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Leinster Rugby (19) 26 - 15 (8) Ospreys
Royal Dublin Showgrounds
Att: 13,385
Saturday 5th January, 2008, 19:30

While it was the league leaders who took on the defending champions in this Magners League game it was a barely recognisable Ospreys team that took to the field at the RDS. The Ospreys had one or perhaps both eyes on the following weeks Heineken Cup Round 5 tie with Gloucester. Leinster on the other hand knew that a win would put daylight between them and the chasing pack.

Leinster were hoping that their stuttering back line would click into gear, and the midfield had a different look about it with Felipe Contepomi partnering Brian O'Driscoll and Jonathan Sexton retained at outhalf.

Leinster showed signs of fluidity in the early stages, an excellent break from Chris Keane saw Leinster create an opportunity, only for Sexton and Contepomi to fluff their lines. Leinster were trying to work an opening and when Girvan Dempsey passed to the flying Luke Fitzgerald on the wing it looked as if Leinster would cross over. The pass was a poor one however and Fitzgerald overran the ball which flew into touch. Another opportunity to put points on the board was spurned with Sexton missing a tricky penalty while Contepomi was off the field with a blood injury.

With the backs handling providing a frustrating opening quarter it was perhaps appropriate that the forwards provided the first moment of real quality. As has so often been the case this season, a Leinster score came from a set piece. O'Kelly claimed a Blaney lineout and the pack rolled the ball up to and over the line. Despite the try being initially awarded to Keogh it was Shane Jennings who was quick to claim the try, Felipe Contepomi added the extras.

Leinster supporters didn't have long to wait for number two. O'Driscoll fed Fitzgerald on the wing and a delightful sidestep from the young wing saw him streak away from T-Pole. Contepomi and Fitzgerald exchanged passes before Fitzgerald selflessly fed Heaslip for the Number 8 to become Leinster's leading try scorer.

Ospreys rallied with a 32nd minute penalty and then snaffled a try of their own. Mike Phillips took a quick tap penalty and caught the Leinster defence cold. Phillips fed Connor and with Blaney caught on the wrong side of Ospreys players lying injured on the ground, he had the easiest task of running in.

Leinster responded well however and either side of half time scored tries, the first a try that Stephen Keogh fully deserved and the second a Fitzgerald effort after the link up with Dempsey finally clicked.

Leinster had secured the bonus point that had been evasive in the Magners League this season and with 30 minutes left in the match. The opportunity to put a comprehensive win in place against the 2007 champions seemed to be in prospect. Contepomi wasn't having the best game with the boot though missing a couple of efforts, although the weather may have played its part there. Leinster weren't given many opportunities to kick at goal in truth, despite the apparent infringements by Ospreys at every ruck.

Instead, whether it was a dip in concentration or the stream of substitutes off the Leinster bench, it was the Ospreys who rallied and scored a try of their own. Ben Lewis bundled over and Connor converted to leave Ospreys within a score of a losing bonus point. The eleven point gap was key though, as the Os were forced to run a penalty from the Leinster 22 knowing that the three wouldn't be enough. The back line lacked the composure in the dying minutes and Leinster held on despite Stephen Knoop's yellow card in the last seconds for not rolling away. A truly staggering decision given what had gone before.

Although it is difficult to criticise a performance that yields five points and extends a lead at the top of the league table, it was clear that Leinster fell away badly in the final twenty minutes. Perhaps it was the relative inexperience of Keane and Sexton in keeping a game running or rustiness of people coming back from injury such as Knoop or Hogan in the final minutes but Leinster were fortunate to escape without having coughed up a losing bonus point. A vast improvement will be required against Toulouse when the Heineken Cup resumes next week.

Match Statistics
  Leinster Rugby   Ospreys
Tries Jennings
Conversions Contepomi (3)   Connor
Penalties     Connor
Teams Girvan Dempsey 15 Jonathan Vaughton
Gary Brown 14 Nikki Walker
Brian O'Driscoll (C) 13 Gareth Owen
Felipe Contepomi 12 Jonathan Spratt
Luke Fitzgerald 11 Aled Brew
Jonathan Sexton 10 Shaun Connor
Chris Keane 9 Mike Phillips
Cian Healy 1 Paul James (C)
Brian Blaney 2 Richard Hibbard
Stan Wright 3 Cai Griffiths
Cameron Jowitt 4 Lyndon Bateman
Malcolm O'Kelly 5 Andrew Lloyd
Stephen Keogh 6 Hale T-Pole
Shane Jennings 7 Ben Lewis
Jamie Heaslip 8 Tom Smith
Replacements Bernard Jackman (for Blaney) 16 Ed Shervington (for Hibbard)
Stephen Knoop (for Wright) 17 Andrew Millward (for Griffiths)
Trevor Hogan (for Jowitt) 18 Alun Wyn Jones (for Lloyd)
Keith Gleeson 19 Filo Tiatia (for Smith)
Guy Easterby (for Keane) 20 Steve Tandy (for Connor)
Gordon D'Arcy (for Contepomi) 21 Martin Roberts (for Phillips)
Christian Warner (for O'Driscoll) 22 Adrian Thomas (for Walker)
Not Considered
due to Injury
Shane Horgan
Rob Kearney
Ollie Le Roux
Fergus McFadden
Chris Whitaker
Officials Referee: Peter Allan (SRU)
Sub Referee: Colin Stanley (IRFU)
Touch Judge: Ger English (IRFU)
4th Official: Alan Rogan (ARLB)
5th Official: Ed Kenny (ARLB)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (IRFU)

by Sarah Lennon, © 2011-08-23