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Harlequins (0) 5 - 6 (6) Leinster Rugby
The Twickenham Stoop
Sunday, 12 April 2009, 15:30

Television: Live - Sky Sports 2, Highlights RTE2: 7.30

Ah Easter Sunday famous for (besides the eggs) resurrection. Following the previous weekend's defeat to Munster, Leinster may have perhaps felt crucified, in particular Felipe Contepomi. Leinster had a genuine chance to atone against a team sitting proudly in second in the Premiership but knew that defeat would surely see their season over.

It was a match not without controversy and although the scoreline may appear a little meagre it does not tell the full story. Not even close.

As has been their wont, Leinster started the better and enjoyed early possession securing a penalty with fifteen minutes gone. Following his horror showing in Thomond the previous week it was likely that Felipe Contepomi had second thoughts about a strike at goal. The travelling supporters sent their support from the stands however and the Argentine struck the ball well to secure a lead for Leinster.

If it seemed that Contepomi had brought his kicking boots, it seemed also that the rest of the team seemed to have left theirs at home. The early possession began to whittle away as Leinster turned over cheap possession time and again with awful kicks to touch on the full by O'Driscoll and Nacewa particularly culpable. Harlequins were coming back into it and Leinster were struggling to contain Turner Hall and Ugo Monye whose excellent break nearly brought a score for the Londoners. Leinster were defending ferociously though and after a period of extended pressure Harlequins made the error and Leinster were able to clear their lines.

The half drew on and against the run of play O'Driscoll spotted an opening. This time his kick was well placed infield. The Leinster centre chased and judged the bounce excellently to surge towards the line. A lot has been made about O'Driscoll losing pace but Harlequins were in possession of one player who could have hunted down O'Driscoll in the guise of Monye. Monye's personal best is 100 metres in 10.6 and he barely stopped O'Driscoll agonizingly short of the line.

The support arrived and despite there being a gap on the line Whitaker moved the ball, or he would have had Easter not slapped it away. Nigel Owens awarded a penalty and yellow to the England international but decided that there were too many bodies to award the penalty try. Leinster chose the points and Contepomi did the needful drawing the first half to a close with Leinster in possession of a precious 6 - 0 advantage.

Leinster started the second half with a man advantage and looked to take advantage coming close with a Rob Kearney drop goal effort. Harlequins suffered another blow shortly after the restart with Nick Evans being forced off. The kiwi outhalf had been heavily strapped and looked in bad shape as he hobbled off the pitch.

Kearney looked to have crossed for a try after Nacewa passed a lovely ball inside for him to cross over. But the pass to Nacewa had been adjudged forward and the try didn't count. Leinster were reduced to fourteen men shortly afterwards as Contepomi was harshly yellow carded for a trip on Robshaw after Contepomi had jumped to block a kick. Robshow hit the deck oddly clutching his throat and the referee produced a card.

Just as Leinster had failed to capitalise with their man advantage so did Harlequins. Despite immense pressure on the Leinster line their defence stood firm. Harlequins seemed determined to punch through the Leinster defence but Leinster controlled the fringes superbly and Harlequins couldn't see a way though. Stan Wright was in particular a hero when his quick thinking prevented a try. The Leinster prop had gotten his hand under the ball and held it up when Quins looked to have gotten over.

On 66 minutes however Harlequins decided enough was enough and looked to get the ball to wider players. This time it worked and Mike Brown crossed over for a crucial score. Harlequins had a conversion to attempt to take the lead but Chris Malone couldn't convert the chance and Leinster breathed again.

With roughly fifteen minutes left it seemed unlikely that Leinster could continue to withstand the Harlequins onslaught, but time and time again they did. Malone left the field injured replaced by Tom Williams and when Harlequins were awarded a penalty it was left to Mike Brown to try his luck but he just edged it wide.

There was high drama with a few minutes left when Tom Williams himself a substitute left the field with an apparent gushing mouth of blood. Harlequins looked to reintroduce Nick Evans who had left the field earlier. The referee was content that Evans had been a tactical substitution not an injury substitution and therefore was permitted as a "blood" sub. Quins clearly had the drop goal in mind and despite being barely able to stand on one leg Evans was the man for the job.

Quins got the penalty they craved, they took the lineout. The ball moved infield and a ruck formed. Evans was in the pocket but he had to wait still longer. Again the ball was recycled, and again until the ball came to him to the right of the posts and he struck it. The roar from the away end confirmed that it had gone left and wide.

This wasn't the final act though, Evan's kick had been caught in the 79th minute. There was still time for Quins to come again and when they knocked on it seemed over but with a hand out for advantage Leinster booted the ball upfield through Contepomi but not into touch. Contepomi chased and through a combination of pressure and undoubted fatigue Quins knocked on again and this time the whistle blew drawing a frenzied occasion to a halt.

The low scoreline of this match didn't do justice to the sheer drama that unfolded. Those who were expecting the expansive rugby that Quins and Leinster had been famed for producing would no doubt feel short changed. For anyone at the match with an investment in either team it was almost unbearable viewing, but Leinster prevailed and as they walked shattered from the pitch they'll know that an even bigger, more bruising encounter awaits them in Croke Park on May 2nd.

Can't Wait!

Match Statistics

Harlequins

Leinster Rugby
Tries M. Brown
 
Conversions
 
Penalties
  Contepomi (2)
Sin Bin Easter
  Contepomi

Teams Mike Brown
15 Robert Kearney
David Strettle
14 Isa Nacewa
Gonzalo Tiesi
13 Brian O'Driscoll
Jordan Turner-Hall
12 Gordon D'Arcy
Ugo Monye
11 Luke Fitzgerald
Nick Evans
10 Felipe Contepomi
Danny Care
9 Chris Whitaker

Ceri Jones
1 Cian Healy
Gary Botha
2 Bernard Jackman
Mike Ross
3 Stan Wright
James Percival
4 Leo Cullen (C)
George Robson
5 Malcolm O'Kelly
Chris Robshaw
6 Rocky Elsom
Will Skinner (C) 7 Shane Jennings
Nick Easter 8 Jamie Heaslip

Replacements Tani Fuga
16 John Fogarty
Mark Lambert
17 Ronan McCormack
Jim Evans (for Percival, 69)
18 Trevor Hogan
Tom Guest
19 Sean O'Brien
Andy Gomersall
20 Simon Keogh
Chris Malone (for Evans, 47)
21 Girvan Dempsey
Tom Williams (for Malone, 69)
22 Shane Horgan

by Sarah Lennon, © 2009-04-16

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