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Connacht Test Leinster’s League Mettle

Connacht Test Leinster’s League Mettle

Leinster overcame a sluggish start and a determined Connacht side to move back to the top of the Magners League table with a 30-21 victory at Donnybrook on Saturday evening.

MAGNERS LEAGUE: Saturday, March 24

LEINSTER 30 CONNACHT 21, Donnybrook (Att: 6,500)

Scorers: Leinster: Tries: Bernard Jackman, Keith Gleeson, Shane Horgan; Cons: Felipe Contepomi 3; Pens: Contepomi 3
Connacht: Tries: Adrian Flavin, Paul Warwick; Con: Warwick; Pens: Warwick 3

Three tries and a 100% kicking return from stand-in captain Felipe Contepomi were enough for Michael Cheika’s men to edge this provincial duel, after they had gone 16-3 behind.

Three Paul Warwick penalties and hooker Adrian Flavin’s maul-over try shot Connacht into a deserved 13-point lead but Leinster’s greater strike power, which saw them score 17 points without reply in the second half, saw them take the spoils and move four points clear of Ulster in the standings.

Helped by the return of Girvan Dempsey, Gordon D’Arcy, Shane Horgan, Denis Hickie and Trevor Hogan from Six Nations duty, Leinster looked well placed to make a winning return to league action.

But Connacht, whose only win in Dublin since 1985 was at this very venue in 2002, paid little respect to the league leaders in a frantic first quarter.

The visitors were 13 points to the good after only 14 minutes’ play. Warwick landed his first two penalties and sandwiched in between was a peach of a try in the left corner from Flavin who touched down after a superb rolling maul.

Contepomi and Warwick then swapped penalties, the latter’s coming just after Leinster had their Cook Islands prop Stan Wright sin-binned for some overzealous rucking.

Just when they needed it, Leinster struck for their opening try when former Connacht favourite Bernard Jackman darted over after some neat interplay between Contepomi, Hickie and Gleeson.

Contepomi converted the try but Connacht still took a 21-10 lead into the break as they leaked a further try to Warwick before their Argentinian number 10 landed a late penalty.

Warwick showed excellent leg strength to shrug off two tacklers and scramble in behind the posts in the 35th-minute ahead of Jamie Heaslip.

Connacht flanker Matt Lacey saw yellow in injury-time and Leinster, despite some excellent defence from the westerners, took over in the second half.

The 14 men of Connacht managed to keep Leinster out before Lacey’s return, but Chris Whitaker and Contempomi combined to put Gleeson tearing over in the 53rd-minute for a well-worked try.

Taking a leaf out of Ronan O’Gara’s book, Contepomi then delivered a cross-field kick out to the right for Horgan to gather, above two defenders, and swoop for Leinster’s third try.

Contepomi’s conversion nosed the hosts into a 27-21 lead and his 67th-minute penalty took what would have been a deserved bonus point away from Connacht.

Heaslip was also robbed of an injury-time try when referee Peter Fitzgibbon ruled the effort out for a forward pass, but Leinster already had their sixth straight win over Connacht sewn up.

TIME LINE: 7 minutes – Connacht penalty: Paul Warwick – 0-3; 9 mins – Connacht try: Adrian Flavin – 0-8; conversion: Paul Warwick – 0-10; 14 mins – Connacht penalty: Paul Warwick – 0-13; 17 mins – Leinster penalty: Felipe Contepomi 3-13; 18 mins – Leinster sin-binning: Stan Wright; 20 mins – Connacht penalty: Paul Warwick – 3-16; 28 mins – Leinster try: Bernard Jackman – 8-16; conversion: Felipe Contepomi – 10-16; 35 mins – Connacht try: Paul Warwick – 10-21; conversion: missed by Paul Warwick – 10-21; 39 mins – Leinster penalty: Felipe Contepomi – 13-21; 40+2 mins – Connacht sin-binning: Matt Lacey; Half-time – Leinster 13 Connacht 21; 53 mins – Leinster try: Keith Gleeson – 18-21; conversion: Felipe Contepomi – 20-21; 63 mins – Leinster try: Shane Horgan – 25-21; conversion: Felipe Contepomi – 27-21; 67 mins – Leinster penalty: Felipe Contepomi – 30-21; Full-time – Leinster 30 Connacht 21

LEINSTER: Girvan Dempsey; Shane Horgan, Kieran Lewis, Gordon D’Arcy, Denis Hickie; Felipe Contepomi (capt), Chris Whitaker; Stan Wright, Bernard Jackman, Will Green, Trevor Hogan, Malcolm O’Kelly, Stephen Keogh, Keith Gleeson, Jamie Heaslip.

Replacements used: Cameron Jowitt for Keogh (20-21 mins, blood sub), Fosi Pala’amo for Keogh (25-30), Owen Finegan for O’Kelly (56), Brian Blaney for Jackman (56), Guy Easterby for Whitaker (67), Christian Warner for Contepomi (74). Not used: Rob Kearney.

CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Darren Yapp, Daniel Riordan, Gavin Williams, Conor McPhillips; Paul Warwick, Chris Keane; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Ray Hogan, David Gannon, Andrew Farley (capt), John Muldoon, Ray Ofisa, Colm Rigney.

Replacements used: Matt Lacey for Muldoon (33 mins), Michael Swift for Ofisa (57), Brett Sturgess for Hogan (63), John Fogarty for Flavin (65), David Slemen for Duffy, Mark McHugh for Williams (both 76). Not used: John Hearty.

Sin Bin: Wright (Leinster) (18), Lacey (Connacht) (40+2).
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)