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A late penalty from Shaun Berne helped Leinster seal a gritty 16-13 victory over Plymouth Albion in the opening round of the British and Irish Cup in Brickfields Recreation Grounds, Plymouth on Saturday evening.
Eleven points from the boot of Shaun Berne, alongside a first half Michael Keating try, helped the province seal a narrow but deserved win against the Championship side in front of a vocal 1,250 crowd.
The visitors began strongly and were awarded a penalty in the first minute when a Plymouth forward was offside at a ruck, though Shaun Berne’s initial effort fell inches wide of the upright he made amends six minutes later to give Leinster a 3-0 lead.
With Niall Morris and Michael Keating threatening at pace from deep at regular intervals, Leinster looked dangerous, but it was Plymouth out-half Alex Davies who had a chance score their first points with a penalty five metres inside the Leinster half, but it fell short of the posts.
Unperturbed, Davies then opted to kick an ambitious penalty from inside Albion’s half in the 13th minute which also lacked distance. It was a case of third time lucky though for Davies when he slotted home a straight forward penalty two minutes later to level the scores, 3-3.
With wintry conditions in the southwest of England making conditions heavy under foot, neither side managed to sustain any real tempo, but a clever kick through from Davies in the 23rd minute almost found the onrushing wing Ben Mercer, but skipper Paul O’Donohoe expertly slid inside the dead ball line to deny the try.
But Albion were not to be denied and a minute later wing Liam Gibson gathered an up-and-under to race in and score, which Davies converted, to give the hosts a 10-3 lead.
Credit to Leinster who responded immediately with some forceful play into the wind from Trevor Hogan and the impressive Jack McGrath and it was a break from the tight-head prop in the 34th minute which led to Leinster being awarded another penalty, which Berne again calmly slotted home, to reduce the deficit to four points.
Dominic Ryan came close to scoring Leinster’s first try of the evening, but his attempt to score was denied by the Albion rearguard. Stephen Keogh then came close as Leinster enjoyed a spell of good pressure, but a strong break from Ronan McCormack led to a move which Paul O’Donohoe started and he found Berne who skipped an accurate pass to the rushing Keating who raced into the corner on the stroke of half-time.
Berne kicked the difficult conversion to give Leinster a deserved 13-10 interval lead.
John Fogarty was replaced by debutant Richardt Strauss in the 44th minute and the former Cheetahs hooker made an early impression, continuing the good work of the pack. However Davies kicked a 48th minute penalty to level the scores once more.
Albion, who featured former Old Belvedere and Leinster ‘A’ scrum-half Ruairi Cushion in their ranks, couldn’t convert their territorial advantage into points and Ian McKinley and Berne eased the pressure with some effective long range kicks.
Leinster upped the ante with a string of forceful breaks instigated by replacement scrum-half Simon Keogh, out-half Ian McKinley as well as the impressive Berne.
A cynical body check on Berne by Tonga centre Sione Tuipulotu in the 75th minute led to the match winning penalty which the former Australia ‘A’ man slotted home to seal the win for the visitors.
*Leinster face the Cornish Pirates next Friday, November 27th in Donnybrook (KO: 4pm) in the second pool game of the British and Irish Cup.
PLYMOUTH SCORERS: L. Gibson (1 try), A. Davies (2 penalties, 1 conversion)
LEINSTER SCORERS: M. Keating (1 try), S. Berne (3 penalties, 1 conversion)
PLYMOUTH ALBION: Mark Lee(Gary Kingdom, 78), Ben Mercer, Keni Fisilau, Sione Tu’ipulotu, Liam Gibson, Alex Davies, Ruairi Cushion; Martin Rice, Joe Clark (Graham Dawe, 80), Rya
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