Irish edge out Leinster in Dublin
October 9, 2009
London Irish lock Bob Casey produced a man of the match display in his home town
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Defending champions Leinster were beaten 12-9 by London Irish in their opening Heineken Cup Pool 6 clash in Dublin
Replacement fly-half Ryan Lamb emerged as the match-winner for the Premiership side with a penalty two minutes from time in a gruelling and enthralling encounter at a packed-out RDS. Two penalties apiece from in-form Leinster fly-half Jonny Sexton and London Irish fullback Peter Hewat saw the sides enter the break all-square before Lamb put his side ahead midway through the second period. Sexton levelled things up again with just five minutes remaining but the visitors had the final say in a frenetic finale.
The result was due reward for a battling defensive display from Irish who were on the back foot for much of the game and underlines their title credentials while Leinster were left to rue the lack of a cutting edge to accompany their impressive opening and a clinical kicking game.
Fresh from their recent mauling of Irish rivals Munster, the home side began brightly with a clear attacking intent and talismanic skipper Brian O'Driscoll went close to scoring in the second minute only to be denied by a joint tackle from Hewat and No.8 Chris Hala'ufia. But Leinster were rewarded for their early pressure with Sexton's first penalty.
The Leinster No.10 was brimming with confidence, riding on the back of a dominant pack, but he was wide of the mark with a drop goal attempt soon after. O'Driscoll orchestrated a determined Leinster defensive effort that looked to shackle the free-scoring Premiership high-flyers but their indiscipline handed Hewat the chance to level the scores after ten minutes.
Sexton then inspired an incisive move with a neat step on half way that eventually saw Hala'ufia penalised for a high tackle. Sexton nailed the kick from out wide to edge his side ahead once more.
Leinster continued to be frustrated by the resolute Irish defence with the lively fullback Isa Nacewa and winger Luke Fitzgerald combining well before a solid tackle from fly-half Chris Malone dislodged the ball. Irish lock Nick Kennedy and Leinster flanker Shane Jennings then came to blows with the Englishman accusing his rival of gouging and that confrontation appeared to raise the intensity of the encounter.
Tempers soon boiled over and referee Romain Poite singled out Leinster No.8 Jamie Heaslip and Irish hooker David Paice in the aftermath with both players being sent to the sin-bin. But the seemingly harsh punishment appeared to defuse the situation.
Malone was then well wide with a drop goal attempt before Sexton was off-target with a penalty but Hewat stepped up to slot his second before the break when winger Shane Horgan was penalised for not releasing the ball.
Irish stepped up their efforts after the break and a great chase from winger Sailosi Tagicakibau forced Sexton into a penalty but Hewat was unable to slot the kick. The Irish fullback was then on the end of some good work by centre Seilala Mapusua but the scrambling Leinster defence snuffed out the threat.
And on the back of a superb lineout, featuring the towering Kennedy and man of the match Bob Casey, the visitors took the initiative. The introduction of Lamb just short of the hour mark proved decisive but it was Hewat who was given the first opportunity to put his side in the lead after Jennings was penalised for going off his feet - but his long range effort slipped wide of the posts.
The battle-hardened Irish were not to be denied and when Fitzgerald was the next to be penalised Lamb made no mistake from almost half way. A sliced clearance from Fitzgerald then almost conjured an unlikely opening for Leinster with O'Driscoll gratefully collecting the ball before sparking the counter attack.
They were repelled time and time again but that hard work from Irish was undone with just five minutes remaining when a stray boot from Hala'ufia at a scrum allowed the assured boot of Sexton to level the scores again. But Leinster prop Mike Ross was guilty of an even more clumsy offside penalty a few moments later that allowed Lamb to put his side within reach of a famous win.
In a breathless finale Leinster surged forward looking to rescue the match but their calls for a high tackle on Sexton were denied before scrum-half Eoin Reddan appeared to kick the ball away expecting play to come back for the penalty. Instead Poite signalled the end of the game to the delight of the visitors.
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