Leinster failed to fashion a match-winning a try in a frantic finish at the Sportsground as Connacht won tonight’s GUINNESS PRO12 top of the table clash by the minimum margin…
Kieran Marmion’s opportunist 13th-minute try – converted by his half-back partner AJ MacGinty – had wind-backed Connacht leading 7-0 at the break.
Ian Madigan kicked two penalties after 41 and 62 minutes and Leinster’s international-laden bench had them within a couple of metres of the try-line late on.
However, Pat Lam’s men defiantly held on to make it seven victories in a row in all competitions and hand Leinster their first interprovincial defeat of the season.
There was a flood of knock-ons in a typically helter-skelter opening to this derby showdown. Defences were on top but Garry Ringrose caught the eye on a couple of clever runs.
The deadlock was broken by the hosts when good hands from Bundee Aki and Tiernan O’Halloran released Niyi Adeolokun on the right and the winger’s kick over the top was dotted down by Marmion just ahead of his opposite number Luke McGrath.
MacGinty added a crisply-struck conversion for 7-0 and both he and O’Halloran used the elements to good effect to pin Leinster back in their 22.
Handling errors prevented Lam’s side from building further pressure and despite a fine ruck penalty win by Denis Buckley, MacGinty was short with the long range place-kick.
Leinster increased their share of possession and territory approaching half-time, and Ringrose briefly threatened from a kick through after O’Halloran had fumbled a loose pass in his 22.
Madigan opened Leinster’s account barely a minute into the second half and replacement Zane Kirchner made an immediate impact, breaking through midfield but with Dominic Ryan unable to hold onto his pass.
Replacement Robbie Henshaw, who will move to Leinster in the summer, injected some timely energy into Connacht’s play, however a lost lineout and another knock-on robbed them of momentum.
A turgid third quarter saw Connacht unable to break out of their own half, and Leinster unloaded their power-packed bench on the hour as Mike Ross, Devin Toner and Eoin Reddan entered the fray.
The otherwise excellent Marmion was caught offside from a scrum, allowing Madigan to boot the visitors to within a single point with 17 minutes left.
Connacht blew a lineout opportunity after Leinster’s front row had collapsed, but the home side’s dogged defence saw them triumph despite a concerted late surge from their provincial rivals that included strong carries from Sean Cronin and tireless youngsters Josh van der Flier and Ross Molony, along with a series of five-metre scrums.
The loss leaves Leinster second in the PRO12 standings, ahead of next Saturday’s interpro meeting with Munster at the Aviva Stadium. The third-placed Scarlets are now just two points behind Leo Cullen’s charges after beating the Ospreys earlier today.
CONNACHT SCORERS: K. Marmion (1 try), AJ MacGinty (1 conversion)
LEINSTER SCORERS: I. Madigan (2 penalties)
CONNACHT: Tiernan O’Halloran; Niyi Adeolokun, Bundee Aki, Peter Robb, Matt Healy; AJ MacGinty, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Nathan White, Quinn Roux, Aly Muldowney, Sean O’Brien, Eoin McKeon, John Muldoon CAPTAIN.
REPLACEMENTS: Dave Heffernan, Ronan Loughney, Finlay Bealham, Andrew Browne, James Connolly, Caolin Blade, Shane O’Leary, Robbie Henshaw.
15. Isa Nacewa CAPTAIN
14. Fergus McFadden
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Ben Te’o
11. Luke Fitzgerald (Zane Kirchner, 37)
10. Ian Madigan
9. Luke McGrath (Eoin Reddan, 60)
1. Cian Healy (Jack McGrath, 46)
2. Richardt Strauss (Sean Cronin, 50)
3. Tadhg Furlong (Mike Ross, 60)
4. Ross Molony
5. Hayden Triggs (Devin Toner, 60)
6. Dominic Ryan
7. Josh van der Flier
8. Rhys Ruddock (Jamie Heaslip, 65)
REPLACEMENT NOT USED: Noel Reid.
REFEREE: Nigel Owens (WRU); ASSISTANT REFEREES: Peter Fitzgibbon, Stuart Gaffikin (both IRFU); CITING COMMISSIONER: John Cole (IRFU); TMO: Olly Hodges (IRFU).