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Sunday 24 September 2017

Leinster refuse to accept defeat

You know what, maybe, just maybe, the Heineken Cup isn't the be-all and end-all because Leinster will thunder into a Munster side in what is a riveting prospect for the Magners League semi-final next Saturday evening.

"You've got to remember both sides have been to the top four of the European Championship. They have both been able to shake that off and progress," said Leinster's departing coach, Michael Cheika.

"I know Munster lost (13-12 to Cardiff), but that was a big ask for them to go down there. It was a mark of the team they are (to get the bonus point) -- courageous."

It didn't always look like Leinster-Munster as Edinburgh came within a whisker of their first win in Dublin for five years before finally succumbing to late Leinster tries from Stephen Keogh and Rob Kearney

"One thing about this Leinster team, it is never dead. We always come back," added Cheika.

The late withdrawal of second choice out-half Shaun Berne with a minor injury picked up in the warm-up triggered the move of Isa Nacewa into the playmaker's role and the promotion of Girvan Dempsey from the bench.

It seemed like the gods had conspired to create a magical evening for Dempsey, but it was emergency out-half Nacewa who further embellished his reputation with a flawless kicking display, striking seven from seven.

The hurt and disappointment at being overwhelmed by Toulouse in the scrum was used as the primary motivation for the front-row union of Cian Healy, John Fogarty and Stan Wright, and locks Leo Cullen and Nathan Hines.

"I am always confident in it. I know we didn't have a good day (against Toulouse) that day. The front five as a whole wanted to take charge of the game," said Cheika.

"I will be asking them next week and, hopefully, the week after to do the same, because in finals those guys are going to lead you."

The front-row pulverised Edinburgh opposites Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford and Kyle Traynor from the outset, driving right through them for an early penalty. It was a statement of intent.

The lineout was also flowing off the top from the two main targets Jamie Heaslip and Cullen. From there, the platform was set for safe, first-class ball that is perfect for the first phase ball for which Leinster are renowned.

From one such drive at a scrum, Edinburgh scrapped for the ball, Ally Hogg taking it beyond the gain line to spark a counter, which ended with fullback Jim Thompson racing clear.

Phil Godman squeezed the conversion inside the left upright for a 7-0 lead in the 23rd minute, and it was nearly double the trouble when wing Tim Visser was an unlucky bounce away from a try within a minute.



Stunned

Then, the home side were stunned when right wing Mark Robertson wiggled away from Hines and Eoin Reddan to race clear of a splintered defence. Godman made the conversion for a 14-point gain utterly against the run of play.

This gave the Scots all the encouragement and confidence in the world to defend for their lives.

From another surging scrum, Heaslip made 10m, Kevin McLaughlin another 10 and Cian Healy took it home from two metres with a textbook low-body position in between Roddy Grant and replacement Scott Newlands. Nacewa slotted the conversion.

Straight away, Healy's change of pace confounded Newlands to eventually trigger a penalty, which Nacewa nailed from the left for a 14-10 deficit at the interval.

After the restart it took Nacewa just one minute to spot enough space to drive a truck through and Shane Horgan was there in a flash to travel 20m to the whitewash. Nacewa added the extras from wide out on the left.

When Healy charged into the midfield, Edinburgh hooker Ford came in to contest the ball on the ground but refused to roll away after his bite at the cherry. Nacewa, therefore, made it four out of four from 40m out.

If Leinster thought they were in control and moving away, they were quickly reminded to think twice. Heaslip was binned for illegal work at a ruck. But the front-row club stood firm five metres from their line.

However, Ford's replacement Andrew Kelly picked up a loose ball and had the strength to pound out five metres with three Leinster tacklers for company. Godman's conversion edged Edinburgh 21-20 in front.

It got even better for Edinburgh when fast wide ball opened up the space for Robertson to sluice through untouched. Incredibly, Godman converted for an eight-point advantage.

Eagle-eyed Nacewa put Leinster into bonus-point territory with a penalty and, from the restart, Jacobsen's yellow for deliberately slowing down ruck ball left the Scots a man short.

It took a monster effort from Healy to turnover a scrum. The heat was applied off the back of the next one and Hogg was binned, giving Leinster the incentive for Keogh to splash down. Nacewa was nerveless in his dispatch of the conversion.

Better again, Godman's attempted drop goal was blocked by Fogarty, Hines hacked ahead and Kearney won the race to the try line. Nacewa completed a perfect night from the tee.

The wheels have been set in motion for another almighty Leinster-Munster derby. Cullen will have to have a scan on his shoulder and Gordon D'Arcy got a knock to the head.

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