Edinburgh rugby was back at DAM Health Stadium to confront Leinster on 4 March. With only four matches before the playoffs, Mike Blair’s players had to take points to make the top eight after a
disappointing defeat against Scarlets two weeks ago. Facing the unbeaten leader in round fifteen of the BKT United Rugby Championship (URC) was thus a great challenge for Edinburgh in the clash of the capitals.
For the first match since he announced that he will step down as head coach, Mike Blair could count on the returns from injury of Stuart McInally and Emiliano Boffelli. Captain Luke Crosbie, Hamish Watson and Sam Skinner were also back for this important game, having been released from the Scotland camp.
Edinburgh dominated the first minutes of the match. An early breakthrough of Marshall Sykes led to the first try of Emiliano Boffelli. Although the Argentinian fullback missed the conversion, his team was ahead, 5-0.
Leinster did not wait to react and was close to the Scottish try line thanks to quick and precise passes. The conversion of Harry Byrne enabled the visitors to take the lead after twelve minutes: 5-7.
In this pleasant and animated first quarter, Edinburgh demonstrated its ability to be quickly dangerous. Fans were delighted by the second try for their team, scored by Boan Vanter. The successful conversion of Boffelli put them back ahead: 12-7. Edinburgh’s positive dynamic continued as Leinster was penalised and Boffelli added three more points for his team.
However, Leinster kept up the pressure and flanker Scott Penny finally went through the defence after an ingenious interchange of passes. The successful conversion of Leinster’s second try put the visitors back at only one point of Edinburgh: 15-14.
If the locals thought that they could breathe a bit, it was without taking the running qualities of Dave Kearney into account. The Irish wing passed through Edinburgh’s defensive line and Michael Milne
was inevitably in the in-goal area two passes later. Harry Byrne added the two points to increase the Irish advance.
Several balls dropped by both teams annihilated hopes to score more points before half-time. After a convincing start, Edinburgh was confronted with the realism of Leo Cullen’s men, demonstrating why
they are unbeaten in the URC this season. Yet, with six points less and forty minutes to go, everything was still possible.
The kick-off was given by James Lang for Edinburgh, but the visitors attacked stronger in the second half. Following a turnover well exploited by Jordan Larmour, Dave Kearney shone once again to
ground the ball in the in-goal area after a cross-kick from Jamie Osborne. Even if Leinster’s fly-half failed to convert, the visitors already had the bonus point. The score was now 15-26 for Leinster.
Later on, Boffelli failed to convert its second try of the match, making the score 20-26. Their lead reduced, Leo Cullen’s team stepped on the accelerator and multiplied the pick-and-go rucks in front of Edinburgh’s in-goal area. This effort was rewarded by Michael Milne’s second try of the game, consolidating Leinster’s domination after the conversion of Byrne (52’): 20-33.
Despite replacements to bring new players on the pitch, Edinburgh suffered from the visitors’ superiority as they scored another try via their right prop Ala’Alatoa. Leinster No. 10 extended once again his team’s lead, adding two more points with his foot: 20-40.
No more than two minutes were enough for the Irish to be back again in the 22 of suffering Edinburgh players and Scott Penny scored Leinster’s seventh try (58’). The Irish juggernaut led their opponents dazed as Harry Byrne pursued his almost flawless performance with six successful conversions: 20-47.
In spite of the less spectacular last twenty minutes, Sam Skinner scored the fourth try of his team, synonymous with a bonus point. Charlie Savala converted the try, while Brian Deeny received a yellow card for Leinster: 27-47.
Edinburgh finished the game with two extra players as Leinster flanker Scott Penny, designated man of the match, had to leave the pitch due to an injury without being replaced. The score did not change until the end of this Irish brilliant victory (27-47).
The visiting team remained undefeated for the fifteenth time this season and at the top of the URC’s table. For Edinburgh, this seventh defeat in the last eight games of the tournament seemed to blow their hopes for qualification to the playoffs.
The Scottish hooker Stuart McInally recognised that the first half was good in attack, but that “it was ultimately not enough against a team of that quality” as Leinster scored too easily.
Mike Blair was logically disappointed after this home defeat, stating that his players “need to have more intensity in training” to be more consistent and competitive during eighty minutes. Losing against Leinster is not an affront, but seven points are now missing to Edinburgh to be eighth in the championship.
Playing Connacht will be the last chance game on March 25, hoping that the return of Scottish internationals will make a difference once the Six Nations tournament has ended.
Image courtesy of Victor Gautier.