AFTER winning their opening two PRO14 matches, Edinburgh knew they would need to up their game considerably if they were to make it three victories in a row. Instead, they fell well short, losing by six tries to two at the RDS against defending champions Leinster.
Richard Cockerill’s team were ahead for a short spell late in the first half, and were still in contention at the break. But, after beginning the second half just five points behind, they soon went a dozen adrift. Leinster turned the screw after that, and gave further evidence of the formidable depth of their squad as they emptied their bench but kept up the pressure.
While Edinburgh contributed to their own downfall at times with some elementary errors, the quality of the Leinster defence was well above anything they had encountered in their previous two games, against Zebre and Cardiff. Neither Mark Bennett nor Duhan van der Merwe, the key figures in attack in those matches, had anything like the same space. The pack, meanwhile, though briefly on top in the scrum, were in general unable to maintain the upper hand required to give their backs a chance of attacking with real momentum. In brief, the game was a salutary reminder of how much progress Edinburgh need to make if they are to compete at the very highest level of the league.
Kicking into a stiff breeze, Leinster stand-off Ross Byrne was just off target with an early penalty after Edinburgh had penalised for over-extending at the scrum. The home team thought they had got the opening try a few minutes later from a lineout drive, but the score was disallowed because of a block ahead of the ball – not to mention the fact that Pierre Schoeman had managed to hold the ball up over the line in any case.
The pressure stayed on the visitors for a time, and although they enjoyed another let-off when Byrne was again off target with a penalty attempt, they continued to make life difficult for themselves by too readily giving away what little possession they had in the first quarter. Something had to give eventually, and it did just past the 15-minute mark when an infield pass from Dave Kearney rebounded off James Lowe’s head and into the in-goal area, where scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park won the race to touch it down. The try was unconverted, and a 5-0 lead was the least Leinster deserved after such a lengthy period of almost complete domination.
However, Edinburgh responded well to going behind, and eventually took the lead through a Jamie Farndale try, converted by Jaco van der Walt. First, a patient forward drive drew a penalty, which the visitors opted to scrum rather than taking what would have been a simple three points. When Leinster conceded two more penalties at the set piece, tighthead prop Michael Bent was deemed the culprit and shown the yellow card.
A penalty try seemed in sight, but Edinburgh used their extra man to produce an overlap on the right for Farndale to touch down. Before Van der Walt added the two points, Joe Tomane, who had slid in with his knees on the try-scorer, became the second Leinster player to go into the bin.
Play was restarted with a penalty from halfway, and that should have signalled the start of a period of control by the 15 men. Instead, Leinster held them at bay with an excellent defensive effort, and then nearly five minutes into stoppage time, just as they were restored to their full complement, they regained the lead when Bent finished off from a couple of metres out after a lineout drive from a penalty to touch. Byrne’s kicking was accurate for the first time, giving his team a five-point lead at the break.
That became 12 just a few minutes into the second half as Edinburgh first failed to deal with the kick-off, and then were not alert enough to a quickly taken lineout. Swift recycling then saw Caelan Doris come in at speed to run on to a pass and crash over the line.
Just inside the final quarter, substitute Michael Milne scored at the end of a dynamic drive, and then Rowan Osborne got Leinster’s sixth from a James Lowe offload at the end of a break down the left.
At least Charlie Shiel had the final word for Edinburgh with a score off the back of a scrum, with Simon Hickey adding the conversion. But it was too little far too late, and although the visitors pressed right to the end as they sought the further two tries that would give them a bonus point, they ran up against a relentless, remorseless blue wall.
Leinster: H Keenan, D Kearney (V Abdaladze, 29-39), R O’Loughlin (J O’Brien, 63), J Tomane, J Lowe, R Byrne (H Byrne, 63), J Gibson-Park (R Osborne, 63); P Dooley (M Milne, 55), R Kelleher (J Tracy, 55), M Bent (V Abdaladze, 55), D Toner, S Fardy (captain; R Molony, 65), M Deegan, S Penny, C Doris (J Murphy, 44).
Edinburgh: D Hoyland, J Farndale, M Bennett, G Taylor (J Johnstone, 54), D van der Merwe, J van der Walt (S Hickey, 54), N Groom (captain; C Shiel, 59); P Schoeman (J Bhatti, 61), M Willemse (C Fenton, 61), P Ceccarelli (M McCallum, 61), J Hodgson ( S Thomson, 64), M Douglas, M Kunavula (A Miller, 50), L Crosbie, N Haining.
Referee: B Whitehouse (Wales)
Scorers: Leinster: Tries: Gibson-Park, Bent, Doris, Penny, Milne, Osborne. Cons: R Byrne 4, H Byrne.
Edinburgh: Tries: Farndale, Shiel. Cons: Van der Walt, Hickey.
Scoring sequence (Leinster first): 5-0, 5-7, 12-7 (half-time), 19-7, 26-7, 33-7, 40-7, 40-14.
Yellow cards: Leinster: Bent, Tomane.