Leinster set up another Irish ‘epic’

LEINSTER and Munster will meet at the RDS on Saturday night (8pm) in a late-season bid for Irish rugby bragging rights, following a dramatic day of Magners League action.

Last night, Leinster squeezed past Edinburgh and gained the maximum five points to head the table, and Munster’s narrow defeat away to Cardiff was enough to see them finish in fourth place.

It sets up an intriguing semi-final clash in six days’ time at the Ballsbridge venue.

Leinster’s win may have come at a price, however, with injury concerns over skipper Leo Cullen (shoulder) and Gordon D’Arcy (head), although on the plus side, out-half Jonathon Sexton and back-row forward Sean O’Brien should be back in the mix for selection for the clash with their southern rivals.

Leinster coach Michael Cheika is relishing another clash with the men in red and predicts an epic tussle.

“We’re both disappointed at having lost out in Europe, but this is some consolation. Both teams have been able to shake off the effects of last week and progress. It was a big ask for both of us, and a big ask for Munster to go away to Cardiff and get enough from the game to advance. It’s great to have an Irish semi-final, players are looking forward to it, fans are looking forward to it and it adds something extra to the game.

“There will be a bit more of a spring in the step of the players and I know I’m looking forward to the opportunity, although this is nothing about me; this is all about us as a team trying to reach a final.

“We’re coming up against a great side and it should be a great game,” he said.

Edinburgh played with passion and desire and shocked their hosts with a 24th minute breakaway try from full back Jim Thompson that Phil Godman converted. Winger Mark Robertson grabbed a second in the 29th minute and Godman also converted for a remarkable 14-point lead.

Leinster eventually got on the scoresheet in the 39th minute with a try from Cian Healy, the product of hard graft from Jamie Heaslip and Kevin McLaughlin, with Isa Nacewa adding the conversion before the stand-in out-half kicked an injury-time penalty to reduce the gap to four points.

Nacewa, could do no wrong with the boot and in open play and he sparked off the move that led to Leinster taking the lead for the first time in the opening minute of the second half. Shane Horgan was sent in for the try that the out-half converted for a 17-14 lead. Nacewa continued his kicking heroics with a 57th minute penalty and Leinster seemed safe.

But Edinburgh struck with a try from replacement Geoff Cross after an isolated raid, and Godman converted for a 21-20 lead with 13 minutes on the clock. Within seconds, Edinburgh went over for another try from winger Mark Robertson and Godman again added the points for a 28-20 advantage.

But back came Leinster again. First Nacewa kicked a 73rd minute penalty and then Stephen Keogh produced an injury time try which the out-half converted to ensure Leinster booked a home semi-final against Munster.

Even more remarkably, a block down from an attempted drop goal by Godman, and a hack-on by Nathan Hines led to a spectacular score from Rob Kearney that gave Leinster a bonus-point win.

LEINSTER: R. Kearney, S. Horgan, B. O’Driscoll, G. D’Arcy, G. Dempsey, I. Nacewa, E. Reddan, C. Healy, J. Fogarty, S. Wright, L. Cullen (captain), N.Hines, K. McLaughlin, J. Heaslip, D.Ryan.

Replacements: S. Keogh for Ryan (48), M. Ross for Wright (58), F. McFadden for D’Arcy (65, injured), M. Ross for Wright (66).

EDINBURGH: J. Thompson, M. Robertson, B. Cairns, N. De Luca, T. Visser, P. Godman, G. Laidlaw, A. Jacobesen, R. Ford, K. Traynor, S. MacLeod, S. Turnbull, A. MacDonald, A. Hogg, R. Grant (captain).

Replacements: S. Newlands for MacDonald (37, injured), G. Cross for Traynor (53), A. Kelly for Ford (63).

Referee: P. Fitzgibbon (Ireland).

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