Leinster ‘A’ made it three wins out of three in the British & Irish Cup, again taking maximum points in a 46-35 victory, as they overcame a possible stumbling block when they came up against Bristol tonight.
Bristol, the English Championship leaders, may have had eight internationals in their starting line-up but the visitors showed that they were prepared to test them. On a bitterly cold evening, the crowd were treated to six tries in the opening 40 minutes as Leinster ‘A’ went into the break with a 27-21 lead.
“It was a bit of turkey-shoot out there so from that perspective we are a little disappointed because nobody likes conceding 35 points, but we’ll take the five points and move on to next Friday,” said Leinster ‘A’ head coach Noel McNamara.
“Bristol have an excellent attacking system and we knew what to expect but unfortunately we didn’t deal with it. It was fantastic for our young side to come up against such opposition but the challenge now is to back it up next week at Donnybrook.”
It was Leinster ‘A’ who took an early lead with out-half Cathal Marsh landing 25-metre penalties from either side of the Ashton Gate pitch, making it 6-0 inside the opening five minutes. It was just reward for some patient build-up play from the pack and Marsh’s half-back partner Charlie Rock.
Roared on by a 6,254-strong crowd, Bristol had the ideal response when flanker Sam Graham, on his competitive debut, crashed over from a well-executed lineout drive. Some slick handling out to the left saw former England winger Tom Varndell raid over for the hosts’ second try on the quarter hour mark. Callum Sheedy supplied both conversions for a 14-6 lead.
The pace of the game showed no signs of relenting and centre Gavin Mullin's 27th-minute try, which saw him juggle a pass before finishing off a swift counter attack. Playing an advantage for a knock-on, Ciaran Frawley scooped up a loose ball just inside the Bristol hald and linked with Peter Dooley who carried up to the 22 and combined with the supporting Tommy O'Brien, who showed great awareness to ship a tackle and pass to the his left where Mullin was able to ground the ball beside the posts.
That kicked off a spate of scores just before half-time. Leinster ‘A’ captain Bryan Byrne crossed from a maul just two minutes later with Marsh’s two conversions making it 20-14. Some crisp passing unlocked the province’s defence for Mat Protheroe to scamper over by the posts, but the final score of an entertaining first half went to Leinster ‘A’ with five minutes remaining. Another powerful maul sent hooker Byrne over from close range with Marsh again converting for a 27-21 scoreline.
Supporters barely had time to get back into the seats from the interval before Jack Kelly's scintillating break down the left led to Mullin’s second try and the bonus point score. The conversion was missed and after Bristol were held up from a bout of forward pressure, an excellent counter attack produced a converted Ian Nagle score. The big lock stretched over from close range to give Leinster ‘A’ an enviable 39-21 advantage.
The province’s first-up tackling and scramble defence thwarted Bristol’s attempts to respond, with Trinity clubman Kelly showing great commitment to deny Varndell from a dangerous cross-field kick. Persistent infringements from the visitors saw scrum half Rock sin-binned with around 10 minutes remaining.
Despite Leinster 'A' being a man down, a terrific break by Josh Murphy over halfway saw him gallop up the right wing before passing inside for flanker Peadar Timmins to stay clear of full-back Protheroe and score his side’s sixth try of the night It was converted by Marsh who ended the game with a 16-point kicking haul.
Bristol did at least bite back for a try-scoring bonus point late on. Their replacements came to the rescue with tries from Jack Tovey and Rhodri Williams, both converted by Billy Searle. No sooner had Rock returned to the action than Marsh became the second Leinster ‘A’ player to be shown a yellow card. However, the visitors’ defence stood firm and 11 points was the difference in the end.
Leinster ‘A’ have a five-point lead at the top of Pool 2 of the British & Irish Cup, with Doncaster Knights (10 points) and Bristol (6) trailing them. McNamara’s youngsters will host Pat Lam’s Bristol side in the return fixture at Donnybrook next Friday (kick-off 7.30pm).
Referee: Gareth John (Wales)