Understrength Leinster blown away by the Lions in Johannesburg

Home side scores three tries in the first 15 minutes to power past Leo Cullen’s side in a rare URC defeat

URC: Lions 44 Leinster 12

A week which saw Leinster soar to new heights on and off the pitch ended with an understrength side being brought crashing back down to earth as the United Rugby Championship leaders were hammered by six tries to two in Johannesburg.

Leo Cullen, having made 13 changes to the side which defeated La Rochelle, knew it would be difficult in Johannesburg but even his worst nightmare would not have foreseen them 22-0 adrift in less than 15 minutes as the Lions mauled them from the outset.

It took just 38 seconds for the South Africans to hit the front, creating an overlap down the left before feeding back inside for scrumhalf Morne van der Berg to canter home.

Outhalf Sanele Nohamba added the easy conversion and then tapped over a penalty in front of the posts after seven minutes as the Lions built up their lead.


Leinster just could not get their hands on the ball and when they did they turned it over cheaply, paying the price after 11 minutes when Lions countered from deep after pouncing on a ball and captain Marius Louw raced in to score, with Nohamba’s failed conversion limiting the damage to 15-0.

But there was no reprieve for the league leaders as the Lions struck for their third try. Again, quick ball through the hands created an overlap and fullback Quan Horn had the gas to go outside down the left and race in for his 10th try of the season which Nohamba converted for 22-0.

Leinster managed to stem the flow. The returning Charlie Ngatai gave them some go-forward ball, even if it was inevitably wasted. Leinster, having had to replace Brian Deeny with Ross Molony before the game, were forced into a further change when winger Andrew Osborne went off injured and was replaced by Cormac Foley.

Cian Healy used his experience to give a creaking scrum some balance, as well as plenty of advice to Italian referee Gianluca Gnecchi, and slowly Leinster managed to get a foothold and force the Lions on the back foot in the second quarter.

The Lions defended superbly and kept their line intact to the break despite some good Leinster surges off set-pieces. Scott Penny was stopped short and former Newbridge College backrower Diarmuid Mangan was denied a try on his first start after being held up under the posts.

Centre Liam Turner managed to escape the initial defenders but knocked-on in the tackle from tighthead Ruan Dreyer just inches short. A penalty to either corner and another tapped effort inside the 22 failed to find a hole in the home cover and Leinster, despite remarkably finishing the half with 70 per cent possession, went in trailing by 22-0.

The trend continued after the break, with Foley denied a try after 44 minutes after a TMO review found he was guilty of a forward pass in the build-up and as both sides started emptying their benches, Nohamba increased Lions lead with a penalty from 48 metres which required the intervention of the TMO again after one assistant referee raised his flag and the other kept his down.

It was that sort of day for Leinster. They finally got off the mark when a kick from Harry Byrne was collected by Ciarán Frawley to score a converted try to reduce the margin to 25-7 after 53 minutes, but hopes of a comeback were not long disappearing when a good turnover from Erich Cronje ended a promising Leinster attack and ended with a try from Emmanuel Tshituka at the other end.

Frawley got his second try after smart work from Rhys Ruddock, Luke McGrath and Sam Prendergast, but the Lions finished strongly with Tshituka getting his second try and Francke Horn crowning his 50th appearance with a try after another turnover with the clock in the red to complete the rout.

Scoring sequence: 1 min: Van der Berg try, Nohamba con 7-0; 7: Nohamba pen 10-0; 11: Louw try 15-0; 14: Q Horn try, Nohamba con 22-0; Half-time: 22-0; 48: Nohamba pen 25-0; 53: Frawley try, Byrne con 25-7; 57: Tshituka try 30-7; 63: Frawley try 30-12; 76: Tshituka try, Hendrikse con 37-12; 80: F Horn try, Hendrikse con 44-12. Full-time: 44-12.

Lions: Q Horn; R Kriel, E Cronje, M Louw (capt), E van der Merwe; S Nohamba, M van den Berg; M Naude, PJ Botha, R Dreyer; W Alberts, R Delport; JC Pretorius, E Tshituka, F Horn. Replacements: J Visagie for Bothja (55 mins), A Ntlabakanye for Dreyer (55 mins), R Nothnagel for Delport (61 mins), JP Smith for Naude (61 mins), J Hendrikse for Nohamba (63 mins), H van Wyk for Cronje (64 mins), S Sangweni for Tshituka (77 mins), N Steyn for van der Berg (77 mins).

Leinster: C Frawley; R Russell, L Turner, C Ngatai, A Osborne; H Byrne, L McGrath; C Healy, L Barron, T Clarkson; R Molony, J Jenkins; D Mangan, S Penny (capt), M Deegan. Replacements: C Foley for Osborne (22 mins), J McKee for Barron (43 mins), M Milne for Healy (43 mins), M Ala’alatoa for Clarkson (43 mins), B Brownlee for Ngatai (44 mins), R Ruddock for Mangan (58 mins), S Prendergast for Byrne (60 mins).

Referee: G Gnecchi (Italy).