Leinster edge ahead of Connacht in Euro last 16 after first leg
CHAMPIONS CUP REPORT: James Lowe scored two tries as four-times European kings Leinster established a slender five-point lead over Irish rivals Connacht with a 26-21 win in the first leg of their Champions Cup last 16 tie on Friday.
Ireland wing Lowe crossed twice in the space of four minutes to leave Leinster 18-11 ahead at half-time after John Porch’s early effort for Connacht had delighted the home crowd at the Sportsground.
Leinster’s Hugo Keenan, the Ireland fullback, added another try before Connacht’s Leva Fifita crossed following the sin-binning of visiting scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park.
Ireland captain Jonathan Sexton kicked eight points for Leinster and only two points separated the teams when replacement Ross Byrne completed the victory with a penalty four minutes from time.
Connacht, however, remain firmly in the hunt for a quarterfinal place ahead of the second leg in Dublin.
In a match featuring several Ireland internationals, centre Bundee Aki combined with Jack Carty to send in Porch for a try just two minutes into the match.
Sexton landed his first penalty in the 18th minute and Leinster went ahead four minutes later when Keenan’s clever switch pass released Lowe, with the New Zealand-born wing running in a try from 35 metres out.
Flyhalf Sexton’s conversion was quickly followed by Leinster’s second try, with Keenan cutting a line past Aki before his return pass found Lowe, who went over despite Porch’s last-ditch tackle.
Leinster now led 15-5 but two Carty penalties helped Connacht reduce the deficit before the interval.
Carty’s third penalty early in the second half put the match back into the balance before Ireland scrumhalf Gibson-Park, on as a replacement, sent Keenan over for an unconverted try.
But Leinster suffered a setback when English referee Karl Dickson, however, eventually decided to show Gibson-Park merely a yellow card after he made contact with Kieran Marmion’s head in an upright tackle.
Following a maul, Connacht lock Fifita went over for a try converted by Carty, with Leinster now just 23-21 ahead.
Both sides spurned chances for more tries before Byrne’s penalty completed the scoring.
Tries: Porch, Fifita
Pens: Carty 3
Tries: Lowe 2, Keenan
Pens: Sexton 2, R Byrne
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 John Porch, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Mack Hansen, 10 Jack Carty (captain), 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Cian Prendergast, 5 Leva Fifita, 4 Gavin Thornbury, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Matthew Burke.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Tierney-Martin, 17 Tietie Tuimauga, 18 Jack Aungier, 19 Oisín Dowling, 20 Abraham Papali’i, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Conor Fitzgerald, 23 Sammy Arnold.
Leinster: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Jimmy O’Brien, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Caelan Doris, 5 Josh Murphy, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Michael Ala’alatoa, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Ciarán Frawley.
Referee: Karl Dickson (England)
Assistant Referees: Michael Hudson (England), John Meredith (England)
TMO: David Rose (England)