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Leinster Rugby 26 (14)-(12)18 Connacht Rugby
RDS Showground, Ballsbridge
Friday, 02 Jan 2009, 19:30
Att: 16,350

Leinster took on Connacht with a modicum of revenge in mind. In October they had suffered defeat at the Sportsgrounds to their Western counterparts by an agonising single point. On that night Michael Cheika had elected to rest a lot of his bigger name players, and this time around there was again a slightly experimental look to the team.

Cameron Jowitt made a rare appearance as did Ronnie McCormack as a late replacement for Cian Healy. Gordon D'Arcy continued his comeback from injury and Brian O'Driscoll appeared as a replacement.

Leinster got out of the traps in superb fashion and had registered on the score board before 5 minutes had gone. Nacewa and Contepomi linked well at ten and twelve after Nacewa had made good ground. Contepomi was held just short and when Whitaker fed Nacewa from the resulting ruck the Fijian sent Trevor Hogan in to bundle over from three yards.

Leinster had gotten the start they wanted and it appeared to be an ominous sign for Connacht. The reality was much different with Leinster failing to build on the impressive start in any cohesive manner. One theme of the match was the continuation of Leinster's erratic handling. Connacht too were spilling the ball a lot too which in turn led to a higher than usual number of scrums. Another theme of the match was the referee's failure to exert any control over the scrums which were penalised time and again for a multitude of offences.

Leinster were feeling the brunt of the referees whistle that punctuated the night sky far more regularly than anyone watching would have liked. Keatley seemed to be in the mood to punish Leinster for their misdemeanours and he struck penalties from anywhere inside the Leinster half knocking four over in all in the first half.

Leinster almost had a second try with Luke Fitzgerald crossing only to be called back for a foot in touch by an eagle eyed touch judge. Leinster did rally with penalties of their own however but despite a man advantage for ten minutes following Lyne's yellow card for a scrum infringement held a slender two point lead into the break.

Leinster emerged from the half time interval and almost immediately coughed up the lead with two more penalties. Despite the yellow card there were still difficulties at every scrum with both sides deemed equally responsible by the referee. At another malfunctioning scrum tempers boiled over and the touchjudge stepped in to collar Stan Wright as most responsible and he was duly sent to the sin bin.

Leinster survived this period largely unscathed save the initial three points but were not creating much of their own. However were the scrum was a shambles the lineout was proving a good option for Leinster and it was from a throw in that Leinster made a break through. Leinster won a lineout deep in Connacht territory and patiently worked their phases. D'Arcy who had worked hard all evening made good ground on the right wing and the ball made its way through the hands with substitute O'Driscoll fed Kearney who despite the two outside him had enough to cross the whitewash himself. Leinster held the lead for the first time in the second half.

Connacht appeared to be tiring and Leinster were looking to add points. Luke Fitzgerald added a try of this own following a good flowing move. Nacewa fielded a high ball from full back and set off on a counter attack and fed Contepomi. O'Driscoll took the ball up on the left wing and fed Fitzgerald with a clearly forward pass. The Connacht players were incandescent and insisted that the referee consulted the touchjudge. The referee obliged but both were satisfied that the pass had been level and the try stood. Contepomi, who had had an improved evening with the boot struck the extra two and Connacht were out of bonus point rage.

Despite ten minutes previously staring a second defeat to Connacht in the face Leinster had ten minutes left and had three trys on the board and suddenly, incredibly the bonus point win was on. The Connacht defence was holding firm though despite Leinster's onslaught and having put together phase after phase of play Leinster finally worked what appeared to be a try scoring opportunity with Elsom fed five yards out. Selflessly or perhaps needlessly he fed O'Brien on the wing and the pass did not meet it's target with the Carlow man spilling it on with the line at his mercy and with it the bonus point evaporated.

Leinster and their supporters were left feeling very mixed emotions. Relief to be sure that they had snatched a victory when it was beginning to look unlikely but left with a feeling of what might have been with a bonus point that got away.

Match Statistics

Leinster Rugby
Connacht Rugby
Tries Hogan

Conversions Contepomi

Penalties Contepomi (3)

Keatley (6)
Sin Bin Wright (50 - 60)

Lyne (30 - 40)

Teams Rob Kearney
15 Troy Nathan
Gordon D'Arcy
14 Fionn Carr
Luke Fitzgerald 13 Niva Ta'auso
Felipe Contepomi
12 Keith Matthews
Simon Keogh
11 Liam Bibo
Isa Nacewa
10 Ian Keatley
Chris Whitaker (C)
9 Frank Murphy

Ronan McCormack
1 John Lyne
John Fogarty
2 Adrian Flavin
Stan Wright 3 Robbie Morris
Trevor Hogan
4 Michael Swift
Cameron Jowitt
5 Andrew Farley
Rocky Elsom
6 Mike McCarthy
Shane Jennings
7 John Muldoon (C)
Stephen Keogh
8 Colm Rigney

Replacements Cian Healy (for McCormack, 52)
16 Sean Cronin (for Flavin, 63)
Malcolm O'Kelly (for Hogan, 49)
17 Ronan Loughney (for Lyne, 54)
Sean O'Brien (for Stephen Keogh, 61)
18 Andrew Browne
Jamie Heaslip
19 David Gannon (for McCarthy, 65)
Chris Keane (for Whitaker, 76)
20 Kieran Campbell
Brian O'Driscoll (for Simon Keogh, 69)
21 Andy Dunne
Shane Horgan (for Kearney, 69)
22 Mel Deane

Not considered
due to injury
Leo Cullen (Collarbone)
Stephen Knoop (Neck)

T Donnelly (knee)
G Duffy (knee)
J O'Connor (calf)
M Roberts (calf)

Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: Colin Stanley (IRFU), David Wilkinson (IRFU)
4th Official: Peter Dennehy (ARLB)
5th Official: Robbie O'Flynn (ARLB)
TMO: Dermot Moloney (IRFU)

by Sarah Lennon, © 2009-01-06