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Leinster keep pressure on Bulls and Munster with win over Connacht

URC REPORT: Leinster boosted their hopes of a top-two finish in the United Rugby Championship with a 33-7 bonus point win over Connacht at the RDS Arena.

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Sam Prendergast, who has been linked with a loan move to Connacht, converted tries from Jack Conan, Jimmy O’Brien, and Ciaran Frawley for a 21-0 half-time lead.

Less than a week on from their Champions Cup Final heartbreak, Leo Cullen’s men lost Michael Ala’alatoa to the sinbin but fellow replacement Dan Sheehan and O’Brien, with a blistering 73rd-minute solo score, wrapped up a convincing victory.

The win moved Leinster to the top of the standings, while Glasgow Warriors are in second place after their nervy win over Zebre.

Munster and the Bulls are in third and fourth ahead of their final-round matches on Saturday.

Young reserve scrumhalf Colm Reilly ran in a cracking lone effort for Connacht, whose already slim play-off hopes evaporated on a night when their hooker Dave Heffernan made his 200th appearance.

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Leinster’s retiring loose forward Rhys Ruddock was involved in the build-up to Conan’s opening try, which saw him cross with a powerful finish off a scrum. Prendergast converted.

Along with some scrum and breakdown issues, Connacht’s defence was badly cut open from a line-out on the quarter-hour mark, as Frawley and Prendergast combined crisply to put O’Brien over.

Leinster picked up their third try via another line-out, this time Ronan Kelleher and captain Scott Penny combining at the front before Conan cut through and offloaded for Frawley to finish off.

Although David Hawkshaw, Santiago Cordero, and Caolin Blade sharpened up the westerners’ attack, Tommy O’Brien denied Cian Prendergast with a brilliant try-scoring tackle before the interval.

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Argentinian international Cordero’s acrobatic volley almost created a score for Blade, yet Leinster exerted more pressure as the third quarter wore on.

Cian Prendergast came up with a terrific turnover penalty right on Connacht’s line, and it was a double blow for the hosts with Ala’alatoa seeing yellow for his shoulder contact with Blade’s face at a ruck.

Nonetheless, Leinster eventually chalked up the bonus point when Sheehan broke off a 62nd-minute maul to thunder over from just five metres out.

Connacht replied with an excellent team try, flank Conor Oliver sparking a break down the right and taking Shane Jennings’ well-timed offload to send Reilly in behind the posts. Tom Daly added the extras.

Fittingly, Leinster saved the best for last, though, as O’Brien, continuing his impressive late-season form, burned off the Connacht cover with a rapid 80-metre run-in, which was topped off by Prendergast’s fourth successful conversion.

Man of the match: This was Leinster’s final outing at the RDS before its redevelopment, and lock Ross Molony, who is leaving for Bath, signed off at the Ballsbridge venue with a stunning performance. His one-handed line-out catch before Sheehan’s bonus-point try was a highlight.

The scorers:

For Leinster:
Tries: Conan, O’Brien 2, Frawley, Sheehan
Cons: Prendergast 4

For Connacht:
Try: Reilly
Con: Daly

Yellow card: Michael Ala’alatoa (Leinster, 58′ – foul play, dangerous clear-out)

Teams:

Leinster: 15 Jimmy O’Brien, 14 Tommy O’Brien, 13 Jamie Osborne, 12 Ciarán Frawley, 11 Rob Russell, 10 Sam Prendergast, 9 Cormac Foley, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Scott Penny (captain), 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Brian Deeny, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Thomas Clarkson, 2 Rónan Kelleher, 1 Ed Byrne.
Replacements: 16 Dan Sheehan, 17 Michael Milne, 18 Michael Ala’alatoa, 19 Ryan Baird, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Harry Byrne, 23 Charlie Ngatai.

Connacht: 15 Santiago Cordero, 14 Shane Jennings, 13 David Hawkshaw, 12 Cathal Forde, 11 Shane Mallon, 10 Jack Carty (captain), 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Sean Jansen, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Cian Prendergast, 5 Niall Murray, 4 Joe Joyce, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Peter Dooley.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Tierney-Martin, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Jack Aungier, 19 Darragh Murray, 20 Seán O’Brien, 21 Colm Reilly, 22 Byron Ralston, 23 Tom Daly.

Referee: Chris Busby (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Eoghan Cross (Ireland) and Jonathan Erskine (Ireland)
TMO: Colin Stanley (Ireland)

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