Leinster got the bonus point win they craved to keep themselves in the Magners League title hunt but they left it late against bottom side Borders at a packed out Donnybrook on Saturday.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Saturday, May 5
LEINSTER (14) 31 Border Reivers (0) 0, Donnybrook (Att: 6,200)
Scorers: Leinster: Tries: Felipe Contepomi, Gordon D’Arcy, Jamie Heaslip, Brian Blaney, Christian Warner; Cons: Felipe Contepomi 2, Gordon D’Arcy
Border Reivers: –
Leinster’s fourth try did not arrive until the 75th-minute as the lowly Scots put in some stout defending but ultimately fell short against Michael Cheika’s super-charged side.
Cheika’s men moved back to the top of the league table thanks to this result, and they will take a three-point cushion to the Arms Park next Friday for what is effectively a title decider against the second-placed Cardiff Blues. But the Ospreys, with a game in hand, could also have a say in the title’s destination.
Saturday’s game marked the last home outings for Leinster retirees Reggie Corrigan, Guy Easterby and Will Green and it was also the province’s last match at Donnybrook before redevelopment work begins at their old Dublin ground.
Buoyed by the 6,200-strong crowd, which included Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan, Leinster made a lightning start with 14 points in as many minutes.
On 10 minutes, Felipe Contepomi took the wrong option as he failed to spot an unmarked Gordon D’Arcy out on the right flank, but from a subsequent lineout attack, a crisp feed from Easterby gave Contepomi the time and space to power over close to the posts.
Contepomi converted his try and a bust forward by Shane Horgan should have had Leinster toasting a second touchdown in as many minutes, but when the ball was flung out wide, Girvan Dempsey spilt a difficult pass.
But try number two did follow on 14 minutes when D’Arcy gobbled up a loose ball and shrugged off a poor tackle from Steve Jones to dash in behind the posts and allow Contepomi an easy conversion.
Chasing a precious four-try win, the Leinster pressure was relentless with Corrigan, in his 138th provincial game, just stopped short of the line and Dempsey having a try ruled out for a forward flick pass from Rob Kearney.
The Reivers did have their chances. Opeta Palepoi knocked on as he lunged for the whitewash after the Scots had done well to force a five-metre scrum, and their forwards did hold their own, but only some impatient play and forced passes left Leinster try-less for the remainder of the first half.
Leinster began the second period with as much urgency as they did in the first and they worked the ball through a number of phases, with the hard-working Denis Hickie and D’Arcy involved multiple times, for Jamie Heaslip to dot down in the 51st-minute and make himself the joint-top try scorer in the league.
Contepomi failed to convert Heaslip’s seventh score of the campaign but it was tries the crowd craved and Leinster’s persistence paid off in the closing five minutes as replacements Brian Blaney and Christian Warner both crossed the visitors’ whitewash. Hickie was again at the coalface as Leinster pressed and probed and eventually Blaney found space, wide out on the left, to crash over under Dougie Flockhart’s tackle.
After Heaslip had been sin-binned for slowing up a ruck, Blaney turned provider as he offloaded for Warner to slice through a tired Reivers defence and complete a record 15th straight home win in the league for Leinster.
LEINSTER: Girvan Dempsey; Rob Kearney, Shane Horgan, Gordon D’Arcy, Denis Hickie; Felipe Contepomi (capt), Guy Easterby; Reggie Corrigan, Bernard Jackman, Will Green, Trevor Hogan, Malcolm O’Kelly, Stephen Keogh, Keith Gleeson, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements used: Cameron Jowitt for Keogh, Chris Whitaker for Easterby (both 56), Owen Finegan for O’Kelly, Brian Blaney for Jackman, Cian Healy for Corrigan (all 65), Luke Fitzgerald for Kearney (67), Christian Warner for Horgan (77).
BORDER REIVERS: Stuart Moffat; Dougie Flockhart, Garry Law, Calum MacRae (capt), Nick De Luca; Steve Jones, Rob Chrystie; Gavin Kerr, Steve Scott, Bruce Douglas, Stuart Grimes, Opeta Palepoi, Scott Gray, Andy Miller, Kelly Brown.
Replacements used: John Dalziel for Brown (31-37 mins, blood sub), Bryan Rennie for Law (54), Sean Crombie for Scott (56), Craig Hamilton for Grimes (61), Ed Kalman for Kerr, Brendan McKerchar for Chrystie (both 64), Dalziel for Gray (67), Gregor Townsend for Jones (71).
Referee: Hugh Watkins (Wales)