Leinster had the better of the opening exchanges. Jimmy Gopperth’s distribution was as good as ever, and only good tackles from Will Hooley and Jamie Elliott brought an end to threatening attacks from the Dubliners.
Saints were behind in the territory stats in those first 10 minutes, but they too looked dangerous with ball in hand. One overthrown line out from Leinster was a prime example, as good hands from Phil Dowson, Elliott and Hooley, followed by great awareness from Tom Stephenson in missing out the close defenders, put Ken Pisi away down the left wing. Day went through the middle in the next phase, but the supporting players were then ruled to have gone over the top for a penalty which spoiled the attack.
Then once they were in the Leinster 22, Saints struck. Stephenson was again at the heart of the play, scything through a dog-leg in the visitors’ defence before showing superb strength to touch down for the try. The score came at a price, however, as while Hooley landed the conversion Stephenson was withdrawn, holding his shoulder.
The next 15 minutes followed a similar pattern, Leinster having plenty of ball but Saints looking the more dangerous with ball in hand. Kahn Fotuali’i was pulling the strings, linking well with Hooley at half-back, organising the team at the breakdown and upping the tempo when the opportunity was there to do so.
And the Samoan received his reward just before the half-hour. Saints turned a penalty into a scrum five metres out from the visitors’ line, and Fotuali’i rounded Hooley to make an extra man in midfield and dive over between the uprights.
There was a further set-back for the visitors when Ben Marshall was sent to the sin bin for a late tackle which left Hooley sprawling on the floor. But just as it looked like Leinster were going to put themselves into position to strike, they conceded a penalty at a maul which in turn set up the position for Saints’ third try.
Hooley’s touchfinder was superb, and when the ball came quickly off the top the undermanned Leinster pack did not have enough bodies to stop Fotuali’i strolling through a gap, putting Luther Burrell over unopposed.
And whereas they had been clinical in front of the Sturtridge Pavilion, Saints were resolute at the other end, Ben Foden putting in a try-saving tackle on Gopperth that ended the half.
The Burrda Stand may have been denied a try that time, but it took just two minutes for them to be on their feet. A magnificent kick from Hooley put Saints into the corner for a lineout, and as the defenders ran out the space was created for George North to go over the whitewash.
But as the game wore on momentum gradually switched to the Dubliners, who 15 minutes into the half finally got onto the score board. It was a good try, replacements Steve Crosbie arcing into the attack to put Cian Kelleher over. Cathal Marsh’s conversion was good, and as both coaches rang the changes it was the visitors who got themselves onto the front foot, winning penalties in all areas of the field and scoring a second try through flanker Dan Leavy.
Lee Dickson had seen yellow for a dangerous tackle in the build-up, but while Saints did not concede any more points in his absence Leinster scored a third with the scrum-half back on the field. Mick McGrath’s speed took him through the defence and Marsh’s conversion brought their team to within a score.
But just as Leinster were looking for a late winning score Saints struck back. Playing with an advantage they went up a tight blindside, and while Cam Dolan’s pass was lovely, North’s finish was just as good. Luke McGrath tried his best, but the winger stepped out of the tackle and into the clear, making the game-sealing try a formality.
SAINTS Foden; Elliott, Waldouck, Stephenson, K Pisi; Hooley, Fotuali’i; Corbisiero, McMillan, Ma’afu, Craig, C Day, Dowson, Wood (capt), Manoa
Reps - Hartley, A Waller, Denman, Lawes, Clark, Fisher, Dolan, L Dickson, Olver, Burrell, G Pisi, North, Wilson
LEINSTER Dardis; Fanning, Macken, Coghlan, Coghlan-Murray; Gopperth (capt), Boss; Bent, B Byrne, Furlong, Marshall, Denton, Van Der Flier, Leavy, Ryan
Reps - Moran, S McCarthy, E Byrne, Thornbury, Slattery, L McGrath, Marsh, A Byrne, N McCarthy, Crosbie, O’Loughlin, M McGrath, Kelleher
SAINTS Tries - Stephenson, Fotuali’i, Burrell, North (2); Cons - Hooley (3), Wilson
LEINSTER Tries - Kelleher, Leavy, M McGrath; Cons - Marsh (3)
SAINTS - L Dickson
LEINSTER - Marshall
12mins SAINTS Try Stephenson Con Hooley 7-0
26mins SAINTS Try Fotuali’i Con Hooley 14-0
30mins LEINSTER Yellow card Marshall
36mins SAINTS Try Burrell Con Hooley 21-0
HALF-TIME SAINTS 21 LEINSTER 0
42mins SAINTS Try North 26-0
55mins LEINSTER Try Kelleher Con Marsh 26-7
62mins SAINTS Yellow card L Dickson
63mins LEINSTER Try Leavy Con Marsh 26-14
75mins LEINSTER Try M McGrath Con Marsh 26-21
77mins SAINTS Try North Con Wilson 33-21
FULL-TIME SAINTS 33 LEINSTER 21