A 73rd minute penalty from Jonathan Sexton proved to be the difference between the sides as Leinster held on for a tight win over Heineken Cup debutants Exeter Chiefs at the RDS…Joe Schmidt post-match reaction…
Jonathan Sexton’s nine-point kicking haul proved to be just enough for the defending champions, who watched Ignacio Mieres miss an injury-time penalty for Exeter.
Led by man-of-the-match Tom Hayes, the Chiefs put in a strong performance in their first outing in European rugby’s top tournament.
However, out-half Gareth Steenson missed two of his four penalty attempts as his opposite number Sexton helped Leinster grind out a gritty three-point victory.
Speaking after the game, Leinster head coach Joe Schmidt said: “It was no surprise to us how tough they (Exeter) were to break down. As I’ve said all week, I think they are a formidable side, well-coached and well organised.
“Having said that, it’s not often we get in the 22 four times in the first half, and get nothing from it. That’s down to us, we have to be more accurate than that.
“We were a little bit inaccurate and we have got to be patient enough to build scores against a really good team. One really good positive is that it’s our first game this season where the opposition hasn’t scored a try. That is a real positive to take out of it.
“Obviously, if we had conceded one, we wouldn’t have won. So, you’ve got to start with a couple of positives, and a couple of ‘work ons’. We’ll be taking a sample of those during the week.”
Sexton was off target with his first shot at the posts, but converted his second after Exeter captain Hayes was caught offside.
The Chiefs clearly relished the physicality of a breathless beginning, with both sides building off quick ruck ball and some strong carrying from the forwards.
Steenson flicked a penalty effort to the left and wide before Exeter enjoyed their first productive spell as Jason Shoemark, Ian Whitten and Simon Alcott all made good ground.
The visitors were finding space on the flanks and Ian Madigan, starting at full-back for the injured Rob Kearney, was tested by a kick to the right corner as Matt Jess closed him down.
Leinster were able to absorb Exeter’s advances, showing confidence in their well-organised defence, and Steenson suffered a second penalty miss, lacking the required direction on a long range attempt seven minutes before the break.
Nevertheless, the hosts were forced back on the defensive as they had to soak up further pressure from Exeter, who ended the half with a two-thirds share of possession.
Rob Baxter’s men managed to level the game on the stroke of half-time, Steenson splitting the posts after the Leinster front row had popped up in a scrum.
The home side improved in the third quarter, Richardt Strauss and Jamie Heaslip driving forward with ball in hand with Sexton and Eoin Reddan wielding more influence.
Sexton restored Leinster’s narrow lead with a 54th minute penalty, however his kicking radar with off five minutes later and Exeter soon grinded their way downfield.
Sireli Naqelevuki and Dean Mumm added their weight to the Devon club’s attack and a ruck offence allowed Steenson kick them level with 15 minutes to go.
A wind-backed Madigan watched his monster drop goal effort go past the right hand post, while a timely turnover saw Sexton release Isa Nacewa up the left wing as Leinster looked to respond.
Better ball retention during a short rain shower got Leinster back within scoring range. It did the trick as Exeter replacement Ben Moon tackled from an offside position and Sexton slotted the central penalty for 9-6.
There were signs of further improvements in Leinster’s game as Leo Cullen produced a lineout steal, the excellent Brian O’Driscoll and Jamie Heaslip grappled for a turnover and Heinke van der Merwe was first to a loose ball on the ground.
But they had to endure a nervous final few seconds as Steenson’s replacement Mieres lined up a last-gasp penalty from just inside the home half. The Puma’s kick missed to the right though, leaving the four points to Leinster.
LEINSTER SCORERS: J. Sexton (3 penalties)
EXETER CHIEFS SCORERS: G. Steenson (2 penalties)
15: Ian Madigan
14: Andrew Conway
13: Brian O’Driscoll
12: Fergus McFadden
11: Isa Nacewa
10: Jonathan Sexton
9: Eoin Reddan
1: Cian Healy (Heinke van der Merwe, 52)
2: Richardt Strauss (Sean Cronin, 73)
3: Mike Ross
4: Leo Cullen CAPTAIN
5: Damian Browne (Devin Toner, 52)
6: Kevin McLaughlin
7: Shane Jennings
8: Jamie Heaslip
REPLACEMENTS NOT USED: Jamie Hagan, Leo Auva’a, Jordi Murphy, Isaac Boss, Fionn Carr.
EXETER CHIEFS: Luke Arscott; Ian Whitten, Phil Dollman, Jason Shoemark, Matt Jess; Gareth Steenson, Haydn Thomas; Brett Sturgess, Simon Alcott, Carl Rimmer, Tom Hayes CAPTAIN, James Hanks, Tom Johnson, James Scaysbrook, Richard Baxter.
REPLACEMENTS: Chris Whitehead, Chris Budgen, Ben Moon, Aly Muldowney, Dean Mumm, Will Chudley, Ignacio Mieres, Sireli Naqelevuki.
REFEREE: Pascal Gauzere (FFR), ASSISTANT REFEREES: Jean-Luc Rebollal, Cyril Lafon (both FFR), 4th OFFICIAL: Brian MacNeice (IRFU), 5th OFFICIAL: Brian Montayne (IRFU), TMO: Daniel Irazoqui (FFR).