Leinster earned their first GUINNESS PRO12 win at the Liberty Stadium since September 2009 as they took a 22-9 verdict over the Ospreys in very wet conditions…
A seventh successive league victory moved Leo Cullen’s charges to the top of the table ahead of the Scarlets v Connacht game on Sunday afternoon.
Dave Kearney opened his try-scoring account for the season in the 17th minute, finishing smartly from Jonathan Sexton’s pinpoint cross-field kick. Sexton added a penalty ten minutes later, in response to an earlier drop goal and penalty from Dan Biggar, for a 10-6 half-time lead.
The Ospreys should have had more to show for a dominant third quarter. A third successful penalty from Biggar set up a tense final 20 minutes, but Leinster showed the greater cutting edge as replacement Noel Reid notched an excellent 65th minute try and Kearney completed his brace with four minutes remaining.
Man-of-the-match Sexton converted the latter’s score, wrapping up a result which confirmed the province’s first success in five trips to Wales and kept up the momentum built up through the festive period.
Ben Te’o and Jeff Hassler threatened on a couple of early breaks under a heavy rain shower. Leinster, who lost Jamie Heaslip to a sixth minute head injury, did well to force a knock-on from the Ospreys near their posts and win a penalty at the resulting scrum.
It took a well-struck drop goal from Biggar to open the scoring on the quarter hour mark, rewarding the home forwards for a series of pick and goes that took them into the Leinster 22.
Cullen’s side were winning the kicking battle in rain-soaked conditions, with captain Isa Nacewa doing really well to keep the ball in play following a Sexton cross-field delivery. The out-half repeated the trick off a subsequent lineout, kicking out to the left wing where Dave Kearney gathered and used his strength to power over past the covering Hanno Dirksen and Sam Davies.
Sexton converted but the Ospreys showed their attacking ability with a terrific run out of his half from teenage centre Owen Watkin. A rip in the tackle from Sexton lifted the pressure off Leinster, however his opposite number Biggar soon cut the gap to a single point – 7-6.
A good chase of a Sexton chip saw Brendon Leonard leak a central penalty which the former sent through the posts. Biggar missed a difficult penalty approaching the interval, with some smart tactical kicking from both Leonard and Biggar prior to that.
Into the second period, Leinster’s defensive workload increased as the likes of Ospreys back rowers Dan Baker and Sam Underhill made more of an impact. The more experienced visitors cleared the danger thanks to a Te’o-led choke tackle and Biggar suffered a second penalty miss from 43 metres out.
But further discipline from Leinster – Sean O’Brien was the guilty party for infringing at a ruck – allowed Biggar to split the posts from a central position and as the rain grew heavier, Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric entered the fray.
A fumble forward denied O’Brien an opportunity to charge through into scoring range, but the Leinster attack clicked in superb fashion with 65 minutes on the clock. Sexton and Reid combined to put Te’o thundering up into the 22 and his instinctive offload was brilliantly held by the onrushing Reid who finished with aplomb in the right corner.
After Sexton’s conversion attempt bounced away off the left hand post, Leinster managed to hold the Ospreys at arm’s length. The visitors carried more of an attacking threat as they pressed from an excellent touchfinder from Sexton, Tom Denton did really well to dive on a loose ball and almost set up a try-scoring opportunity on the right, while fellow replacement Sean Cronin gobbled up the metres on a memorable midfield break.
Then, from a lineout near the 22-metre line, replacement Eoin Reddan ran intelligently to create a hole for Dave Kearney to go through and he muscled his way over close to the posts. Sexton’s conversion was the final scoring act of a well-contested tie.
OSPREYS SCORERS: D. Biggar (2 penalties and 1 drop goal)
LEINSTER SCORERS: D. Kearney (2 tries), N. Reid (1 try), J. Sexton (2 conversions and 1 penalty)
OSPREYS: Dan Evans; Jeff Hassler, Jonathan Spratt, Owen Watkin, Hanno Dirksen; Dan Biggar, Brendon Leonard; Paul James CAPTAIN, Scott Baldwin, Aaron Jarvis, Lloyd Ashley, Rory Thornton, James King, Sam Underhill, Dan Baker.
REPLACEMENTS: Scott Otten, Nicky Smith, Ma’afu Fia, Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Tom Habberfield, Sam Davies, Eli Walker.
15. Rob Kearney
14. Isa Nacewa CAPTAIN
13. Ben Te’o
12. Luke Fitzgerald (Noel Reid, 61)
11. Dave Kearney
10. Jonathan Sexton (Ian Madigan, 77)
9. Luke McGrath (Eoin Reddan, 68)
1. Jack McGrath (Peter Dooley, 68)
2. Richardt Strauss (Sean Cronin, 55)
3. Tadhg Furlong (Martin Moore, 55)
4. Devin Toner
5. Mike McCarthy (Tom Denton, 71)
6. Rhys Ruddock
7. Sean O’Brien
8. Jamie Heaslip (Dominic Ryan, 6)
REFEREE: David Wilkinson (IRFU); ASSISTANT REFEREES: Ben Whitehouse, Simon Rees (both WRU); CITING COMMISSIONER: Aurwel Morgan (WRU); TMO: Jon Mason (WRU).