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Sunday 21 January 2018

Leinster 'school' Exeter at their own power game

Conan's late try highlights Blues' ability to 'win ugly'

Leinster’s Jack Conan gets to his feet after scoring his side’s second try after 44 phases Photo: Getty
Leinster’s Jack Conan gets to his feet after scoring his side’s second try after 44 phases Photo: Getty

Leinster did to Exeter what The Chiefs to do everyone else at Sandy Park to take charge of Pool Three of the Champions Cup on a relatively mild, dry evening on the south coast of England.

​Coaches Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster deserve the plaudits for a well-conceived and well-applied game-plan in outworking the Premiership champions at their own game.

Favourite

It quickly became clear that they would look to one of their favourite ploys in holding up carriers to turn a maul to mud as they did do disarm Don Armand.

Gareth Steenson's big contact into Robbie Henshaw reflected his attitude to show Ireland what they have been missing.

This was countered by a simply delicious Leinster attack in which Cian Healy's drive was complemented by Garry Ringrose switching the point of attack.

From there, Jonathan Sexton was the orchestrator and Rob Kearney the penetrator in a one-two for Sexton to play Luke McGrath in with a ball from the flat of his back.

What looked like an ideal start was called back for a heel in touch by Sexton.

No matter, the Blues continued to own the ball in a possession tactic that caused Thomas Waldrom to commit a sin at a ruck which Sexton could not turn into three points.

Still, Cullen's Leinster outfit were looking good, Scott Fardy finding a seam and out-half Sexton angling a ball to the right corner.

Devin Toner was next over the line, referee Romain Poite disagreeing with his television match official Eric Gonthier to rule out a grounding.

From the ensuing five-metre scrum, Luke McGrath knocked on in diving for the posts.

They turned down a certain three points for two scrum penalties, Exeter tight-head Harry Williams seeing yellow.

Leinster had an extra man, but no points to show for 20 minutes of heavy pressure.

Eventually, they found reward from Sexton's kick-pass, Isa Nacewa's hard carry and the out-half's blindside finish, the touchline conversion falling short for 5-0 in the 21st minute.

Straight away, a loose McGrath clearance invited pressure and Steenson kicked three when Cian Healy was slow to release in the tackle.

Rhys Ruddock's hammer-blow into Henry Slade was improved by McGrath's lightening burst to put Leinster back in position.

Penalised

It was there scrum-half Nic White was penalised for a no-arms tackle on Healy, Sexton making it 8-3 in the 32nd minute.

For once, Leinster's scrum buckled.

Slade found touch on the five-metre line. Waldrom powered off the tail.

Exeter went to their ground and pound, all eight Leinster forwards powering into contact to force a spill in what felt like a momentous moment.

It took a textbook tackle from McGrath to stop James Short in his tracks to preserve Leinster's lead at the break.

The complexion of the game took a turn for the worse when Seán Cronin was binned for a high tackle on Jack Nowell.

Josh van der Flier was summoned forth for the injured Rhys Ruddock and Leinster had to withstand a maul, a five-metre scrum and sustained driving until Seán O'Brien poached 'the egg'.

Leinster lost a lineout and a scrum, but no points before they were restored to 15 players.

It was only then they were cut open when Garry Ringrose slipped and Nacewa shot up for Short to pounce for the leveler in the 55th minute.

This is where composure took over as Leinster dominated the ball for Nacewa to slice the posts when Sexton was receiving treatment.

The game was secured by Jack Conan's seconds effort at the end of an incredible 44 phases of patient close quarter driving, taking a losing bonus-point away from Exeter.

The Blues are well buoyed up for the return fixture in the Aviva next Saturday evening (5.15).​

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