REPORT: Leinster 33 Connacht 29
REPORT: Leinster 33 Connacht 29
December 22, 2018 / Dave Mervyn
Andrew Porter’s last-gasp try topped off a phenomenal late fight-back as Leinster Rugby overcame Connacht 33-29 in an enthralling nine-try Guinness PRO14 derby at the RDS Arena.
The burly Ireland prop scored at the end of a strength-sapping 41 phases, denying Connacht their first win over Leinster in Dublin since September 2002. Trailing by 17 points, the hosts reeled off tries from Seán Cronin, Dan Leavy and Porter in the final 12 minutes to move 16 points clear at the top of Conference B.
The defending champions, showing 12 changes from last week’s European victory over Bath, were 19-7 down at half-time as Connacht’s electric attack produced tries from Cian Kelleher, Darragh Leader and man of the match Jack Carty, who converted two of them.
Scores from Academy centre Conor O’Brien and Mick Kearney – his first for the province – kept Leinster in touch, only for Caolin Blade to bag the westerners’ 47th-minute bonus point and Carty added a penalty. However, Leinster’s bench eventually had the bigger say with that breathtaking three-try finish.
Tiernan O’Halloran’s late removal before kick-off brought Bundee Aki into the visitors’ line-up, and it was a slick fifth-minute move involving Carty and Aki that opened up the Leinster defence and sent winger Kelleher over in the far right corner for the opening try.
Following Carty’s missed conversion, Leinster built pressure from a Hugo Keenan and Caelan Doris-led break before Jamison Gibson-Park sniped around the side of an 11th-minute ruck and sent the supporting O’Brien in under the posts. Ross Byrne converted for a 7-5 lead.
The momentum swung back to Connacht with Paul Boyle’s relieving penalty and then Tom Farrell’s inviting offload out of a tackle sending pacy full-back Leader scything through for a terrific 22nd-minute seven-pointer. Blade went close to setting up Aki for a try soon after, with the terrier-like scrum half popping up everywhere.
It was Blade’s rip in the tackle which launched Connacht forward for Carty’s 33rd-minute try, captain Jarrad Butler’s bulldozing carry gobbling up further yards before the out-half’s clever chip and collect saw him nip over beside the posts. Carty and Blade also foiled try-scoring opportunities for Doris and Rory O’Loughlin from a charge-down and a kick through respectively.
Leo Cullen’s men were over the whitewash within three minutes of the restart, a strong 17-phase attack ending with Kearney muscling over from close range. However, barely three minutes later, Carty’s dummy and burst of pace through midfield saw him slice through to set up his half-back partner Blade for a converted try.
Connacht were on the cusp of a famous win – their sixth in a row under Andy Friend – when Carty nailed a long-range 63rd-minute penalty, rewarding Shane Delahunt’s speed at the breakdown. Crucially, Leinster kept their composure and patience as they began to wear down Connacht’s tiring defence, both in the tight and out wide.
The hosts had 10 internationals on the pitch in the closing stages, that experience proving telling as a scrum penalty and maul powered Cronin over in the 69th minute. Byrne converted and also brilliantly added the extras to Leavy’s try two minutes later, the flanker crossing in the right corner after some lovely interplay involving Adam Byrne, O’Loughlin and Scott Fardy.
What had seemed an unlikely win was now within Leinster’s reach, and despite the best efforts of Aki and company, Connacht could not hold out. The streetwise blue-clad pack carried towards the posts before influential replacement Porter rumbled over to provide a stunning end to his side’s final home game of 2018.
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