THERE is no shame in coming away from the Royal Dublin Showground with only a losing bonus point to show for all your efforts, especially if you have managed to score three tries to make Leinster really sweat towards the end.
And given the problems Edinburgh faced in the backline through injury, with flanker Hamish Watson ending up on the wing, the visiting team can walk away with a certain amount of pride at the way they continued to compete despite several crippling set-backs.
But there must also be a fair degree of frustration in the Edinburgh ranks at the way they twice scrabbled their way back into the contest only to immediately let Leinster back on to the front foot with some sloppy play
Edinburgh’s quest to qualify for the Champions Cup next year continues to hang in the balance. The solitary point they picked up in this match was enough to see them climb to sixth in the Pro 12 table, although that could easily change over the course of the weekend, and they could conceivably drop to eighth depending on what happens with Munster and Cardiff Blues.
The visitors took an early lead through a Jason Tovey penalty fro in front of the posts after Leinster were pulled up for handling in the ruck in just the second minute, but it didn’t take long for Leinster to wrestle control of this match and two Ian Madigan penalties put the hosts into a lead which they refused to relinquish throughout the remainder of the match.
Given the amount of territory and possession Leinster enjoyed during that opening 40 minutes it was something of a minor miracle that they were only three points ahead at the break.
Edinburgh also spent the last ten minutes of that first half a man down after Jamie Ritchie was yellow-carded for entering a ruck from the side, and it could have got even tougher for them when Phil Burleigh came within a whisker of suffering the same punishment for reaching out of a ruck and slapping the ball from scrum-half Luke McGrath’s hands.
Edinburgh were forced to reshuffle their backline at half-time, and this perhaps contributed to the ease with which Leinster prised their defence open in the 43rd minute, when Madigan sent Luke Fitzgerald clear with a neat inside pass. Edinburgh’s scrag defence managed to close the Irish winger down, but not before he had unloaded possession onto McGrath for an easy dot down under the posts.
Edinburgh bounced back almost immediately, when Tovey’s long pass found Tom Brown unmarked on left wing and he scampered over.
Having done so well to get themselves back into the game, the visitors then shot themselves in the foot with a sequence of thoughtless errors which started when Tovey missed touch with a simple penalty into the corner. That error was compounded when Du Preez collected Leinster’s clearance and sent a horrible pass in field to Sean Kennedy, who managed to pick the ball off his toes but then threw an even looser pass in the rough direction of Brown. Leinster centre Noel Reid could hardly believe his luck. He picked the ball out of the air and then sent Josh van der Flier rampaging home from around 30 yards.
Damien Hoyland thought he was going to claw Edinburgh back into the match when he intercepted inside his own 22 and pinned his ears back for an 80-yard dash to the line. He looked good for it, too, before correctly being called back for offside.
When Fergus McFadden went over in the left hand corner a few moments later to make it 25-8 with 24 minutes left on the clock, it looked like the contest was now definitively over, but Edinburgh grabbed a lifeline when Mike Allan picked out Madigan’s loose inside pass to dot down under the posts.
It was end to end stuff, and within a few minutes of the restart, McFadden had bounced Blair Kinghorn and WP Nel to grab his second, and his team’s bonus point securing fourth, try. But Edinburgh bounced back once again, with Kennedy nipping over from the base of a close-range ruck.
Edinburgh were now ten points behind with ten minutes to go, meaning another try would secure two bonus points, and when Hoyland sniffed out a gap and broke loose with an electrifying turn of pace, it looked like the visitors might grab that all important fourth touchdown – but he was taken out by a chin level shoulder charge from McFadden.
It was an outrageous challenge and the Leinster winger should have been carded – but referee Marius Mitrea and TMO Dermot Moloney somehow came to the conclusion that a penalty was sufficient punishment.
Sam Hidalgo Clyne kicked the points and Edinburgh collected the restart. They held onto the ball for the next five minutes – but couldn’t sniff out another chance, and eventually, after almost three minutes of injury time, van der Flier managed to snaffle the ball from Rory Sutherland at a ruck, and Leinster were off the hook.
Leinster: R Kearney; F McFadden (L Fitzgerald 77), B Te’o, N Reid, L Fitzgerald (D Kearney 75); I Madigan (C Marsh 65), L McGrath (E Reddan 65); C Healy (P Dooley 52-75), R Strauss (S Cronin 52), M Ross (T Furlong 52), R Molony (D Toner 65), M Kearney, R Ruddock (D Ryan 51), J van der Flier, J Murphy.
Edinburgh: B Kinghorn (M Bradbury 74); D Hoyland, C Dean (M Allan 40) P Burleigh (S Kennedy 40), T Brown; J Tovey, S Hidalgo Clyne; A Dickinson (R Sutherland 65), R Ford (S McInally 54), W Nel (J Andress 65), A Bresler (A Toolis 52), B Toolis, J Ritchie, J Hardie (H Watson 58), C Du Preez.
Leinster: Try: McGrath, van der Flier, Madigan 2; Con: Madigan 2; Pen: Madigan 2.
Melrose: Try: Brown, Allan, Kennedy; Cons: Tovey; Pen: Tovey, Hidalgo-Clyne.
Man-of-the-match: It was a consummate openside flanker’s performance from Leinster’s Josh van der Flier – he was never far away from the action.