A late penalty from Shaun Berne helped Leinster seal a gritty 16-13 victory over Plymouth Albion in the opening round of the British & Irish Cup in Brickfields Recreation Grounds, Plymouth on Saturday evening.
BRITISH & IRISH CUP – POOL A: Saturday, November 21
PLYMOUTH ALBION 13 LEINSTER 16, Brickfields Recreation Grounds
Scorers: Plymouth Albion: Try: Liam Gibson; Con: Alex Davies; Pens: Alex Davies 2
Leinster: Try: Michael Keating; Con: Shaun Berne; Pens: Shaun Berne 3
Eleven points from the boot of Shaun Berne, alongside a first half Michael Keating try, helped Leinster seal a narrow but deserved win over English Championship side Plymouth in front of a vocal 1,250 crowd.
The visitors began strongly and were awarded a penalty in the first minute when a Plymouth forward was offside at a ruck.
Although Berne’s initial effort fell inches wide of the upright, he made amends six minutes later to give Leinster a 3-0 lead.
With Niall Morris and Keating threatening at pace from deep at regular intervals, Leinster looked dangerous. Plymouth out-half Alex Davies had a chance score their first points with a penalty five metres inside the Leinster half, but it fell short of the posts.
Unperturbed, Davies then opted to kick an ambitious penalty from inside Albion’s half in the 13th minute which also lacked distance.
It was a case of third time lucky though for Davies when he slotted home a straight forward penalty, two minutes later, to level the scores.
With wintry conditions in the southwest of England making conditions heavy under-foot, neither side managed to sustain any real tempo.
A clever kick through from Davies in the 23rd minute almost found the onrushing wing Ben Mercer, but Leinster skipper Paul O’Donohoe expertly slid inside the dead ball line to deny the try.
Nonetheless, Albion were not to be denied and a minute later winger Liam Gibson gathered an up-and-under to race in and score a try which Davies converted.
Credit to Leinster who responded immediately with some forceful play into the wind from Trevor Hogan and the impressive Jack McGrath.
Indeed, it was a break from tighthead prop McGrath, in the 34th minute which led to Leinster being awarded another penalty. Berne calmly slotted home to reduce the deficit to four points.
Dominic Ryan came close to scoring Leinster’s first try of the evening, but his attempt to score was denied by the Albion rearguard.
Stephen Keogh was also metres away from reaching the whitewash as Leinster enjoyed a spell of good pressure.
Plymouth’s defence did give way before half-time, however. Leinster’s persistence paid off when a strong break from Ronan McCormack led to a move which O’Donohoe started and he found Berne who skipped an accurate pass to the on-rushing Keating who raced into the corner on the stroke of half-time.
Berne kicked the difficult conversion to give Leinster a deserved 13-10 interval lead.
John Fogarty was replaced by debutant Richardt Strauss in the 44th minute and the former Cheetahs hooker made an early impression, continuing the good work of the pack.
However Davies kicked a 48th minute penalty to level the scores once more.
Albion, who featured former Old Belvedere and Leinster ‘A’ scrum half Ruairi Cushion in their ranks, could not convert their territorial advantage into points and Ian McKinley and Berne eased the pressure on the visitors with some effective long range kicks.
Leinster, coached by Colin McEntee, upped the ante with a string of forceful breaks instigated by replacement scrum half Simon Keogh, out-half McKinley and the impressive Berne.
A cynical body check on Berne by Tonga centre Sione Tu’ipulotu, with five minutes to go, led to the match-winning penalty.
The former Australia ‘A’ international dusted himself off and fired the ball through the uprights to seal the victory for McEntee’s charges and complete a winning first weekend in the cross border competition for the three Irish provinces.
PLYMOUTH ALBION: Mark Lee; Ben Mercer, Keni Fisilau, Sione Tu’ipulotu, Liam Gibson; Alex Davies, Ruairi Cushion; Martin Rice, Joe Clark, Ryan Hopkins, James Waterhouse, Tom Skelding, Wayne Sprangle, Rory Watts-Jones, Kyle Marriott (capt).
Replacements used: Mike Lewis for Waterhouse (75 mins), Gary Kingdom for Lee (78), George Porter for Hopkins, Graham Dawe for Clark (both 80). Not used: Kieran Hallett, Matthew Hopper, Darren Clayton.
LEINSTER: Niall Morris, Michael Keating, Brendan Macken, Shaun Berne, David Kearney; Ian McKinley, Paul O’Donohoe (capt); Ronan McCormack, John Fogarty, Jack McGrath, Trevor Hogan, Ciaran Ruddock, Rhys Ruddock, Dominic Ryan, Stephen Keogh.
Replacements used: Richardt Strauss for Fogarty (44 mins), Paul Ryan for R Ruddock, Simon Keogh for O’Donohoe (both 62), Eoin O’Malley for Macken (71), Andrew Conway for Kearney (75), Stewart Maguire for McGrath (80). Not used: Mark Flanagan.
Referee: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)