Rory O’Loughlin, Jack Conan and Joey Carbery touched down between the 42nd and 51st minutes to secure Leinster’s third successive try-scoring bonus point, with Dave Kearney’s 71st-minute try – the province’s fifth of the day – capping off the first leg of their South African tour.
Full-back Carbery was one of four returning Ireland internationals slotted back into the starting XV by Leo Cullen, who also welcomed back Kearney, Noel Reid and Jordi Murphy, who was playing for the first time since his ACL injury against New Zealand last November.
Reid’s eighth-minute converted score, in reponse to a Masixole Banda penalty, was the only try of a sloppy first half from Leinster at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. They led 7-3 at the turnaround with the Southern Kings impressing in a number of areas, particularly at the breakdown.
James Ryan imposed himself in the lineout and in the physical exchanges on his first start in Leinster blue, and as the visitors went up a couple of gears on the resumption, their decisive three-try blast was followed by Kearney’s effort before replacement Jacques Nel bagged a consolation try for the gallant Kings.
Beaten heavily on their recent visits to Llanelli and Galway, the Kings played with pace and precision at the start of their home debut in the competition. The fruits of their labour was a third minute penalty from full-back Banda.
Conan and man-of-the-match Luke McGrath were both prominent as Leinster broke up the hosts’ early momentum, the latter’s tackle on his opposite number Rudi van Rooyen earning his side a lineout in an advanced position.
A slick back-line move, with Carbery to the fore, had Adam Byrne barging towards the try-line. Just a couple of phases later, and after a strong carry from Ed Byrne on his first start, centre Reid managed to muscle his way over to the right of the posts with Ross Byrne converting.
The Kings were able to absorb some further pressure, including a Ross Molony pass which just evaded McGrath’s grasp, before Leinster needed an important tackle from O’Loughlin to foil the South Africans’ threat out wide.
However, Leinster were being beaten at the breakdown, the efforts of Victor Sekekete and company winning a series of penalties as the visitors coughed up possession in both halves. Indeed, Cullen’s charges leaked eight turnovers by half-time with 18 missed tackles also registered.
Making his seasonal debut, Carbery blundered with a kick straight into touch and although he redeemed himself with a subsequent break from deep, Stephan Greeff lined him up with a crunching tackle into touch. The Kings’ scramble defence was also in good nick, Reid’s kick just having too much on it after an initial Sean Cronin steal and surging run from McGrath.
Leinster’s start to the second half was much improved. The accuracy and zip was back in their game, the returning Murphy’s well-won penalty and a brilliant Ross Byrne touchfinder launching them forward. Cronin was caught with a high tackle, but playing the advantage, O’Loughlin brushed off Yaw Penxe’s attempted tackle to touch down out wide on the left. Byrne missed the conversion on the far side, leaving it 12-3.
Leinster were beginning to hit their stride now, Andrew Porter driving up close to the posts before good ball retention set up number 8 Conan to power past van Rooyen and cross the whitewash just five minutes after O’Loughlin’s try. Ross Byrne swept the conversion over from the right wing.
Snappy passing preceded Leinster’s bonus point score, O’Loughlin’s nice in-and-out run and well-timed pass leading to Carbery crashing over in the left corner. Out-half Byrne booted a superb conversion from the touchline, stretching the gap out to 23 points.
Carbery then had a second try ruled out for a knock-on by Cian Healy, who had come on to win his 175th cap. There was an initial interception by Reid who broke from deep but was hauled down by the chasing Banda just as he reached the hosts’ 22.
The Kings reignited their attack entering the final quarter, their replacement scrum half Godlen Masimla looking dangerous from a kick through which led to a close-in penalty. Leinster’s solid defence of a maul and a subsequent scrum penalty saw them keep out Deon Davids’ side, but a brilliant counter attack – started by Banda near halfway – had the visitors’ line under threat again.
However, Leinster’s tackling and organisation in defence continued to frustrate the Kings. Healy, James Tracy and Michael Bent came on in the front row and won a penalty in Kings territory, the resulting possession from touch seeing replacement Cathal Marsh and Reid combine in a wraparound, with neat passes from Marsh, Adam Byrne and Larmour creating an opening for Kearney to mark his return with a try by the left corner flag.
Marsh’s conversion attempt went the wrong side of the right hand post, and the small but vocal home crowd were able to celebrate five minutes from time when Kurt Coleman’s pacy break and pass played in Nel for a hard-earned converted try by the posts. Tracy almost responded for Leinster but he was held up in the game’s final play.
Welcome the squad back from South Africa when they face Edinburgh at the RDS Arena on Friday, 22nd September! Tickets are available now from €20.