|Celtic League roundup||| Print ||
|Monday, 09 October 2006|
By Darragh Cox
Leinster and Munster smashed the Magners Celtic League record attendance (27,252) with their first meeting since last season's Heineken European Cup semi-final. Munster came out on top that day and went onto record a memorable European Cup triumph, but Leinster gained a little revenge with a seven-point defeat of Declan Kidney's men at Lansdowne Road on Friday. Both sides entered the match having played four games and achieved a loss-win-loss-win record so far. Both also had the luxury of welcoming back their considerable Irish international contingent for last weekend's wins. But Munster were forced into Friday's game without injured backs Shane Horgan, Anthony Horgan and Christian Cullen, leaving Cork youngster Jeremy Manning in an unfamiliar full-back role. Munster were also still without powerhouse forwards John Hayes and Jerry Flannery.
Leinster brought Malcolm O'Kelly and Gordon D'Arcy into the first 15 for the first time in this competition, and players the calibre of Bernard Jackman and Robert Kearney did not even make their 22-man match squad. O'Gara kicked Munster ahead as Leinster's Ronan McCormack was sin-binned early on but Manning's first task was to try and halt Irish captain Brian O'Driscoll from crossing the line for the game's opening try. Like many before him, Manning couldn't ground the Dubliner and Leinster took the early initiative. Contepomi was then yellow carded for lashing out at Donncha O'Callaghan but Leinster broke through for their second try of the night shortly after the half-hour mark as Shane Horgan, who claimed the game-deciding try against Connacht in his first game of the season last week, raced over after a great break by winger Denis Hickie.
Argentinean fly-half Contepomi, back on the pitch, landed both conversions and also kicked a penalty to stretch Leinster's lead to 14 points, 17-3. Munster got back into contention in the last minute of the half, despite playing against a strong breeze, with their first try of the game. David Wallace claimed the credit after powering through and O'Gara neatly converted to reduce the gap to seven. But any hopes of a Munster comeback were dashed when front-row Marcus Horan was sin-binned in the opening minute of the second-half.
Leinster's outstanding backline capitalised on the extra numbers and a free-running attack opened up the space for O'Driscoll to carve open the Munster line once again and claim his second try. Contepomi missed the conversion and O'Gara's second penalty saw Leinster's lead cut to nine points, but Leinster added a bonus point to a fine night's work when Contepomi's industry created the opportunity for number eight Jamie Heaslip to break the Munster line for a fourth Leinster try.
Contepomi again missed the conversion and this proved important in the end for Munster as front-row Federico Pucciariello claimed a late try close to the posts, allowing O'Gara to narrow the gap to seven from the conversion and earn the southerners a bonus point.
Ulster are back at the helm of the Celtic League after they ran in three tries against an unfortunate Connacht side at The Sportsground in Galway on Friday. Connacht, who had enjoyed such an encouraging start to the campaign, were deflated last weekend as a late burst by Leinster drove them to a flattering win at the same venue and robbed Michael Bradley's men of even a bonus point. The seven-point margin between themselves and Ulster at the end of this Friday's match at least enabled the westerners to take home a bonus point but Ulster, minus Paul Steinmetz and Tommy Bowe laid down a marker that they are in determined mood to defend their title. However they failed to claim the fourth try that would have earned them a bonus of their own and send them a point clear of Llanelli Scarlets, who have a game in hand. Ulster, beaten by the same opposition last December, started well and had their entire night's haul of points on the board before the hosts registered a score.
It took them 32 minutes to open the scoring but Roger Wilson, scrum-half Isaac Boss and Bryn Cunningham all claimed tries for the visitors while David Humphries kicked two conversions and Paddy Wallace landed the third. The out-half also kicked a penalty as Ulster opened up a 24-point lead and went searching for the bonus point-clinching try. Connacht, trailing 10-0 at the break, rallied impressively, however, and substitute Paul Warwick was in devastating form. He claimed Connacht's first try, which he converted himself. He also converted his side's only other try of the evening, a late score from Matt Mostyn. But it was Warwick's superb converted long-range penalty in injury-time that took Connacht to within the necessary seven points, salvaging a bonus from the night.
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