Agen 13 Leinster 25: Hickie turns the game but not the tide of mediocrity

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The Independent Online

The men of Munster, Biarritz and probably Stade Français, the three favourites for this season's Heineken Cup, can sleep easily tonight, despite Leinster's crucial win at Agen.

Victory, confirmed by the replacement Andrew Dunne's last-minute drop goal and then a try from a rolling maul touched down by the prop Ronan McCormack six minutes into injury time, puts Leinster in charge of Pool Two. But there was hardly a shred of evidence to suggest that they possess the quality to beat the best sides in this season's competition.

There was no doubting their courage and heart on a grey afternoon of uninspiring rugby in the south of France. But judge Leinster on quality, class and invention and they looked well short of the standards required; the inspirational Felipe Conte-pomi was badly missed.

Leinster showed plenty of spirit and their excellent forwards worked tirelessly in all phases up front. Their pack took the game to the Frenchmen from the start and they enjoyed a wealth of possession.

But Agen were a desperately modest outfit, unable to control the play at any time and failing to capitalise on a 13-8 second-half lead which, given the further scoring opportunities they had, should have been decisive.

A 65th-minute try by the wing Denis Hickie, who skipped over from close range after cutting a clever inside angle, turned the game. Girvan Dempsey's conversion edged Leinster in front and provided the psychological stimulus for a renewed effort in the final quarter that proved enough. Dunne, on as a replace-ment for Christian Warner, dropped a neat goal and the pack then inflicted humiliation on a dispirited Agen side, with McCormack's try coming from a maul driven 20 metres.

But it was a match of poor quality, riddled with and disrupted by a plethora of errors. Agen never looked like releasing their dangerous back-three players, especially Rupeni Caucaunibuca and the French full-back Pepito Elhorga. They had enough ball in the second half to have won the game but let Leinster off the hook.

All an increasingly dispirited Agen could manage after half- time was a 45th-minute penalty goal by the fly-half Jerome Miquel that gave them their 13-8 lead. After that, their game simply atrophied, allowing Leinster a lifeline. They took it, but far, far sterner tests will surely lie ahead for Brian O'Driscoll's men, for whom Gordon D'Arcy missed two penalties and a conversion.

Agen led 10-8 at half-time, Caucaunibuca scoring a superb individual try after 28 minutes with a clever chip over the flat defence and a juggling act before getting hold of the ball and running in to score. Miquel converted and added a penalty.

The No 8 Jamie Heaslip ensured reward for the efforts of the Leinster forwards by getting up to support Hickie for the first try of the match after 24 minutes. D'Arcy added a penalty goal. But this was a game played in a laborious style. There was scant quality on display despite the mild, calm conditions, and neither side threatened to rein in the frequent mistakes that constantly disrupted the flow.

The advantage is now with Leinster. But until Contepomi returns, they may struggle to get anywhere near the level expected of potential champions.

Agen: P Elhorga; M Ahotaeiloa, C Stoltz (R Caucaunibuca, 76), S Mirande, R Caucaunibuca (A Mignardi, 70); J Miquel, N Morlaes (capt; A Fulton, 70); P van Niekerk (E Guinazu, 45), J Narjissi, K Meeuws, W Stoltz, K Koulemine (S Socol, 53), M Lièvremont (A Tiatia, 73), T Soucaze, C Yukes (F Culine, 65).

Leinster: G Dempsey; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, D Hickey; C Warner (A Dunne, 80), C Whitaker; R McCormack, B Blaney (B Jackman, 22), S Wright (R Corrigan, 46), T Hogan, M O'Kelly, S Keogh, J Heaslip, K Gleeson.

Referee: A Spreadbury (England).

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