Playing his first game in five months, captain Jonathan Sexton scored 13 points as Leinster defeated Harlequins 40-21 in an entertaining Bank of Ireland pre-season clash at the Aviva Stadium.
BANK OF IRELAND PRE-SEASON FRIENDLY: Friday, September 10
LEINSTER 40 HARLEQUINS 21, Aviva Stadium
Scorers: Leinster: Tries: Conor O’Brien, Scott Penny, Jonathan Sexton, Jamie Osborne, Ryan Baird, Liam Turner; Cons: Jonathan Sexton 4, Ross Byrne
Harlequins: Tries: Luke Northmore, Joe Marchant, Sam Riley; Cons: Tommy Allan 3
HT: Leinster 28 Harlequins 7
Six tries, including four in the first half, were enough to see off the Gallagher Premiership champions who showed their class throughout plenty of spells during the contest.
Also making a very welcome return to action for Leinster was centre Conor O’Brien, who is back from an ACL injury. He grabbed the opening try, getting on the end of an attack started by a Rob Russell break.
‘Quins, wearing their alternate white and maroon kit, hit back quickly through Luke Northmore who benefitted from Dino Lamb’s powerful drive forward.
Both sides had opportunities to edge themselves in front but last ditch defending from, firstly, winger Russell and then the visitors’ Tyrone Green prevented points at either end.
Andre Esterhuizen was shown a yellow card midway through the first half after a high tackle on Chris Cosgrave, with the 20-year-old Academy player later stretchered off the field.
‘Quins’ discipline slipped slightly when they were reduced to 14 men with multiple penalties conceded on their own try-line. Eventually, they succumbed to the blue wave when Scott Penny broke through to score.
The home side were not waiting long for a third when a lightning quick attack involving O’Brien and James Lowe was finished by Sexton, much t0 the delight of the home fans.
Sexton and O’Brien were involved again for the fourth try, providing some wonderful link-up play which was finished off by the outstretched Jamie Osborne.
Leinster had to defend their 28-7 lead up until the break, and Devin Toner was shown a yellow card for illegally preventing a try.
Despite that, Leo Cullen’s men started the second period in the same manner as the first with replacement Ryan Baird breaking a tackle to race to the line, within a couple of minutes.
And, similarly to the first stanza, ‘Quins hit back right away. Joe Marchant first took an offload from Danny Care all the way home – only to be called back for a forward pass – before latching on to a kick over the top to get his name on the score sheet.
As the second half wore on, play was broken up by regular set pieces preventing either team from getting into their flow.
One of those breaks in play led to the visitors’ third try. Sam Riley spotted a gap and pulled off the back of a maul to rush in for the score.
Leinster managed to get one last try with just minutes to go, Harlequins spilling possession behind their own line and Liam Turner was quickest to react.
With this valuable hit-out under their belts, Cullen’s charges will return to the Aviva Stadium in two weeks’ time when they host the Bulls in their United Rugby Championship opener.
LEINSTER: Chris Cosgrave; Rob Russell, Jamie Osborne, Conor O’Brien, James Lowe; Jonathan Sexton (capt), Luke McGrath; Peter Dooley, Dan Sheehan, Michael Ala’alatoa, Devin Toner, Brian Deeny, Rhys Ruddock, Scott Penny, Max Deegan.
Replacements: Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, James Tracy, Vakh Abdaladze, Ross Molony, Ryan Baird, Martin Moloney, Cormac Foley, Ross Byrne, David Hawkshaw, Liam Turner, Niall Comerford.
HARLEQUINS: Tyrone Green; Joe Marchant, Luke Northmore, Andre Esterhuizen, Louis Lynagh; Tommy Allan, Danny Care; Santiago Garcia Botta, Jack Walker, Simon Kerrod, Hugh Tizard, Dino Lamb, Tom Lawday, Jack Kenningham, Alex Dombrandt.
Replacements: Sam Riley, George Head, Fin Baxter, Will Collier, Craig Trenier, Matas Jurevicius, George Hammond, Luke Wallace, Archie White, Scott Steele, Will Edwards, Ross Chisholm, Lennox Anyanwu, Huw Jones, Cadan Murley, Nick David.