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Leinster Extend Lead At League’s Summit

Leinster Extend Lead At League’s Summit

Leinster moved five points clear at the top of the Magners League on Saturday night but they made hard work of disposing of a second-string Ospreys outfit at the RDS.

There was a try apiece for Leinster’s starting back rowers – Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip and Stephen Keogh – during a promising first half. And when livewire winger Luke Fitzgerald dived over for the bonus-point try with 30 minutes left on the clock, there looked to be a lot more in the home side’s tank.

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But, driven on by replacement Filo Tiatia, the Ospreys dominated the closing stages and were unfortunate not to follow up on flanker Ben Lewis’ 77th-minute try. Had they done so, a losing bonus point was theirs and Leinster’s victory – their fourth over the Welsh region in five games – would have been somewhat soured.

With Wales coach Warren Gatland and Ireland boss Eddie O’Sullivan both sitting in the stands, the players not only had league positions on their minds but also selection for the fast-approaching Six Nations Championship. And number 8 Heaslip certainly put his hand up for inclusion in O’Sullivan’s plans.

There was also a notable return to form for Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll, who looked to be over the worst of an ankle injury, and the fleet-footed Fitzgerald could just be the man to enliven a misfiring Irish back-line. The 20-year-old was a menace throughout and, had Leinster shown more precision in attack, they would have safely pocketed their bonus point by half-time.

The Ospreys travelled across with Nikki Walker and Paul James as the only surviving members from the team that started the New Year’s Eve defeat of Cardiff Blues.

After a helter-skelter opening, Leinster got their first try in the 25th minute. A lineout catch-and-drive from Malcolm O’Kelly saw the pack surge forward and Jennings was credited with the touchdown.

Felipe Contepomi converted and try number two quickly followed. It was truly Leinster at their best as O’Driscoll snaffled possession and good hands out to the left put Fitzgerald through a gap between Hale T-Pole and Andrew Lloyd. Contepomi charged up in support and he laid off for Fitzgerald to put the supporting Heaslip over under the posts.

The Ospreys, who opened their account with a 32nd-minute penalty from Shaun Connor, signalled their intent when a flat pass from Mike Phillips put Connor darting through a gap and in at the left corner for an opportunistic try.

Leinster then upped the tempo either side of half-time – a clever Contepomi offload put Keogh over for the province’s third try, giving them a 19-8 buffer at the break.

Contepomi then missed two penalty chances on the restart but after Phillips had been sin-binned for an ill-advised stamp right in front of referee Peter Allan, O’Driscoll and Girvan Dempsey linked up to put Fitzgerald over for his score.

Leinster promised more but never delivered, and with Tiatia adding some much-needed grunt to the Ospreys’ eight, Lewis piled over for a deserved try from close range.

Connor’s conversion was the last scoring act though as, despite losing prop Stephen Knoop to the sin-bin for killing the ball, Leinster staved off the visitors’ late revival.