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Leinster 24 Connacht 35
Guinness Pro14, Round 10
January 2nd, 2021 – RDS Arena, Dublin
Leinster’s long unbeaten run in the Guinness PRO14 stretching back 26 games came to a juddering halt after being blitzed by a superb first half-performance by Andy Friend’s Connacht side. Leo Cullen’s men tasted defeat for the first time in all competitions this season and for the first time in this competition since a 14-13 loss to Ulster in Ravenhill towards the end of the 18/19 season.
Both sides had their preparation interrupted by COVID cases within their camp, a reflection of a worrying rise in case numbers in wider society. Both managers were forced to juggle their squads ahead of this clash.
Connacht started with the greater intensity. In their opening attack, Shane Delahunt was stopped just short of the Leinster line after a double hit from James Tracy and Peter Dooley. The opening score came 9 minutes in when Jack Carty intercepted a Ross Molony pass off the base of a ruck 40 meters out, to sprint clear for the score. Connacht then extended their lead when Carty was on the end of a team move and crashed over from short range, with a good shove from Quinn Roux ensuring the Athlone man wouldn’t be stopped.
Leinster responded almost instantly when Scott Penny found space on the fringe of a ruck to sprint in untouched for a try which got the home side off the mark. Liam Tuner had entered the fray just prior to that score as a HIA replacement for Jonathan Sexton, who would fail to return to play. Rory O’Loughlin moved into the fly-half slot for the remainder of the match.
A brace of Jack Carty penalties stretched the lead for the visitors. An Alex Wotton try after a good break from scrum-half Caolin Blade just prior to the interval gave Connacht a scarcely believable twenty point lead at the break.
Half-Time: Leinster 5 Connacht 25
Leo Cullen’s side came out after the interval with a heightened intensity and set about eating into that deficit. Luke McGrath sniped over three minutes after the restart. Then the score was converted by Jimmy O’Brien who had taken over kicking duties from McGrath. Who had missed his own conversion effort in the first half.
Jack Carty was on target from a penalty on 47 minutes to re-establish a two-score cushion. Just before the hour mark former Connacht hooker Sean Cronin brushed off a couple of would-be tacklers. He then fed Ryan Baird on the short-side, the young flanker then dived over from close range. O’Brien’s effort at the extra’s from the left-hand touchline was pulled across goal.
With the scoreboard now reading 17-28 Leo Cullen’s side began turning the screw. It appeared that Leinster had further cut the margin when David Hawkshaw cut in for a try a few minutes later. However, an infringement was spotted in the build-up by TMO Ollie Hodges. Sam Arnold’s path to make a tackle in midfield had been obstructed by Andrew Smith and the try was duly struck off.
Connacht weathered the Leinster storm. Both the win and the bonus point were ensured when Tom Daly intercepted on the 22’. He broke a covering tackle to grab a fourth Connacht try. An Ed Byrne try under the posts in the final play of the game gave Leinster the consolation of a bonus point themselves. However, all the plaudits go to the men from the west on their first win in Dublin since a last-minute Mark McHugh drop goal gave them a victory in Donnybrook way back in 2002.
Full-time: Leinster 24 Connacht 35
It’s first v second in both Conferences this weekend. In Conference A Leinster will host Ulster at the RDS on Friday night at 7:35. The northerners are now ten points ahead of Leinster. However, Leo Cullen’s side do have two games in hand. Meanwhile in Conference B Munster are on top of the pile after 8 games on 33 points. Connacht are 8 points behind on 25. For the home side, a win is a must if they are to catch Johann Van Grann’s side at the top.
Table reproduced from Pro14.rubgy