Leinster confirmed the strength in depth of the Irish game as a whole when they gained outright lead of Pool Six with a hard-earned 21-6 Heineken Cup victory over Newport at Donnybrook on Friday night.
The rugby was not pretty at times but with their last three games away from home, Leinster will hardly mind. Certainly their coach, Matt Williams didn't. "I thought the guys defended terrifically tonight," he said. "I couldn't be happier honestly. Our backline hasn't trained this week and as a result we were a bit sloppy going forward. We won a two-try scoreline but to be honest it could have been four. We had two occasions where we had four on two."
Not surprisingly, his opposite number, Ian McIntosh, did not see things quite the same way. "I don't think the end margin was a fair reflection," he said. "The Leinster lads I thought defended very well but I think if our guys had a bit more self-belief maybe we might have seen a different result."
The Welsh side battled hard but were eventually undone by tries from Shane Horgan and Peter McKenna and four Nathan Spooner kicks. The visitors' only points came through a brace of penalties from Shane Howarth.
The home side were without their brilliant Lions centre, Brian O'Driscoll, who despite training for the first time during the week was not considered to be fully recovered from a hand injury he picked up for Ireland in their historic win against England last weekend. His place went to Australian Adam Magro.
Leinster's attempts to keep the ball alive at all costs proved a dangerous ploy and on more than one occasion it left them open to the counter-attack. But Newport's lack of cohesion behind the scrum meant that Leinster's indiscretions went unpunished.
After Leinster spurned two kickable penalties, Newport capitalised when Howarth converted a straightforward penalty in front of the posts on 10 minutes. Newport were dominating possession, but Leinster always posed the greater threat and Newport's worst fears were realised on 25 minutes following a Leinster scrum inside their 22. Denis Hickie set off on a mesmerising run before finally popping the ball in to Horgan who raced unopposed to the Leinster line. Nathan Spooner converted.
Newport's hopes took a further knock when flanker Peter Buxton was sin-binned two minutes before the break for deliberate obstruction at a Leinster scrum. Leinster took full advantage of the extra man with two penalties from Spooner giving them a touch more breathing space.
But Leinster's hopes for further progress in the competition were hit when they lost Hickie with what appeared to be an injured shoulder. At the same time, Howarth reduced the arrears once more with a penalty to leave just a converted try between the two sides with 25 minutes remaining.
But Spooner sent over his third successful penalty late on and to rub salt in, Horgan supplied Peter McKenna for a try in the corner with the last move of the game.Reuse content