Leinster broke free in the final quarter with three tries to earn a 35-13 bonus point win from a match that had been very tight up to that point.
For most of this match, Leinster and Edinburgh were hard to separate. But in the final quarter Leinster’s sharper cutting edge saw them cut loose with a couple of spectacular scores that gave them the win and a rather unlikely bonus point.
For much of the first half, Leinster resembled a French side on one of those days when they felt they could cut loose from the off, rather than subduing their opponents up front first.
But they insisted on trying to offload fifty:fifty balls in contact and as a result they spent large chunks of the first forty on the back foot. An early indication came after three minutes when Contepomi looked to flick an inside ball between his legs, coughing up an intercept to Marcus di Rollo. The Scottish centre hared down the line but a knock on denied the Scots a likely try.
A key element of the day was the performance of new outhalf David Holwell. He slotted his first penalty on 5 minutes to establish a 3-0 lead for Leinster, but endured a mixed first half. He was blocked down a minute later, symptomatic of ongoing Leinster errors.
A Paterson penalty equalised matters on 10 minutes before Brendan Laney took advantage of a large opening down the outhalf channel to initiate a move. Good continuity saw both Scottish props combine down the left before Allen Jacobsen dived over. Paterson couldn’t improve on it but Edinburgh, showing more energy and playing more sensibly, deserved their lead.
Although O’Driscoll looked sparky, Leinster needed to engage the Edinburgh pack more and, finally, the penny dropped. A penalty kick to the corner, a Byrne throw to O’Kelly and a rumble forward finished with a beaming Byrne claiming the try. Holwell, who was to finish with 15 points, slotted the convert on 30 minutes.
Back came a committed Edinburgh, and a period of pressure should have got its reward when Derrick Lee shot through the centre, looking set to score. But he cut back when a pinning back of the ears would surely have seen him home. Leinster were glad to survive ten minutes before half-time without conceding.
Kidney’s fireside chat at the interval surely included many imprecations to stuff the ball up the forward jumper, for that is what Leinster did effectively on the resumption before slinging it wide. A good rolling maul preceded a half-break from O’Driscoll which led to a Holwell penalty to extend the lead to 13-8 on 48 minutes.
There were four second half tries, three of which were early contenders for try of the season. The first was Scottish, Alan Lawson finishing off a classic counter attack. Horgan broke down the Leinster right before feeding Shane Byrne. His adroit grubber was well-fielded before the ball went through about eight pairs of hands, each offloading before the hit, to finally release Bill McLaren’s son-in-law to scoot into the corner. A score befitting a team that had many intelligent footballers, rather than any searing pace. 13-13 and all to play for, Paterson not being able to add the extras.
On 61 minutes, Leinster introduced one of the shortlisted candidates for IRB World Player of the Year and the player with Ireland’s best try-scoring rate. That’d be D’Arcy and Hickie, then.
Within two minutes, they had combined to score Leinster’s second try. In fairness, much of the credit has to go to the pack who drove the Edinburgh scrum off their own ball before quick hands saw D’Arcy feed Hickie to dive in in the corner. Holwell’s missed convert seem of little import, given Leinster’s new momentum. 18-13 after 63 minutes.
If that was sharp the next was outrageous. O’Driscoll hit a wonderful line off D’Arcy’s short ball to scythe through. Hickie’s support angle was breathtaking. It was all over in the blink of an eye. The Scots could be forgiven for thinking, ‘what the hell was that?’ as Hickie posted the ball under the sticks. Routine convert later and the match is over at 25-13 on 68 minutes.
Holwell’s fifth successful kick on 72 minutes removed any question marks at 28-13, before the coup de grace. The 4,500 crowd had got its value’s worth with the precision and pace of the third try, so to get a fourth of different but similar quality was a glorious bonus, quite apart from the bonus point it secured.
Moving ball from inside their 22, Holwell found O’Driscoll, who delivered a left-hand spin pass of shimmering beauty to free Brown. His pace took him clear to halfway, before linking with Dempsey inside, to Holwell to take it on. Just as the move appeared to be dying, Aidan McCullen arrived at Mach 3 to finish a tumultuous move under the posts.
Cue a couple of hundred kids invading the pitch. When they were despatched, Holwell completed the scoring at 35-13. An unlikely score given how competitive it was for so long. But that’s Leinster for you – infuriatingly brilliant.
There were many positives for Declan Kidney – a rejuvenated Costello, a snipingly good O’Meara, an effective return for Dempsey, remarkable cameos from D’Arcy and Hickie, an ability to step it up from the pack. The jury is out on Holwell. An allowance needs to be made for his first game in a new environment and he generally kicked well. But some kicking errors and some iffy defence means that more time is needed before passing judgement.