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Edinburgh Edge Out Leinster To Keep Title Race Alive

jmcconnell 18 Apr 2008

Despite missing captain Mike Blair, two-try Edinburgh doggedly held on at Murrayfield to defeat champions elect Leinster and probably prolong the Magners League title race for another week.

Leinster’s title celebrations were put on hold as Edinburgh recovered from their 1872 Challenge Cup defeat to post a victory in their last home game of the season.

The Irish province, the competition’s long-time leaders, missed out on their first chance to secure the Magners League trophy this season as Edinburgh managed to repeat their Heineken Cup pool win over Michael Cheika’s side.

Back in December, Edinburgh put a sizable dent in Leinster’s Heineken Cup quarter-final hopes by beating them 29-10.

Indeed, Leinster travelled across the Irish Sea looking to banish memories of that defeat and previous losses to Edinburgh.

Murrayfield has been frustrating place to visit for Leinster over the years. Their 31-8 league triumph there in 2006 has been their only win in numerous trips to the home of Scottish rugby.

A bonus point win on Friday night would have been enough to seal Leinster’s second league title win and first under their Australian coach Cheika.

But Andy Robinson and his Edinburgh side, hungry after a brace of defeats to the Cardiff Blues and Glasgow, had other plans.

Felipe Contepomi could have sealed a Leinster win late on but his last-minute penalty was narrowly wide and Edinburgh, with Robinson praising their courage and concentration, deservedly held on.

Leinster welcomed their captain Brian O’Driscoll back from a hamstring injury for his first game in six weeks, while former Munster duo Trevor Hogan and Stephen Keogh were adding to their pack.

Edinburgh’s squad strength was tested. As well as scrum half and skipper Mike Blair being sidelined due to concussion, they were also without the services of Allan Jacobsen, Craig Smith, Andrew Turnbull, Rolland Reid, Ross Rennie and Simon Cross.

The 23-year-old Greig Laidlaw came in for Blair to make his first start of the season, while Nick De Luca, back from an ankle injury, joined the in-form Ben Cairns in midfield.

Smith’s absence in the front row saw Augusto Allori line out on the loosehead side of the Edinburgh scrum.

That scrum was severely tested during the opening stages of the game and the Scots did well not to creak as beefy Leinster props Ollie Le Roux and Stan Wright looked to have the edge on their opponents.

Both sides were content to launch kick chases in the opening quarter and after things had settled, it was almost sevens-style rugby as the ball was run back with vigour from 22 to 22.

Leinster were the first to threaten. Contepomi kicked them into the lead with a seventh-minute penalty and the visitors forced Edinburgh into some frenzied tackling near their try line as they opened well.

One such tackle – a thumping hit by John Houston on Luke Fitzgerald – allowed Edinburgh to counter attack and worm their way through for a 16th-minute try.

It was heads-up rugby from the Scots as their stand-in captain Allister Hogg hacked the ball forward.

Cairns burst through and collected it and although he was challenged by Rob Kearney as he made it into the Leinster 22, some quick recycling and passing out to the right led to hooker Ross Ford touching down in the corner.

Phil Godman fired over an excellent conversion from the touchline for a 7-3 lead.

With their backs largely kept in check by Godman, Cairns and De Luca, Leinster kept the ball tight for their next few possessions and their forwards mauled their way deep into Edinburgh territory.

Leo Cullen and company tried to wear down their opponents but Edinburgh were not budging.

They did concede three points to Contepomi after a ruck offence by flanker Alan MacDonald but there was no way they were giving away a try.

On 32 minutes, Edinburgh went 10-6 in front when Godman fired over a penalty kick in reply.

The hosts lost Hogg to the sin-bin, before the break, for a series of ruck infringements, yet their defence was teak tough either side of half-time and Leinster remained tryless.

Despite Leinster’s dominance of possession, the third quarter was scoreless but Edinburgh were beginning to turn the screw with Hugo Southwell narrowly missing a drop goal and Godman slipped a penalty kick wide of the mark.

Suddenly, Edinburgh struck for a 70th-minute try when MacDonald burst forward and his offload sent his back row colleague David Callam dashing over for a five-pointer.

15-6 down, Leinster rallied with winger Fitzgerald nabbing his sixth try of the league campaign, which Contepomi converted.

Some good driving work by the Leinster pack and a break by Contepomi gave Fitzgerald the chance to squeeze over under the posts.

However, the Argentinian’s last-gasp penalty kick shaved the upright as Leinster, with the finishing line in their sights, lost for the first time in the league since October.

Back then, Glasgow beat the Irish province 21-17 at Firhill. Cheika’s side chalked up a draw and ten straight wins before Friday’s loss at Murrayfield.

Should Cardiff beat Ulster, the title race will be prolonged and a win over the Dragons at the RDS on May 3 would see Leinster crowned league champions.

Edinburgh’s latest victory, which ended a poor run of just one win in their last six matches, has moved them up to fourth in the league standings – ahead of trips to the Ospreys and the Scarlets.