Leinster will be in the open draw for the semi-finals of the Heineken Champions Cup, where they will be the only non-French side, and deservedly so too.
Even by the standards of the four-time winners, this was one of Leinster’s finest hours in this competition, beating the reigning European and English champions in their own lair and, in the process, ending English interest in the competition.
What’s more, they did it from 14-0 down, ultimately having the stamina and endurance to outlast fellow thoroughbreds on English soil on Grand National Day.
By the end, their supremacy was almost complete, as they initially turned the tide at scrum and lineout time and at the breakdown, as they also had the bigger impact from the bench, notably Andrew Porter and Ryan Baird.
To begin with, Leinster’s defence was ominously unsure, passive and disjointed. But after suffering a double whammy which might have floored lesser teams, and then seeing a first siege on the Exeter line repelled, they stayed calm and composed, working their way into the game.
Johnny Sexton had been the orchestrator in chief, whereupon losing him after a failed HIA might have been another hammer blow. But Ross Byrne, who has only ever once played on a losing side in the Champions Cup, slotted in seamlessly and with immediate effect, while landing six from six for a 17-point haul.
The tide had begun to turn on the breakdown, where the immense Rónan Kelleher, Jack Conan and Josh van der Flier all won important steals.
That trio, along with Rhys Ruddock, were outstanding, with Van der Flier’s timing onto the ball again superb as he carried above his weight. Robbie Henshaw was brilliant on both sides of the ball, so earning the star of the match award from Sam Warburton, who by rights should have given it to his fellow number seven.
Leinster were sleepy out of the blocks and paid a heavy price, finding themselves 14-0 down in no time. First Devin Toner afforded Exeter safe exit when offside at the fringes before Exeter opted for a scrum when Leinster closed the gap.
Despite having no angle off the scrum, Sam Simmonds hared off infield and found a slightly passive defence which also got its spacings and numbers wrong. Rory O’Loughlin was left with a two-on-one in midfield, and Henry Slade released Tom O’Flaherty, who then spun out of a poor tackle by Hugo Keenan and Sexton to score a soft try with barely two minutes gone.
When the Chiefs again stretched Leinster to the right and came back left, Slade accelerated through Tadhg Furlong and O’Loughlin and fed O’Flaherty, who stepped out of Jordan Larmour’s despairing tackle.
Although Sexton began pulling the strings after Toner claimed an overthrow and James Lowe was released for a trademark gallop along the left touchline and offload inside. But after Keenan was held up over the line, Jonny Gray’s arm prevented a clear grounding by Scott Fardy before Jonny Hill latched over the ball and couldn’t be shifted after a second tap penalty close to the line.
Finally Leinster began motoring when Exeter pushed early in a scrum and Luke McGrath tapped to Conan on the charge. Sexton swept left in identifying space and fed Keenan, who did brilliantly to offload in a double tackle to put Lowe away.
Sexton, who landed a good conversion, was mixing his game up nicely but having already received treatment, was forced to leave the action.
It looked like a hammer blow, but after Henshaw won a penalty in the jackal, Leinster mauled strongly and Henshaw pulled the ball back for Byrne to pass in front of Keenan and he carried diagonally and timed his pass for Larmour to finish smartly by the touchflag.
Byrne even managed the touchline conversion with his second touch, and after Kelleher won his second penalty in the jackal, Byrne landed the penalty to push Leinster in front.
Luke Cowan-Dickie cancelled out a penalty in the jackal by Van der Flier when Conan released Kelleher on the blindside of a clever lineout move but was then pinged after another of many good carries by Van der Flier.
Exeter’s defence was ferocious but Hill’s swinging arm followed through on to Byrne’s face and the Exeter lock was fortunate to escape with merely a penalty. In terms of height, it wasn’t much different from the Bundee Aki hit against England which earned him a red card and four-game ban.
Mathieu Raynal reasoned that the initial hit was on the shoulder, and Byrne dipped, but not even a yellow? Ridiculous.
In any event, Byrne dusted himself off and landed the penalty with the last act of an eventful half which flew by. Leinster had turned a 14-0 deficit into a 20-14 interval lead.
