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Nienaber's Leinster snatch narrow win

MATCH REPORT: Ciaran Frawley’s last-gasp try saw Leinster snatch a 24-22 derby win from the jaws of defeat and end Connacht’s near year-long unbeaten run at the Sportsground.

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Newly-arrived senior coach Jacques Nienaber watched on as Leinster lost their grip on a 19-8 lead, despite the impact of an experienced bench.

Converted tries from captain Caolin Blade and Diarmuid Kilgallen had Connacht on the cusp of their first home victory over their provincial rivals in seven meetings.

But Leinster earned a bonuspoint victory at the death through Frawley’s try and moved to the top of the United Rugby Championship table.

Short of backline cover with a six-two bench split, fullback Tiernan O’Halloran’s early injury-enforced departure meant Connacht had to reshuffle – but they replied with a brilliant eighth-minute try.

The returning Mack Hansen combined with Byron Ralston before replacement David Hawkshaw was fed to finish off in the corner. JJ Hanrahan pulled the difficult conversion wide.

After losing three early line-outs, Leinster had a prolonged period of pressure off a five-metre scrum. Connacht held them out despite Cathal Forde’s sin-binning for making head contact with Charlie Ngatai.

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A Hanrahan penalty made it 8-0 in the 22nd minute, rewarding Connacht’s scrum, and a scrappy Leinster, with 14 personnel changes, continued to make handling errors.

But as the interval neared, a Connacht penalty was reversed for Shamus Hurley-Langton pulling Ryan Baird’s scrum cap. Ngatai barrelled over from a clever quick-tap move for Harry Byrne to convert.

Early in the second half, Leinster turned the tables on the Connacht line-out. Second row Jason Jenkins used the momentum swing to burrow over for a converted try after Connacht prop Peter Dooley was yellow carded for offside.

Leinster were now on top, and although James Culhane was held up, Rob Russell nudged a Ngatai kick on and a favourable bounce allowed Ronan Kelleher to cross in the right corner.

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Just when Connacht looked to be struggling, replacement Paul Boyle and Forde unlocked the defence in midfield and Blade had the pace to finish from outside the Leinster 22.

Hanrahan converted and also added the extras to Kilgallen’s fifth score of the season, which saw Hansen break past halfway before unleashing his fellow winger for the line.

Both teams had set-piece issues in a nervy finish. A crooked Connacht line-out allowed Leo Cullen’s men to flood forward suddenly, and Frawley coolly stepped inside both Hansen and Forde to leave the home crowd stunned.

Man of the Match: A quicksilver Connacht attack saw Hansen release Ralston down the right wing. He outpaced Ngatai and linked back inside with Hansen who breached the visitors’ 22 before sending the supporting Hawkshaw over for a terrific score in the corner.

Scorers:

For Connacht:
Tries: Hawkshaw, Blade, Kilgallen
Cons: Hanrahan 2
Pens: Hanrahan

For Leinster:
Tries: Ngatai, Jenkins, Kelleher, Frawley
Cons: Byrne 2

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Mack Hansen, 13 Byron Ralston, 12 Cathal Forde, 11 Diarmuid Kilgallen, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Caolin Blade (captain), 8 Seán Jansen, 7 Shamus Hurley-Langton, 6 Cian Prendergast, 5 Oisin Dowling, 4 Darragh Murray, 3 Jack Aungier, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Peter Dooley.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Tierney-Martin, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Niall Murray, 20 Paul Boyle, 21 Michael McDonald, 22 David Hawkshaw, 23 Conor Oliver.

Leinster: 15 Ciarán Frawley, 14 Rob Russell, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Jamie Osborne, 10 Harry Byrne, 9 Ben Murphy, 8 James Culhane, 7 Scott Penny (captain), 6 Max Deegan, 5 Jason Jenkins, 4 Ryan Baird, 3 Michael Ala’alatoa, 2 Rónan Kelleher, 1 Ed Byrne.
Replacements: 16 Lee Barron, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Cormac Foley, 22 Liam Turner, 23 Will Connors.

Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Peter Martin (Ireland), Keane Davison (Ireland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)

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