Leinster 9 London Irish 12By Alan Manicom
October 09, 2009
Ryan Lamb kicked a last-minute penalty to clinch an impressive win over European champions Leinster tonight.
The London Irish fly-half held his nerve to slot the ball between the posts and send the Heineken Cup holders crashing to their first home defeat in the competition for four years.
But it was Exiles captain Bob Casey, playing against his former club, who laid the foundations for victory with a man-of-the-match display alongside Nick Kennedy in the second row.
The pair worked hard to disrupt the Leinster line-out and were outstanding in a pack that prevented the Magners League leaders from gaining any momentum.
Irish's success in their Pool 6 opener, though, owed as much to their well organised and determined defence in the face of constant first-half pressure by a Leinster side, who were roared on by a sell-out 18,500 crowd at the RDS Arena.
Leinster took just two minutes to take the lead through a penalty by fly-half Jonathan Sexton.
And although Exiles full-back Peter Hewat levelled seven minutes later, Sexton was quick to restore his side's lead with another penalty.
The match threatened to boil over when a massive free-for-all erupted on the sidelines, but yellow cards issued to London Irish hooker David Paice and Leinster's Jamie Heaslip served to ease the tension between the sides.
Leinster tested Irish's 19-year-old right wing Tom Homer with some high kicks, but the youngster was equal to the task.
And elsewhere on the pitch Exiles' determined defence held firm. Hewat covered the gaps admirably, scrum-half Paul Hodgson scurried around energetically, despite playing most of the first half on the back foot, and Seilala Mapasua and Elvis Seveali'i were immense in midfield, while starting fly-half Chris Malone tackled tenaciously.
The expected feast of running rugby from two of Europe's most attacking teams failed to materialise as Leinster, who enjoyed the vast majority of territorial advantage before the break, adopted to go for a tactical kicking game.
But when Sexton squandered a chance to stretch Leinster's lead by missing a penalty, Hewat raised Exiles' spirits by sending the ball over from 47 metres after Shane Horgan had been penalised for not releasing.
London Irish emerged for the second half on level terms and immediately took the game to their opponents.
A great break by Mapasua allowed Sailosi Tagicakibau, the Guinness Premiership's top try scorer, to test the Leinster defence with a surging run.
And moments later Exiles even opted to run the ball in front of their own posts in another attempt to release Tagicakibau, but the Samoan flier was held by a terrific tackle by Brian O'Driscoll.
As Irish continued to wreck Leinster's first-phase ball and grew in confidence, coach Toby Booth sent on Lamb for Malone in a bid to press home their advantage.
After Hewat missed his second penalty of the half, Lamb took over the place-kicking duties.
His first act was to give Irish the lead by striking the ball majestically between the posts from 49 yards.
And moments later he booted a terrific kick into touch to relieve pressure.
When Exiles No. 8 Chris Hala'Ufia was penalised for illegally using his left foot to boot the ball out of a scrum in the 74th minute, Sexton seized on the opportunity to level things up at 9-9.
However, there was one more twist to come as a penalty for offside was awarded against Leinster prop Mike Ross.
And Lamb, the top points scorer in the Premiership coolly sent his kick sailing over, condemning Leinster to their first Heineken Cup defeat at home since they lost 22-19 to Bath in 2005.
No-one was more delighted in the Irish squad than their 6ft 7in skipper Casey, who hails fom the province and had more than 80 friends and relatives in the crowd.
And his heroic display will surely not have escaped the attention of the Ireland selectors.
He said: "It is special for my family. I have been away from home for eight years and it is nice to give them something."
"It just shows how far this team has come, but it will mean nothing if we do not perform in our next pool game at home to Scarlets next Saturday."
Casey, who gave his old schoolmate, Leinster captain Leo Cullen, a torrid time in the line-out insisted that Irish were able to step up a gear in the second half thanks to their superior stamina.
"Allan Ryan, our strength and conditioning coach, has made some serious improvements to the squad and we knew we would be there in the last 10 minutes.
"To be honest when Chris gave away that penalty I thought we had blown it, but there is a real spirit in this squad.
"We put their line-out under pressure, the scrums came good, and Declan Danaher, Steffon Armitage and Chris Hala'Ufia in our back row were outstanding."
"I might have a Guinness or two," said Casey, who When asked if he would get to bed after such a momentous win, added: "Hopefully not."
1st half scoring: 3-0 (Sexton pen), 3-3 (Hewat pen), 6-3 (Sexton pen), 6-6 (Hewat pen). 2nd half: 6-9 (Lamb pen), 9-9 (Sexton pen), 9-12 (Lamb pen).