Leinster 17-14 Connacht
Saturday afternoon saw the Magners League clash of League leaders Leinster and last place Connacht in Dublin’s RDS stadium in Ballsbridge. The return of Leinster’s Irish internationals – who would no doubt be eager to bounce back after the heartbreaking loss to Scotland a week ago – led many to believe that the leagues pace setters would simply out-class their struggling opponents en-route to a cricket score victory. This, however, was by no means the case as it took a last minute miracle drop-goal by out-half Jonny Sexton to cap-off a less than convincing come back by the home side and deprive their provincial rivals a historical and shocking upset, by 17-14.
The stadium was buzzing prior to kick off, as an obvious feeling of expectation oozed from the home fans. However, this euphoric sense of confidence was soon dampened in the opening minutes of the match when Connacht winger, Fionn Carr, tore through his opponents defense to score the matches opening try under the posts. This was a shocking beginning to the preceedings and one that sent the sporadic sprinkles of Connachts traveling fans into rupterous celebration. The conversion by out-half Miah Nikora was almost instantly countered by a penalty from Leinster’s Jonny Sexton to keep the boys in blue within touching distance of their opponents, who appeared to be growing in confidence with every passing minute. Another breakaway try by Carr against the run of play saw Nikora complete a seven point score to place the visitors in the comanding lead of 3-14.
The story now seemed set for a resilient comeback by the star-studded Leinster, which would no doubt rely upon the boot of Sexton to help chip away at the defecit. Aside from a few counter attacking movements from the visitors, Leinster assumed a comanding hold on possession. They threatened the Connacht defense with the sort of rugby that earned them the top prize in Europe last season and were soon rewarded with a try from Rob Kearney on the half-hour mark. A missed conversion by Sexton, however, left the score at 8-14, and was a sign of things to come from the Leinster number 10.
The home team began the second half in aggressive pursuit of the lead. An early penalty by Sexton put his side within three points of leveling the tie and injected some life into their supporters, who had been significantly deflated after a disappointing first half. A response from the away side signalled the first threatening intent since Carr touched down half way throught the previous first half and the game became more evenly contested. Another penalty from Sexton ten minutes from time nullified the Connacht lead and a home win that had been so heavily forseen appeared to be on its way.
The already overachieving Connacht unit showed no signs of giving up, however, and started to gush forward to the Leinster line. Much to the surprise of the RDS population, the visitors crossed the line with only minutes left in the contest, or at least seemed to but for a video review ruling that the ball was held up by a desperate Leinster hand. Connacht chances of a famous victory seemed lost. It was now Leinster’s turn to win the match and not surprisingly the responsibility fell to their out-half who, after missing a game winning penalty from the half way line, managed to put his misfortunate kicking performance to the back of his mind and launched a magnificent drop-goal from his opponents ten meter line to break Connacht hearts and earn his team a terrific comeback victory of 17-14. The crowd greeted the final whistle with a resounding cheer of relief.
With a tough couple of weeks ahead, Leinster will need to find their form and improve upon a performance that coach Michael Cheika described as “Mediocre at best”. They currently sit in pole position in the Magners League and will travel to reigning champions Munster next week.