Leinster in dramatic win over Connacht
PRO14 MATCH REPORT: Max Deegan and Luke McGrath scored tries as Leinster survived a monumental late onslaught by a spirited Connacht in a tense New Year's Day clash at the RDS Arena.
Matt Healy's fine individual score gave the visitors hope in the last ten minutes in a fiercely-contested all-Irish encounter.
The triumph meant Leinster keep pace with Scarlets at the top of Conference A, but they were made to work incredibly hard for their Round 12 victory.
In blustery conditions in the capital, Conference B outfit Connacht struck the first blow when Jack Carty sent a penalty sailing between the posts.
Jonathan Sexton levelled minutes later with a penalty of his own, converting at the second attempt after his first fell off the tee due to the winds, despite the Ireland fly-half picking it up and drop-kicking it through.
After cagey opening 20 minutes, the hosts sprung into life and nearly went over. Luke McGrath's lovely dummy set up Rob Kearney, who hared directly for the posts only to be denied by a tremendous covering challenge by Kieran Marmion.
Dan Leavy went for glory on the follow-up, but was held up over the line.
However, six minutes later, smart work on the left led to the hosts' opening score – Noel Reid and James Lowe displaying terrific handling to set up Max Deegan, who crashed over in the left corner. Sexton missing a difficult kick from the touchline.
Carty replied immediately for Connacht with another three points and they got their noses in front on the stroke of half-time.
A great break from Bundee Aki eventually led to prop Finlay Bealham burrowing over, Carty making no mistake with the extras.
Sexton edged Leinster in front with a long-range penalty ten minutes after the restart and they moved eight points clear on the hour mark when Luke McGrath squeezing over after heavy pressure near the Connacht line.
The ever-reliable Sexton made no mistake with the boot to make it 21-13.
But back came the visitors with a rally of their own five minutes later, skipper John Muldoon being held up over the line and going close for a second time from the resulting five-metre scrum.
Connacht threw everything time and again in a dramatic passage of play, but found themselves against a wall of dark blue.
They eventually switched play wide and Matt Healy finished wonderfully after sidestepping inside three tackles. Healy missed the conversion in what was his first slip of the day from the tee.
With just ten minutes to go, the game was set for a grandstand finish. Connacht hurled bodies forward in desperate search of a breakthrough, but Leinster's defence remained solid and despite a mammoth 26-phase period of play at the end of the game, the visitors were eventually penalised for not releasing the ball and Leinster held on.
Tries: Deegan, McGrath
Pens: Sexton 3
Tries: Bealham, Healy
Pens: Carty 2
Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 1 Garry Ringrose, 12 Noel Reid, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Max Deegan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Dan Leavy, 5 Ian Nagle, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Seán Cronin, 1 Peter Dooley.
Replacements: 16 Bryan Byrne, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Scott Fardy, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Cathal Marsh, 23 Rory O'Loughlin.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Cian Kelleher, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Tom Farrell, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (captain), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 James Cannon, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Coulson.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Naulia Dawai, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Eoin Griffin, 23 Niyi Adeolokun.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy, Eddie Hogan-O'Connell (Ireland)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)