With just over a week to go to the first match of the new Guinness Premiership and Magners League campaigns, London Irish head Coach Toby Booth will be the more satisfied of the two coaches in charge at Donnybrook. Speaking after the match to this website Booth said, “We are delighted with the win, it provides the perfect confidence boost going into next weekend.”
A dry, sunny evening in the Irish capital was spoiled by the strong wind that blew from north to south down the pitch. A 6,500 capacity crowd that included many hundreds of travelling London Irish supporters, turned up to see the current Heineken Cup champions take on last season’s Guinness Premiership finalists.
Both teams, perhaps with an eye on the bragging rights ahead of their Heineken Cup meeting on 9th October, fielded strong starting line-ups.
Any doubts about the intensity with which the players went into the match were quickly dispelled with a surprise flare-up in the opening minutes. Happily, having got that confrontation out of their system, both teams went on to concentrate on playing rugby.
Playing with the benefit of the strong wind on their backs, London Irish kicked off through Ryan Lamb. However, it was Leinster’s Ireland international, right wing Shane Horgan that first caught the eye. He tested the Exiles’ defence with a characteristic, defence-splitting run down the right wing in the opening minutes. Then in the fourth minute he was the creator of Leinster’s opening score when another burst down the right saw him pass to Isa Nacewa who forced his way over in the right corner. Johnny Sexton missed the conversion.
Irish quickly recovered from the setback and with Paul Hodgson bossing play from the base of the set pieces and breakdown, the Exiles began to have a growing impact on the match. The England scrum half had the benefit of playing behind a scrum that grew in confidence and dominance as the match progressed.
It was a Leinster scrum offence that resulted in the penalty that enabled Ryan Lamb to open his team’s account in the ninth minute. In terms of the confrontation between two talented fly halves – Lamb and the highly regarded Johnny Sexton, it was the London Irishman that was having the better match. His tactical kicking kept Leinster pinned back and his passing out of hand was generally sharp and accurate.
Good Irish defence, combined with aggression around the breakdown in which Andy Perry and Steffon Armitage were prominent, constantly created problems. The unrelenting pressure resulted in Leinster getting caught offside after a quickly taken tap penalty by Hodgson. Lamb kicked his second penalty to give Irish the lead in the 21st minute.
Leinster responded by making the first of their replacements, Girvan Dempsey, the vastly experienced Ireland international, taking over at full back from Niall Morris.
Despite the best efforts of the home side’s midfield combination of Shaun Berne and Fergus McFadden, it was Irish that kept scoring the points. Lamb’s third penalty in the 25th minute stretched the lead to four points.
As the half progressed the Exiles’ pack under the astute leadership of Clarke Dermody, and with Nick Kennedy soaring to take the lineout throws, were dominating the set pieces. The Irish backs tried to use the resulting possession to telling effect, they did so in the 34th minute when a slick handling move saw the ball switch from right to left into the waiting hands of Steffon Armitage who crashed over in the left corner for his team’s first touchdown.
With half-time looming, Irish maintained the pressure and set up camp five metres from the Leinster try line. Exploiting the dominance of the pack, Irish forces the home team to concede three scrum penalties – one of which resulted in Shane Jennings being sin-binned, before referee Clancy lost patience with the home team and awarded a penalty try just on the stroke of half-time. Lamb added the extras to give Irish a 21-3 lead at the interval.
Five minutes after the re-start, Sexton had a penalty kick to reduce the visitors’ lead but he missed. Undoubtedly, the strong wind now in his favour was a factor as much as it was a test of Irish’s resolve.
George Stowers replaced Chris Hala’Ufia, who picked up a knock in the 49th minute, and lost no time in making an impact with a series of juddering tackles.
Leinster managed to mount a sustained assault within five metres of the Irish line. In the midst of it Lamb was penalised for an illegal tackle on Shane Jennings and sent to the sin-bin. Sexton kicked the resulting penalty to make the score 8-21.
With the match heading for its final quarter both defences were in uncompromising mood and refused to be beaten.
The inevitable rash of substitutions for both teams that are associated with pre-season matches disrupted the flow of the match. Peter Richards took over at outside centre from Delon Armitage for Irish only to find himself in a minor skirmish with Shane Horgan within six minutes of coming onto the pitch. Referee Clancy didn’t take kindly to their efforts at making friends and both were dispatched to the sin-bin!
While the play of both teams lacked for nothing in terms of effort and commitment, neither could orchestrate a score until the 74th minute when Lamb kicked his fourth penalty, a fine effort from 35 metres on the right of centre. Jamie Lennard took over from Peter Hewat at full back for Irish.
With time running out, Leinster launched a final wave of attacks forcing Irish to defend on their five metre line, however there was no way through a courageous defence and the visitors held out for a confidence boosting victory.
Scorers: Leinster Rugby: Try: Nacewa (4). Penalty goal: Sexton (58). London Irish: Tries: Armitage S (34), Penalty try (40); Conversion: Lamb. Penalty goals: Lamb 4 (9, 21, 26, 74).
Scoring sequence (Leinster first): 5-0,5-3, 5-6, 5.9, 5-14, 5-21 (half-time)8-21, 8-24.
Leinster Rugby: 15. N Morris (rep: G Dempsey, 22), 14. S Horgan (sin-bin: 64-74), 13. F McFadden, 12. S Berne, 11. I Nacewa, 10. J Sexton, 9. S Keogh (rep: P O’Donoghue, 30)(rep: D Moore, 60), 1. R McCormack (rep: C Healy, 40), 2. B Jackman (rep: J Fogarty, 40), 3. S Wright (rep: M Ross, 60), 4. L Cullen (captain)(rep: M O’Kelly, 54), 5. D Toner, 6. S O’Brien (rep: K McLaughlin, 40), 7. S Jennings (sin-bin 39-49), 8. S Keogh.
London Irish: 15. P Hewat (rep: J Lennard, 76), 14. M Watson, 13. D Armitage (rep: P Richards, 58) (sin-bin: 64-74), 12. S Mapusua (rep: C Gower, 54), 11. S Tagicakibau, 10. R Lamb (sin-bin , 9. P Hodgson (rep: A Lalanne, 66), 1. C Dermody (captain), 2. D Coetzee (rep: J Buckland, 40), 3. P Ion, 4. A Perry, 5. N Kennedy (rep: K Roche, 70), 6. D Danaher (rep: R Thorpe, 58), 7. S Armitage (rep: ), 8. C Hala’Ufia (rep: G Stowers, 49).
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU)