LEINSTER had their British and Irish Lions back but Edinburgh made a pretty good fist of preventing this from becoming a triumphant homecoming for Jonny Sexton, Sean O’Brien and Tadhg Furlong. In the end, there was a touch too much firepower in the home ranks, but they certainly had to dig deep for this win, right up until the point when replacement Leinster scrum-half Jamison Gibb-Park capitalised on a loose clearance kick to take the game beyond the visitors.
No professional sports team should ever celebrate their own defeat, and failing to pick up a bonus point from a match in which they were so close for so long is a blow, but Richard Cockerill and his side are entitled to feel encouraged by what took place. Edinburgh were edgy and did not take a backward step. They frustrated their esteemed opponents at every turn, and showed plenty of intent of their own. Performances from the likes of James Johnstone, Tom Brown, Glenn Bryce and Jason Tovey will have reassured the head coach that he might just have some more options at his disposal behind the scrum than he previously thought.
Edinburgh started brightly, with Scotland 7s squad player Johnstone cutting open the Leinster defence by hitting the line hard and stepping past Noel Reid with an electrifying foot shuffle, and Brown also had a couple of promising carries, before they got their reward with just under five minutes played when Tovey clipped over three points from right into front of the posts after Leinster conceded two penalties in quick succession.
Johnstone showed up well again a few minutes later when he turned on the afterburners off first phase ball and left both Rory O’Loughlin and Reid (again) clutching at shadows as he broke from his own half and took play up to the Leinster 22.
Edinburgh were making all the running during this opening ten minutes, and Tovey doubled his own and his team’s account with an offside penalty, after another promising attack – this time up the left touchline – featured full-back Bryce, Phil Burleigh and Johnstone, again.
Jonny Sexton showed a real lack of class when arguing with referee Ian Davies that Dougie Fife should be carded for a collision with Dave Kearney at the restart, after the whistler had already explained twice that he thought a penalty was sufficient because the Leinster player had “propelled himself directly into the space that red [Fife] was in”.
The Ireland and Lions stand-off may have been disgruntled not to have got his way with that decision, but he kept his focus to kick the penalty into the corner and Jordi Murphy burrowed over a few moments later – to give the home team a single point lead after 13 minutes, achieved despite that being their first meaningful trip into Edinburgh territory.
It was getting a bit niggly, with handbags flying amongst almost all 30 players after Fardy and Darryl Marfo had a rather petty difference of opinions.
Edinburgh recaptured the lead just before the half hour mark, when Tovey read a telegraphed Sexton pass to hooker Sean Cronin lying flat in the centre channel and showed good pace to run in a 60-yard interception try – then fired home the conversion for good measure.
Leinster responded immediately … and almost spectacularly. Cronin picked up at the base of a ruck and hurdled over the pile of bodies to launch a 40 yard dash up-field, and when he was caught, Sexton showed great presence of and and no little technical ability to switch back on himself then angle an inch perfect chip kick into the corner for Fardy to latch in to, and it took an exceptional cover tackle from Brown to dislodge the ball as the big Australian tried to ground it in the corner.
Leinster had, however, now built up a serious head of steam, and they put Edinburgh through the grinder through the remainder of the first half, and eventually – deep into injury time – they made the breakthrough, when Joey Carbery danced outside Tovey and across the whitewash – and Sexton added the conversion to put the hosts 14-13 ahead at the interval.
Leinster were dominating possession by the time Jamie Ritchie was rather harshly shown a yellow-card for colliding with Luke McGrath after the ball had been kicked forward, and with a one-man disadvantage Edinburgh were really up against it during the ten-minute spell leading up to the hour mark, but they managed to keep their line intact – helped by some silly indiscipline from the home team, including from Sexton grabbing Sam Hidalgo-Clyne around the neck at a ruck.
With his team restored to full strength, Dougie Fife came within a whisker of recapturing the lead for Edinburgh with 16 minutes to go after some excellent build-up play involving Anton Bresler and John Hardie, but play was called back for a Cornel du Preez obstruction on Fardy during the lead-up.
Edinburgh kept plugging away and Kinghorn had a good run out of defence, but he allowed himself to be dragged into touch, and then a few moments later a loose clearance from the young full-back under the shadow of his own posts landed just a few yards in from his team’s own corner flag, and Gibb-Park pounced to grab the derive score.
Moving into the final minute, Kinghorn was back in the thick of the action, hitting a great line to lacerate a gaping wound in Leinster’s defence and make 40m yards up-field, but Leinster’s scrag defence was able to snuff to the danger, meaning Edinburgh couldn’t quite rescue a bonus point.
Edinburgh: G Bryce; T Brown (B Kinghorn 58), J Johnstone, P Burleigh, D Fife; J Tovey, S Hidalgo-Clyne (N Fowles 53); D Marfo, S McInally (N Cochrane 32-40, 59), S Berghan (K Bryce 50), F McKenzie (A Bresler 45), G Gilchrist, J Ritchie, H Watson (J Hardie 60, R Fruean.74), C du Preez.
Leinster: J Carbery; F McFadden, R O’Loughlin, N Reid (J Larmour 58), D Kearney; J Sexton (R Byrne 68), L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 64); J McGrath (E Byrne 58), S Cronin (B Byrne 58), T Furlong (A Porter 58), D Toner, S Fardy, R Ruddock, J Murphy (R Molony 74), S O’Brien (M Deegan 58).
Leinster: Try: Murphy, Carbery, Jamison Gibb-Park; Con: Sexton 2, R Byrne.
Edinburgh: Try: Tovey; Con: Tovey; Pen: Tovey 2
Scoring sequence (Leinster first): 0-3; 0-6; 5-6; 7-6; 7-11; 7-13 12-13; 14-13 (h-t) 19-13; 21-13.
Yellow card –
Edinburgh: Ritchie (50 mins)
Referee: I Davies (Wales).