STUART BATHGATE @ the DAM Health Stadium
EDINBURGH’s play-off hopes may not be dead yet, but they are looking decidedly peaky, to say the least, after this seventh defeat in eight URC outings. Mike Blair’s side managed to secure a bonus point with the last try of an open and entertaining game, but with only three regular-season fixtures left it is wins they need, not minor consolations.
The home team gave as good as they got for much of the first half against the unbeaten league leaders, who have now won all 15 of their league outings so far in this campaign. The second half, however, was a different story, as Leinster maintained their intensity while Edinburgh’s standards dropped, above all in defence.
The Irish team ended up scoring seven tries, six of them converted, to Edinburgh’s four tries, two conversions and a penalty. For a side without no fewer than 17 internationals, it was quite simply an awesome performance – albeit one at a level which we have now come to expect.
Blair was without six of his leading players through Scotland commitments, and their return after the Six Nations could be crucial to Edinburgh’s hopes of salvaging something from a season that is currently in danger of drawing painfully to an unrewarding close. Emiliano Boffelli and Stuart McInally were both back from injury here and their quality was soon evident, but too many of their team-mates were some way below their best.
“I was really proud of what we put on the pitch in the first half,” Blair said after a result that saw his team drop to 12th in the 16-team table. “In the second half they [Leinster] got a huge amount of momentum in their attack. They were very efficient at the breakdown and very good coming on to ball.
“They were good – but we need to be better as well. We need to slow the ball down and get bodies in front.
“It may sound strange to say, but there was some gutsy defence in that second half. We got a bonus point, but we are aware that playing at home there is no way we should just be content with a bonus point.”
It was Boffelli who opened the scoring, from a Ben Vellacott pass after good work by McInally and Marshall Sykes. But the full-back missed the conversion, and that allowed Leinster to take the lead minutes later when Max Deegan shrugged off a Vellacott tackle all too easily to equalise.
Harry Byrne’s conversion put the visitors in front, but that lead did not last long either. An Edinburgh move up the right quickly gained ground, and when the ball came back infield Boan Venter finished off from a couple of metres out. Boffelli was on target this time to make it 12-7, and stretched that lead by three points with a penalty minutes later.
However, Leinster hit back when man-of-the-match Scott Penny plunged over, and they then regained the lead late in the first half when Michael Milne finished off with ease. Byrne’s conversion of the prop’s score made it 15-21 at half-time.
Minutes after the restart, the lead extended into double figures when Dave Kearney touched down in the left corner from a crossfield kick. Edinburgh hit back when Boffelli claimed his second try of the evening, but by this time it had become obvious that Leinster were able to score almost at will, and the visitors restored their double-figures advantage when Milne scored his second from close range.
Michael Ala’alatoa and Penny got tries six and seven for the visitors midway through the second period. Leinster slackened off somewhat after that, and Edinburgh had the last word minutes from time when Sam Skinner touched down and Charlie Savala converted. Leinster replacement Brian Deeny was sent to the sin bin for an offence leading up to that try.
Edinburgh: E Boffelli (J van der Walt 71); D Hoyland, M Bennett, J Lang, W Goosen (C Dean 32); C Savala, B Vellacott (C Shiel 60); B Venter (J Jack 71), S McInally (D Cherry 53), L Atalifo (E Millar-Mills 53), M Sykes (J Hodgson 60), S Skinner, L Crosbie (captain), H Watson, V Mata (N Haining 18-27, 70).
Leinster: C Frawley (C Tector 69); J Larmour (R Russell 60), L Turner, J Osborne, D Kearney; H Byrne, L McGrath (N McCarthy 60); M Milne (J Boyle 60), J McKee (L Barron 55), M Ala’alatoa (T Clarkson 60), R Molony, J Jenkins (B Deeny 55), R Ruddock (captain, W Connors 55), S Penny, M Deegan.
Referee: C Evans (Wales).
Edinburgh: Tries: Boffelli 2, Venter, Skinner. Cons: Boffelli, Savala. Pen: Boffelli.
Leinster: Tries: Deegan, Penny 2, Milne 2, Kearney, Ala’alatoa. Cons: Byrne 6.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 5-0; 5-5; 5-7; 10-7; 12-7; 15-7; 15-12; 15-14; 15-19; 15-21 (h-t) 15-26; 20-26; 20-31; 20-33; 20-38; 20-40; 20-45; 20-47; 25-47; 27-47.
Yellow card –
Leinster: Deeny 77.