Planet Rugby

Leinster stretch lead at summit

29th February 2008 21:36

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Shane Horgan Felipe Contepomi Brian O Driscoll

Slick Back: Shane Horgan scored to confirm his return to form

Leinster staged and survived a second-half fight back to claim a welcome 16-10 victory over Connacht at the Sportsground on Friday.

Trailing 3-10 at the break, the Magners League leaders scored 13 unanswered points with Ireland star Shane Horgan crossing for the decisive score, but not before the hosts launched their own late onslaught.

Down 16-10 and with Leinster's Cian Healy in the sin-bin, Connacht launched a stirring charge with prop Ronan Loughney falling just inches short of the try line.

However, just moments later, Leinster claimed turnover ball and breathed a collective sigh of relief when time was called on their seventh successive league win.

In wet and windy conditions, Connacht opened with the elements at their backs but struggled to convert early pressure into points.

Ex-Leinster man Andy Dunne missed two penalties, the first of which bounced back off a post and was knocked on by Felipe Contepomi leading to a five-metre scrum for Connacht.

Leinster's well-organised defence held firm off the set-piece, however, John Muldoon drew big cheers from the home crowd when he bundled former South Africa international Ollie Le Roux into touch soon after.

It was third time lucky for Dunne in the 11th minute when he drove a lengthy penalty through the posts after a ruck infringement from Stan Wright.

Connacht continued to batter away at the Leinster defence, but they were largely frustrated during a dour opening quarter.

Leinster managed to reply in the 20th minute in comical fashion. Contepomi was on target with an 18-metre penalty, but the wind was so strong it blew the kick back out through the posts and had referee George Clancy reaching for his rulebook before he confirmed the score!

Having refused a kickable penalty, Connacht kept themselves in the visitors' 22 and just missed out on a try when Colm Rigney fumbled a loose lineout throw from Leinster's Brian Blaney only metres from the whitewash.

Leinster's forwards began to put their imprint on the game in the closing stages of the half with a series of pick-and-go bursts that wore down the clock.

But with that blustery wind behind them, Connacht nabbed an injury-time try.

They targeted the Leinster lineout, forced a knock on and off a set scrum, Conor O'Loughlin linked with Dunne before Keith Matthews was sprung on a looping run and sent in under the posts.

Matthews was marking his first start since damaging his ankle in November and Dunne's conversion edged Connacht 10-3 ahead for half-time.

Turning around with the wind, Leinster managed to take the lead within ten minutes of the restart. Contepomi landed a 35-metre penalty and after a surging run from Wright and pass from Christian Warner, replacement winger Horgan beat off two tacklers to make the corner.

Contepomi's brilliant touchline conversion nosed Leinster into a 13-10 advantage, and the Argentinian followed up with a penalty on the hour mark as the men in blue turned the screw.

They had not bargained on Connacht still being in touch in the final ten minutes but that was the scenario as helped by some impressive cameos from Loughney and Ray Ofisa, the league's bottom side would not give up.

A thumping penalty kick into the wind from Gavin Duffy lifted the siege and had Connacht marching up to the visitors' 22.

The Connacht forwards produced an electrifying if unrewarding finish and the 14 men of Leinster hung on, unaware that Ulster's win over Llanelli had helped them go ten points clear at the top of the table.

The scorers:

For Connacht:

Tries: Wynne

Con: Dunne

Pen: Dunne

For Leinster:

Tries: Horgan

Con: Contepomi

Pen: Contepomi 3

Connacht:15 Gavin Duffy, 14 Keith Matthews, 13 Matt Mostyn, 12 Mel Deane, 11 Aidan Wynne, 10 Andy Dunne, 9 Conor O'Loughlin, 8 John Muldoon, 7 Jonny O'Connor, 6 Colm Rigney, 5 Andrew Farley (c),4 Michael Swift, 3 Robbie Morris, 2 Adrian Flavin, 1 Brett Wilkinson.

Replacements: 16 Joe Merrigan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 David Gannon, 19 Ray Ofisa, 20 Conor McPhillips, 21 Tim Donnelly, 22 Liam Bibo.

Leinster: 15 Luke Fitzgerald, 14 Felix Jones, 13 Michael Berne, 12 Christian Warner, 11 Gary Brown, 10 Felipe Contepomi, 9 Chris Whitaker (c), 8 Stephen Keogh, 7 Keith Gleeson, 6 Shane Jennings, 5 Malcolm O'Kelly, 4 Trevor Hogan, 3 Stan Wright, 2 Brian Blaney, 1 Ollie le Roux.

Replacements: 16 Cian Healy, 17 Stephen Knoop, 18 Cameron Jowitt, 19 Kevin McLaughlin, 20 Chris Keane, 21 Eoin O'Malley, 22 Shane Horgan.

Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)

Touch judges: David Wilkinson (Ireland), M Black (Ireland)

Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)

Touch judges: David Wilkinson (Ireland), M Black (Ireland)

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