Leinster got their United Rugby Championship campaign on track with a deserved 34-13 victory over the Sharks at a wet RDS Arena on Saturday.
After starting the season with a defeat at Glasgow Warriors last weekend, the Irish heavyweights were under pressure but they proved too strong for the Durban-based outfit with Max Deegan marking his 100th appearance for Leinster with a try.
Well-taken five-pointers from Jordan Larmour and Deegan steered Leo Cullen’s men into a 12-6 half-time lead. Meanwhile, the Sharks’ points came courtesy of a brace of penalties from Curwin Bosch.
Bouncing back from last Sunday’s loss, Leinster secured their bonus point through replacement Rob Russell and Tommy O’Brien, before Russell cancelled out Dylan Richardson’s late consolation try.
Two soft enough penalties leaked by Leinster saw fly-half Bosch split the posts twice inside the opening 10 minutes. His second strike was from halfway, but came after Larmour had opened the hosts’ try account for the evening.
The winger’s effort originated from a close-in lineout maul, with Lee Barron going close before Cormac Foley whipped the ball wide for Larmour to register an unconverted score.
The fast-breaking Aphelele Fassi showed how threatening the Sharks can be from deep, only for O’Brien and Charlie Ngatai to force turnover ball.
Leinster began the second quarter with their second try, number eight Deegan driving in low to score with Michael Ala’alatoa on the latch. Harry Byrne’s conversion made it a double-scores lead.
The South Africans were content to see out the first half just six points down, although the loss of flanker Vincent Tshituka to an arm/shoulder injury was a considerable blow.
In a double tackle with Ngatai, Leinster hooker Barron’s shoulder made contact with Kerron van Vuuren’s head, prompting a 42nd-minute sin-binning. However, Bosch blundered when kicking the penalty dead.
From there on, Leinster took control. Ngatai’s turnover penalty teed up Byrne to extend the lead to nine points before Jamie Osborne’s 50:22 kick had them hunting a try.
Foley’s neat pass, combined with Jason Jenkins sucking in defenders, put Russell over to the right of the posts. Byrne tagged on the extras to open up a 22-6 advantage.
The Irish province bagged their bonus point in the 65th minute, as industrious winger O’Brien swept over on the right via a pinpoint Sam Prendergast cross-field kick. The young replacement was unable to convert.
The Sharks went close through replacement Boeta Chamberlain before Werner Kok was held up past the try-line by Ciaran Frawley.
The visitors’ reserve hooker Richardson broke off a 79th-minute maul to touch down, only for Fassi to knock on following the restart. Ross Molony nudged the loose ball through for Russell to complete his brace.
This match could have gone either way, and the men from Johannesburg held the lead for a spell midway through the second half, but a vital try on his debut by replacement hooker Ewan Ashman helped the home side end up with their noses in front.
After a quiet early period, Edwill van der Merwe was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on, and the hosts took immediate advantage of the extra man, sending the penalty to the corner then scoring from a close-range maul finished off by Luke Crosbie. Ben Healy added the extras.
Edinburgh conceded a penalty straight from the restart, however, and Jordan Hendrikse got his team’s first points on the board.
Midway through the half, Edinburgh touched down again through Mark Bennett after a one-two between Bill Mata and Wes Goosen, but the score was chalked off after the centre was ruled to have been in touch before completing his acrobatic leap for the line.
Restored to full strength, the South Africans began to gain the upper hand at the breakdown and in the set scrum. A sustained assault on the Edinburgh line seemed sure to produce a score, but when a penalty was sent to touch a lineout malfunction allowed the home team to clear.
Inside the final two minutes of the half, however, Hamish Watson was penalised for not releasing. This time Hendrikse opted to go for goal from 40 metres out, and his successful kick made it 7-6 at the break.
A Healy penalty two minutes after the restart restored his team’s four-point lead. That moment apart, the opening 15 minutes of the second half yielded nothing approaching a scoring chance.
Then Lions flanker Ruan Venter had the ball down following a lineout maul, but the effort was disallowed for obstruction on Watson well ahead of the ball-carrier.
The South Africans were soon back on the attack, and, after Edinburgh winger Ross McCann was yellow-carded for a high tackle, Francke Horn scored off the back of a lineout.
Hendrikse converted to put his team three in front, but Edinburgh hit back with a try by replacement Ashman, who took a crash ball inside the Lions 22 and embarked on an unstoppable run. Healy converted, then Hendrikse scored his third penalty to make it 17-16.
A very late chance for the Lions vanished when they failed to find touch from a penalty.