Leinster 20, Treviso 8: It was a tale of two 10s in the RDS last night, as Leinster fans gave standing ovations for an old hero – and what looks like a new one.
On the hour mark, Ian McKinley, the outhalf forced to retire five years ago after a training ground injury left him blind in one eye, received the applause of the respectful home support.
But well before that, it was Joey Carbery, the current no.10 who had them on their feet. The 20-year-old took fewer than three minutes to score his first try on his first competitive start for the province, and added another just before the half hour mark.
The New Zealand born out-half showed why his former Clontarf boss called him a ‘very, very special talent’, running and kicking well – and, well, scoring for fun.
Carbery’s start mirrored Leinster’s as the province flew out of the blocks, with real attacking intent and a sharpness to their passing, initially at least.
Leo Cullen, the Leinster head coach, had plumped for a mixture of raw youth and grizzled experience with Carbery at 10 and Luke McGrath at nine, while Cian Healy and Rob Kearney also started after overcoming their respective injury problems.
Leinster had lost seven of their last eight opening-day fixtures, but there was never any chance of making that eight last night, even though Treviso somehow remained within reach until the 70th minute.
Carbery was given the chance, ahead of Cathal Marsh and Ross Byrne, to audition as potential understudy to Johnny Sexton.
And he didn’t fluff his lines.
There was only 2mins 25sec on the game clock when he first touched down, and by the time he ran home the second, the crowd were aware the province had something special in their ranks.
The Athy kid, who was listed in the Academy pen pics section of the match programme, looked totally at ease in his surroundings. What new Treviso boss Kieran Crowley would give to have someone like that, as a frontline starter, never mind in reserve.
The Italians’ bad start was magnified when Allesandro Zanni, their captain and Italy back row, was replaced just seconds after Carbery’s opening try, and despite scoring in the final minutes of the first-half, they threatened little.
They won three games in the entirety of last season to finish bottom of the PRO12 table, and will need to improve fairly quickly under their new boss to beat that paltry figure.
What must Crowley have thought when Tommaso Allan, the outhalf, whacked the post with a penalty from right in front of the sticks at just 7-0? Andrea Buondonno must also have frustrated when, after running a great line, burst into space and flung wildly beyond his supporting winger with the tryline in sight.
Marco Fuser did cross the line, after a clever inside pass by Giorgio Bronzini, who Cian Healy had targeted but missed, but Allan once more failed to find the target from the tee.
Andrew Porter, who enjoyed a storming summer with the history making Ireland U20s, made his first Leinster appearance after the break, as Cullen sent on a new front row, and Rory O’Loughlin was another who made his bow on the night, coming close to a late, late try.
Porter’s arrival coincided with Allan finally finding his bearings in front of the posts, and as the hour approached there was still just one score between the sides.
If the first-half belonged to Leinster’s no.10, the second belonged to a former one.
Entering play on the hour, McKinley received a poignant standing ovation from the home fans on his first appearance in Ireland since retirement.
But Leinster weren’t interested in giving him the full fairytale experience, and a third try, from replacement James Tracy with seven minutes remaining, ensured Carbery ended the game on the winning side.
Tries: Carbery 2, Tracy. Cons: McFadden. Pens: McFadden.
Benetton Treviso scorers:
Tries: Fuser. Pens: Allan.
R. Kearney, Kirchner, G. Ringrose, Reid, McFadden, Carbery, L. McGrath, Healy, B. Byrne, Bent, Molony, McCarthy, D. Ryan, van der Flier, Leavy.
O’Loughlin for R. Kearney (75), Gibson-Park for L. McGrath (65), Tracy for Healy (47), Porter for B. Byrne (47), Ross for Bent (47), Triggs for McCarthy (58), Murphy for D. Ryan (65).
Hayward, Esposito, Benvenuti, McLean, Buondonno, Allan, Bronzini, Quaglio, Gega, Ferrari, Fuser, Paulo, Minto, Lazzaroni, Zanni, Barbini.
Odiete for McLean (75), McKinley for Allan (60), Gori for Bronzini (58), de Marchi for Quaglio (54), Santamaria for Gega (64), Pasquali for Ferrari (52), Barbini for Zanni (4), Budd for Barbini (58).
Ian Davies (Wales).
Opsreys 59 Zebre 5.
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