson (IRFU)

by Yvonne Kelly, © 2011-02-12