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The biggest Magners League crowd of the season – 16,753 spectators – turned up at the RDS on Friday night to watch Leinster overcome their provincial rivals Connacht thanks to two late tries from centre Gordon D’Arcy.
With only one win in Dublin since 1985, Connacht were hoping to end their poor away form against Leinster and also get back to winning ways this season after four games without a victory.
They received a boost before kick-off when their captain Andrew Farley, who has been nursing a hamstring injury, passed a late fitness test to join David Gannon in the visitors’ second row.
Both players were heavily involved in the opening quarter as Connacht built up a 6-3 lead thanks to two Tim Donnelly penalties and some clever work at the breakdown.
Leinster, who made four changes to the side that drew 16-16 with Ulster last Friday, struggled initially and a series of ruck infringements from the hosts allowed Connacht to take control.
However, Michael Bradley’s men were limited in attack and although possession was forthcoming, they never looked like crossing the whitewash and the danger was that Leinster, with all of their internationals back bar Felipe Contepomi who was attending his brother’s wedding, had the strength in depth to cut loose.
Donnelly, the league’s second best place-kicker this season, missed a sixth-minute shot at the posts from the left but he made amends three minutes later from the opposite side.
From the restart though, Connacht were caught out as Malcolm O’Kelly won the ball back for Leinster and young winger Luke Fitzgerald sprinted into space.
Leinster looked odds-on to score a try but Ofisa Treviranus did brilliantly to prevent Gordon D’Arcy from grounding the ball, with television match official David Keane confirming that there was no touchdown.
Off the resulting scrum, Jamie Heaslip was just stopped short of the line and Connacht again had to produce the goods in defence when Brian O’Driscoll sent a long cut-out pass to the left.
Fitzgerald took it and looked set to step pass Gavin Duffy and dot down, but Treviranus sprinted across to help bundle his opposite number into touch.
Although not noted for his place-kicking skills, Australian Christian Warner, who filled in at number 10 for the benched Jonathan Sexton and the absent Contepomi, kicked a levelling 19th-minute penalty for the home side.
With Johnny O’Connor, Michael McCarthy and John Muldoon making good gains as ball carriers, Connacht kept a decent hold of possession before O’Connor sprung through a gap off a midfield ruck.
A string of passes ended with Connacht camped five metres out from the hosts’ whitewash but that was as close as they got.
Michael Bradley’s men just seemed to lack that killer touch, although with Donnelly succeeding with the second of two penalty opportunities after 22 and 24 minutes and replying to another Warner penalty with an angled drop goal, late in the half, the westerners went in at the break with a 9-6 lead.
With six wins on the trot against Connacht since 2002 and a big Heineken Cup game against Leicester Tigers next week, Leinster’s players knew they had to up the ante in the second half.
Suitably fired up by Michael Cheika’s half-time team talk, O’Driscoll and company got their league campaign back on track with a memorable enough second half display.
Warner got them level nine minutes into the fray and just after Donnelly’s third missed penalty of the night, two successful kicks from Warner nudged Leinster into a 15-9 advantage.
Connacht bodies were beginning to tire and Leinster took full advantage in the closing ten minutes.
A kick forward from Keith Matthews was returned with interest by the lively Fitzgerald who sauntered past two tackles and broke into space before offloading for the supporting Heaslip whose timely offload sent D’Arcy scurrying down the left touchline and over for his first try.
Warner swung over the conversion attempt to make it a seven-pointer and there was still time for D’Arcy to add a somewhat flattering gloss to the scoreboard. He collected a flat pass from Shane Horgan and brilliantly sidestepped his way around his Ireland team-mate Duffy to score an excellent second try.
The left-sided conversion was thumped through the uprights by Warner for his seventh successful kick out of seven, completing Leinster’s first league success since their September win over current leaders Cardiff.