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Leinster Rugby (6) 9 - 12 (6) London Irish
Royal Dublin Society Showground, Dublin
Friday, 9th October 2009, 20:00

Leinster's Heineken Cup defence got off to the worst possible start on Friday night with a 9-12 defeat to superb London Irish. It is a cardinal rule of the HEC that in order to reach the knockout stages of the competition you must win your home games, and Leinster now have a mountain to climb if they're going to reach the quarter finals of the competition.

Leinster began the game full of attacking intent and an early burst from O'Driscoll resulted in the home team setting up in the Irish 22. Eventually a penalty came for hands in the ruck and Sexton made the score 3-0, before Irish leveled when Healy was penalized for holding on in the ruck.

Leinster were piling on the pressure and on 12 minutes a Sexton up & under along with good chase forced another penalty and the score was 6-3. Things got ill tempered when Kennedy felt Jennings made contact with his eye and later virtually every player on the pitch piled in for handbags in the Leinster 22, resulting in Jamie Heaslip and David Paice being sent to the bin.

Sexton was taken out off the ball, and having required treatment missed the subsequent penalty. Shortly after, Leinster were penalised in midfield and Hewatt made no mistake with the penalty.  Instead of Leinster going into half time 9-3 up the scores were tied at 6-6, and you were left wondering how crucial that would be.

The second half was a different story, with London Irish taking the ascendancy. In between bouts of kicking tennis they began to win the collisions and were much more clever at the breakdown, winning penalty after penalty from Roman Poite, with Hewatt missing two shots at goal. Leinster were missing the intensity they showed the previous week against Munster and the breakdown turned from a strength to a weakness.

With London Irish getting all the tight calls Leinster's confidence began to waver, and when Ryan Lamb replaced Chris Malone he slotted a long range penalty to make the score 6-9. Cheika brought on Kearney, Jackman and O'Brien to bring some fresh impetus, with O'Brien in particular looking strong. After a period of sloppy play from both sides, neither ever looking like scoring a try, Chris Hala'Ufia played the ball illegally and Sexton leveled the scores again.

The game finished in dramatic circumstances, a Chris Hala'ufia burst off the back of a lineout brought play up to the halfway line, when Mike Ross was judged to play the ball while retreating from an offside position. Ryan Lamb confidently slotted the penalty to leave Leinster 3 points down with seconds remaining. Leinster managed to reclaim the restart and immediately set up in the Irish 22. Sexton probed the line repeatedly until it appeared he was tackled high under the posts. The referee didn't agree and Reddan, possibly believing advantage had been given, chipped the ball over the top for the defence to touch down in goal, sealing the victory to the delight of the away fans. Sexton, and a large contingent of the crowd were incensed by the non-awarding of the penalty and the ref left the pitch to a chorus of boos.

So what now for Leinster? The scoreline fully reflects an incredibly tight game that could have gone either way. You just felt Leinster were that half second slow to support the ball carrier, not quite deep enough or sharp enough in the backs and not quite accurate enough with the kicking game, all things that can be remedied easily before next week. Questions also must be asked of the selection and gameplan, having gone for a kicking game the decision to leave out Rob Kearney deserves scrutiny. Nothing about the performance suggests it's time for panic stations and Leinster can definitely bounce back. However, surrendering 4 pool points at home is an absolute hammer blow and Leinster cannot afford to slip up again. A loss to Brive next week and Leinster are effectively out of the competition. After one game it's reasonable to say London Irish are strong favourites to top the pool, it's time for Leinster to respond like champions.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
London Irish
Teams Isa Nacewa 15 Peter Hewat
Shane Horgan 14 Tom Homer
Brian O'Driscoll
13 Elvis Seveali'I
Gordon d'Arcy
12 Seilala Mapusua
Luke Fitzgerald
11 Sailosi Tagicakiba
Jonathan Sexton
10 Chris Malone
Eoin Reddan
9 Paul Hodgson

Cian Healy 1 Clarke Dermody
John Fogarty
2 David Paice
Mike Ross
3 Faan Rautenbach
Leo Cullen (C)
4 Nick Kennedy
Nathan Hines
5 Bob Casey (C)
Kevin McLaughlin
6 Declan Danaher
Shane Jennings 7 Steffon Armitage
Jamie Heaslip
8 Chris Hala'ufia

Replacements Bernard Jackman
16 Danie Coetzee
Ronnie McCormack 17 Dan Murphy
CJ van der Linde 18 Paulica Ion
Malcolm O'Kelly
19 Andy Perry
Sean O'Brien
Richard Thorpe
Simon Keogh
21 Ryan Lamb
Shaun Berne
22 Jamie Lennard
Rob Kearney
23 Alfredo Lalanne

Not considered
due to injury
Eoin O'Malley
Stan Wright
Trevor Hogan

Match Officials

Referee: Romain Poite (FFR)
Assistant Referees: Eric Soulan (FFR), Bernard Dal Maso (FFR)
4th Official: Paul Haycock (ARLB)
5th Official: Ken Henley-Willis (ARLB)
TMO: Jean Christophe Gastou (FFR)

by Danthefan, © 2009-10-11