Rugby Union: McGowan kicks Leinster home

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Leinster 23 Pontypridd 22

Alan McGowan redeemed himself as a goalkicker to steer Leinster into the semi-finals of the Heineken European Cup by the slenderest of margins last night.

Having missed three kicks in six minutes at the start of the game the Blackrock stand-off took his match tally to 18 points with a wide-angled penalty three minutes from time to secure a likely money-spinning clash with Cardiff at the end of the month.

Pontypridd opted to play into the wind at Lansdowne Road and try to hold the early storm. They did just that, but more by luck than judgment.

The Leinster forwards rocked them back at the first scrum and so completely dominated the opening quarter that it was not until the 20th minute that Pontypridd were finally able to escape from their own half.

In that time it was fortunate indeed for the Welshmen that Alan McGowan was in such poor goalkicking form. He missed with three kicks in six minutes and then saw the full-back Connor O'Shea fail with another.

Pontypridd obviously gained something from riding their luck and, by the interval, they were on level terms, having replied to McGowan's first success with a penalty a minute later from his opposite number, Lee Jarvis.

The 19-year-old outside-half looked very much at home filling the boots of the injured Neil Jenkins and a jinking run by him just before half- time helped to set up a position from which Pontypridd were awarded another penalty. Jarvis made no mistake with his 25-metre kick from out wide and, amazingly, the Welshmen were ahead.

McGowan stepped up to the last kick of the half and then crossed for the first try of the game within a minute of the re-start.Crispin Cormack made a terrible mess of fielding a kick near his 22 and the rampaging home forwards latched on to the loose ball and set up the experienced Irish lock, Neil Francis, for a charging run which made McGowan's task a simple one.

Pontypridd's response was almost immediate. Jarvis confidently kicked his third goal as the battle intensified.

Having grabbed the initiative with that McGowan try Leinster greatly improved their chances of reaching the semi-finals when O'Shea galloped across 10 minutes into the second half for a try which McGowan converted to give the Irishmen an 11-point cushion.

At that stage it looked like being more than enough to steer them through to a home tie on 30 December, but Jarvis kept plugging away and after two more penalty successes played a part in turning a strike against the head into a thrilling try for Cormack five minutes from time.

The teenager struck home a touchline conversion to put Pontypridd into the lead and set up a frenzied final few minutes.

Leinster: Tries McGowan, O'Shea; Conversions McGowan 2; Penalties McGowan 3. Pontypridd: Try Cormack; Conversion Jarvis; Penalties Jarvis 5.

LEINSTER: C O'Shea (London Irish); P Gavin (Old Belvedere), V Cunningham (St Mary's), K McQuilkin (Bective Rangers), N Woods (Blackrock); A McGowan (Blackrock), A Rolland (Blackrock); H Hurley (Old Wesley), S Byrne (Blackrock), P Wallace (Blackrock), B Rigney (Shannon), N Francis (Old Belvedere), C Pim (Old Wesley, capt), S Rooney (Lansdowne), V Costello (St Mary's). Replacements: A McKeen (Lansdowne) for Wallace 12-21); E Miller (Leicester) for Costello 49-57.

Pontypridd: C Cormack; D Manley, S McIntosh, J Lewis, S Enoch; L Jarvis, Paul John; N Bezani (capt), Phil John, A Metcalfe, G Prosser, M Rowley, P Thomas, R Collins, M Lloyd.

Referee: D Gillet (France).