REPORT: Leinster ‘A’ 50 Bristol 15
December 15, 2017 / Dave Mervyn
Leinster ‘A’ moved within touching distance of a British & Irish Cup quarter-final place thanks to a comprehensive 50-15 Pool 2 win over Bristol at Donnybrook tonight, writes Daire Walsh.
Noel McNamara’s Leinster ‘A’ side were searching for their fourth consecutive bonus point victory, and were able to include a number of experienced players in their starting XV. The front row of Ed Byrne, captain Bryan Byrne and Michael Bent have all seen senior action this season, while Cathal Marsh, Nick McCarthy and Ian Nagle also provided a strong backbone for the hosts.
Leinster ‘A’ recorded an impressive 46-35 triumph over Bristol at Ashton Gate last Friday, and although there was no homecoming for Ian Madigan, ex-Leinster prop Jack O’Connell, a two-time B&I Cup winner with his native province, featured for the English Championship outfit.
In order to avoid a backlash from the visitors, Leinster ‘A’ needed to hit the ground running on a dry evening at the south Dublin venue. Indeed, with just over six minutes gone on the clock at the Old Wesley end, they had already built up a 14-point advantage.
They got themselves on the front foot from the opening moments of the contest, and at the end of a prolonged attack, loosehead Ed Byrne drove over the whitewash. This score was followed by a superb touchline conversion from Marsh, and he also supplied the extras to a subsequent five-pointer from flying winger Tommy O’Brien.
The current Ireland Under-20 international raced away for a routine effort on the left flank, but just when it looked like Leinster ‘A’ were in cruise control, Bristol, who made 12 changes from the first game and fielded a side with an average age of 23, opened their account in fine style.
Full-back Jack Wallace almost squeezed through under intense pressure from the Leinster ‘A’ rearguard, and following an audacious pass out wide from Billy Searle, number 8 Sam Graham touched down with relative ease for a 14-5 scoreline.
Leinster ‘A’ quickly re-asserted their authority with a third try on the quarter hour mark. Peadar Timmins offered forward momentum with a powerful drive into the Bristol 22, and when the play was switched towards the left touchline, centre Conor O’Brien was on hand to make it 21-5.
A memorable run on the right wing by Hugo Keenan almost produced the bonus point score at the end of the opening-quarter, before scrum half Nick McCarthy ultimately secured a fourth try from a breakaway move on 28 minutes.
McNamara’s youngsters had to be careful not to offer Bristol a potential route back into the match, but thanks to McCarthy’s second try at the end of the half – a neat finish from a close range maul – they brought a seemingly insurmountable 33-5 lead into the interval.
Yet, with Leinster head coach Leo Cullen in attendance, the province’s players were not prepared to rest on their laurels when the second period got underway. It took them just seven minutes to add to their tally, as number 8 Timmins was left with the simple task of touching down under the posts.
Another successful Marsh conversion meant that Leinster ‘A’ had registered 26 points without reply, and as the half developed, they continued to pile the pressure on the overworked Bristol defence.
Skipper Bryan Byrne was eager to at least match his twin brother Ed in the scoring stakes, and he completed another patient attack in the right corner on the 50-minute mark. The all-action front rower played under McNamara during his time at Clongowes Wood College, and after gathering possession at the back of a lineout maul, he brought the Leinster ‘A’ try count up to eight.
It was turning into a damage limitation exercise for Bristol, but courtesy of fresh legs from their replacements bench, they managed to eat into the deficit inside the final quarter.
A neat pass by James Newey put fellow replacement Iwan Hughes through for a try in the left corner, and following a terrific catch in the air from a cross-field kick, the latter brought Bristol to within touching distance of their own bonus point.
They had managed the same feat on home soil seven days earlier, and even though their lack of accuracy from the kicking tee saw Leinster ‘A’ holding onto a substantial advantage, there was some incentive for them in the closing stages.
Their attacking options were limited by resolute defence from the hosts, though, and with two rounds still to play, Leinster ‘A’ are five points clear at the top of Pool 2. Second-placed Doncaster Knights picked up a 42-27 bonus point victory away to the Cardiff Blues Premiership Select on Saturday.
REFEREE: Adam Jones (WRU)