Leinster close on a high
December 27, 2009
Rob Kearney was on the scoresheet for Leinster © Getty Images
Cardiff Blues 42 - 13 Dragons Glasgow 25 - 12 Edinburgh Munster 35 - 3 Connacht Leinster 15 - 3 Ulster Scarlets 14 - 21 Ospreys
Rob Kearney and Jamie Heaslip rounded off their year in style by scoring Leinster's tries in a 15-3 victory over Ulster at the RDS.
The European champions made it 10 straight Magners League wins at their Dublin base, with the result moving them back to the top of the league table temporarily. Ulster fielded an under-strength team, with Grand Slam winners Paddy Wallace, Tom Court and Stephen Ferris rested as part of the IRFU Player Management Programme, while Willie Faloon replaced late cry-off David Pollock at openside flanker.
Leinster fly-half Shaun Berne opened the scoring with a penalty and Ulster were down to 14 men when flanker Thomas Anderson saw yellow for going over the top. Niall O'Connor levelled the scores but Kearney was immediately on hand to restore Leinster's lead.
Gordon D'Arcy made the score with a neat step and sweetly-delivered offload out of contact and Kearney raced over under the posts. Ulster's defence slipped up again six minutes into the second half when Kearney battled to gather his own garryowen inside the visitors' half and deftly passed to the supporting Heaslip, who swatted the cover aside with a powerful hand-off and galloped over to the left of the posts.
Elsewhere, a brace of tries from prop Paul James and a composed performance from fly-half Dan Biggar saw the Ospreys to a 21-14 victory over the Scarlets at Parc y Scarlets. Despite their early dominance of possession and territory the home side were unable to pull clear of their star-studded visitors, with only a Stephen Jones penalty separating the teams after the opening quarter.
Their lack of a cutting edge was exploited when James ghosted through a static Scarlets lineout to score, his Shane Williams-like swan dive drawing cheers from the travelling support before Biggar smashed over the conversion. A long-range penalty from Rhys Priestland reduced the Scarlets' deficit to one soon after and a harsh penalty against Gareth Owen produced a two-point lead at the break thanks to another accurate effort from Jones.
Immediately following the restart James collected a bobbling pass from Biggar to score his second and two quick-fire penalties from the fly-half cemented the Ospreys' lead. The home side rallied and camped on their opponents' line for 12 laboured phases, their pick and drive continually repelled by a watertight Ospreys defence led by an impressive back-row of Marty Holah, Jerry Collins and Ryan Jones. Biggar's third penalty made the points safe but the Scarlets secured a losing bonus-point as Jonathan Davies crashed over in the last play of the game.
Reigning champions Munster kept the heat on their playoff rivals with a 35-3 victory over Connacht at Thomond Park. There was no repeat of Connacht's 12-6 victory at this time last year as an under-strength Munster side was able to continue the momentum generated by a stunning Heineken cup victory over Perpignan last weekend. Springbok centre Jean de Villiers was again on the scoresheet, crossing for the bonus-point try on the final whistle as his stock continues to rise in Limerick.De Villiers started in midfield in a much-changed XV, with Paul O'Connell, David Wallace, Doug Howlett and Keith Earls among the players rested.
Quick-fire first-half tries from Ian Dowling and former Wasps hooker Damien Varley knocked the wind out of Michael Bradley's stubborn side, who were further damaged by a 32nd minute sin-binning for wing Troy Nathan. Ronan O'Gara chipped in with both conversions as well as a brace of first-half penalties, with his replacement Paul Warwick cancelling out Connacht's only points, a 40th minute penalty from reliable pivot Ian Keatley, by landing a penalty and rounding off their third score.
A Cardiff Blues blitz which brought 27 points in 20 minutes helped the home side turn a half-time deficit into a 42-13 bonus-point victory over their near neighbours and rivals the Dragons.
Newport Gwent Dragons began the day as the leading Welsh region in the Magners League, with a mathematical chance of going top. A 13-3 lead at the interval reflected their superiority over a lacklustre, ham-fisted Blues line-up, but whatever coach David Young said in the dressing room brought an incredible 39 points without reply as the Blues thrilled a 15,210 crowd with their biggest win at the new Cardiff City Stadium.
A try from winger Aled Brew gave the Dragons the advantage at the break but second half tries from lock Bradley Davies, winger Richard Mustoe, scrum-half Richie Rees, centre Tom Shanklin and winger Tom James carried the hosts to a thumping victory. Fullback Ben Blair weighed in with 17 points with the boot.