EDINBURGH’S losing run stretched to five games on Friday when another disjointed display left them easy prey for a Leinster side sharper and more clinical in most facets of the game.
Scorers: Edinburgh: Try: Nel; Pens: Laidlaw 2; Con: Francis. Leinster: Tries: Penalty, D’Arcy, Sexton, Madigan; Pen – Sexton; Cons: Sexton 4.
A break by Leinster centre Gordon D’Arcy in the opening minute proved to be a worrying portent of what was to come for the home supporters as, throughout the first half, Leinster runners seemed to glide past the first defender with ease, and so each attack made ground and increased momentum before the Edinburgh defence really engaged. There was a blow too for Edinburgh when Tim Visser left the field injured early in the second half with what looked like a head knock after a crunching tackle.
It says much for the hosts’ desire and ability to scramble thereafter that the game was still finely poised at 3-3 with half an hour played. But, by the time they began to put through genuine phases that stretched Leinster, it was the final ten minutes of the match and the Irishmen were home and dry with four tries and the bonus point.
The Edinburgh scrum had enjoyed its moments of superiority in the early stages and, combined with handling errors and set-piece mistakes by Leinster, ensured Edinburgh enjoyed enough ball to ask questions of the Irishmen’s defence. The first points of the game came, indeed, from a fine Edinburgh scrum, Willem Nel’s return to the home front row having an
impact, and Greig Laidlaw kicking the first penalty after 17 minutes.
On his return after three months out, Ireland skipper Brian O’Driscoll produced glimpses of his ability to beat men, but he was caught hard by prop Allan Jacobsen in a tackle which Welsh referee Ian Davies and assistant Bob Nevins both deemed high. Jonny Sexton converted the resultant penalty into a match-equalling three points while O’Driscoll shook off the effects, none too convincingly.
Sexton pushed another effort wide, after David Denton had been warned in a ruck, and as the game entered the last ten minutes of the first half Edinburgh’s challenge stiffened severely. And they were complicit in their own downfall.
Kicks were delivered straight to Leinster back three players, Visser knocked on, Matt Scott had a kick charged down, Laidlaw knocked on and then Denton was shown the yellow card for halting a maul illegally – it was a close call as he tackled the ball-carrier who appeared to have broken from the maul, but fortune does not favour the weary. And Leinster took advantage, showing Edinburgh how to execute an attack with a series of phases across the home 22 ending with Cian Healy delivering a fine miss pass wide to D’Arcy, for the centre to stroll in.
Laidlaw responded with a penalty just before half-time and Edinburgh returned with James King on for Ben Atiga, but the pattern of the game remained the same with Devin Toner making easy yards off a lineout, and a good attack ending with Healy diving over. But, referee Davies spotted obstruction and Edinburgh, on this occasion, survived.
The good fortune was only momentary. Edinburgh lost their most consistent player this season, blindside flanker Stuart McInally, with Roddy Grant coming on, then Visser, after making a crowd-rousing tackle on Fionn Carr,
lay prone. The big winger got to his feet after a period of treatment, but only to be helped off the field. Piers Francis skilfully struck a drop-goal, cutting the deficit to 17-9, but where Edinburgh coughed and spluttered with ball in hand, Leinster were clinical. Replacement flanker Shane Jennings made Grant Gilchrist look slow and Scott foolish by showing a dummy and stepping between the pair of them, and then drew Greig Tonks to send Sexton running in from 20 metres for another try, simple in its execution.
Visser made a great break out of his 22 and a crossfield kick by Francis almost sent Dougie Fife racing for a try, but the ball took a wicked bounce into touch as the Edinburgh man went to grasp it 20 metres out. And we then had the clearest example yet of the difference between the sides. Edinburgh produced a stirring attack, worked hard to maintain possession in the face of stiff defence from Leinster and after staring at a possible try at one end of the field were left pointless and watching Sexton convert again at the other. Francis broke the line superbly and ran into the 22, and though the momentum sagged, Sean Cox, one of Edinburgh’s best players, regained it with a driving charge. Though the passing was not slick, Edinburgh kept their composure and were rewarded when Jamie Heaslip dived into a ruck to halt them in front of the posts, and was duly yellow-carded. Laidlaw kicked to touch. And then, with Leinster down to 14 men and finally under some pressure, replacement hooker Stevie Lawrie threw over the top of the lineout and within a minute Jennings was battering at the home 22, Leinster running through phases and Ian Madigan was taking a pass from Leo Cullen to dive over by the posts. The cold air whipping around Murrayfield took on a fresh bite and as Francis failed to make ten metres with his restart and Greig Tonks guddled the ball into touch, the lack of confidence in the struggling home side was writ large.
South African prop Nel provided some late cheer for Edinburgh when he finished a storming run from 30 metres by crashing through Eoin Reddan, who had no hope of stopping 18-and-a-half-stone on the charge, and Francis converted, and Edinburgh finished the game strongly.
Edinburgh: G Tonks; D Fife, M Scott, B Atiga, T Visser; P Francis, G Laidlaw (capt), A Jacobsen, A Titterrell, W Nel, G Gilchrist, S Cox, S McInally, D Basilaia, D Denton. Subs: J King for Atiga 40mins, S Visser for T Visser 48, P Parker for Basilaia 55, R Hislop for Jacobsen, S Lawrie for Titterrell, both 61, R Rees for Laidlaw 74, G Cross for Nel 76.
Leinster: R Kearney; F Carr, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross, L Cullen (capt), D Toner, K McLaughlin, S O’Brien, J Heaslip. Subs: S Jennings for McLaughlin 48mins, H van der Merwe for Healy, A Conway for Kearney, both 61, M Bent for Ross, I Madigan for Fitzgerald, both 62, I Boss for D’Arcy, A Dundon for Cronin, both 68.