But they again got their spacings in defence as O’Flaherty burst on to a pass from Sam Simmonds through inviting gap between Cian Healy and Fardy. When Ruddock was pinged at the breakdown, Exeter turned down a certain three-pointer for a lineout and, so tightly set-up you could have thrown a rug over them, powered over for Dave Ewers to score.
Joe Simmonds missed the touchline conversion but after O’Flaherty skipped through the tackles of Healy and Larmour, the outhalf briefly nudged Exeter ahead before Byrne did likewise after Ewels tackled off the ball.
That followed a nice trick play, and Leinster also surprised the home side when moving the restart wide inside their own 22 before O’Loughlin broke free from Byrne’s inside pass.
Although Lowe was tackled into touch from one strike play well orchestrated by Byrne as he pulled the ball back for Henshaw, on his introduction Baird stole the ensuing lineout. Leinster went wide right with an advantage play, and Larmour pirouetted in a strong tackle by Joe Simmonds to touch down with an inch or two to spare for an even better finish than his first.
The game then pivoted, not unexpectedly, on a couple of moments in the middle of the pitch midway through the half. First a good Leinster defensive set culminated in a forward pass by Joe Simmonds, whereupon Leinster won a scrum penalty against Alec Hepburn for hinging and went up the line.
Jannes Kirsten then re-enacted Ewers’s high shot on Byrne with a swinging arm and again Raynal deduced that it was only worthy of a yellow card even though Kirsten went even higher, without dipping.
Two wrongs most definitely didn’t make a right but Byrne again dusted himself down to make it a two-score game with the penalty.
Ewers beat Henshaw’s tackle for another line break but for once Exeter then didn’t convert from within five metres. In fact it happened twice after turning down another sure three points when Sam Simmonds picked and jammed into his own player, ironically Kirsten, given he should have been off the pitch,.
Good lineout work by the newly introduced Ross Molony, another strong defensive set epitomised by Van der Flier’s thunderous tackling and Porter’s sharpness and strength over the ball enabled Leinster to work their way downfield.
There, Porter won Leinster’s third scrum penalty, once more against Hepburn and Byrne unerringly nailed the penalty once more.
To complete the complete turnaround, it seemed Leinster’s defence had earned the coup de grace for a long-range try by O’Loughlin. Instead, Exeter went to the corner and Baird executed another, final lineout steal.
EXETER CHIEFS: Stuart Hogg; Olly Woodburn, Henry Slade, Ollie Devoto, Tom O’Flaherty; Joe Simmonds (capt), Jack Maunder; Ben Moon, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tomas Francis; Jonny Gray, Jonny Hill; Dave Ewers, Jacques Vermeulen, Sam Simmonds.
Replacements: Alec Hepburn for Moon, Harry Williams for Francis (both 51 mins), Jannes Kirsten for Vermeulen (52), Sam Skinner for Gray, Stu Townsend for Maunder (both 58), Ian Whitten for Woodburn (61), Jack Yeandle for Cowan-Dickie (64). Not used: Harvey Skinner.
LEINSTER: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Rory O’Loughlin, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (capt), Luke McGrath; Cian Healy, Rónan Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong; Devin Toner, Scott Fardy; Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.
Replacements: Ross Byrne for Sexton (28 mins), Ed Byrne for Healy, Ryan Baird for Fardy (both 51), Andrew Porter for Furlong (56), James Tracy for Kelleher, Ross Molony for Toner (both 71), Dave Kearney for Lowe (79). Not used: Hugh O’Sullivan.
Johann van Graan was somewhat less than adamant that Conor Murray will make his seasonal re-appearance in their United Rugby Championship (URC) fifth round match away to the Ospreys next Saturday night, which is just two weeks out from the first of Ireland’s November test series, with the All Blacks to follow a week later.
“He might possibly be involved next week,” said the Munster head coach after their latest act of escapology to beat Connacht 20-18 at Thomond Park on Saturday night.
“We’ll see how the week goes. We’ve taken our time with his recovery, so if he comes through the week then we’ll make a call at the back end of the week whether we’re going to select him or not.”
Van Graan assured us that Murray is not injured.
“No, he’s good. He had non-23 training on Friday so really looking forward to getting him involved.”
Van Graan wore the smile of a relieved man after Connacht had pushed them to the wire with a clever, fired-up all-round display in a spicy derby, during which the lead changed hands five times.
“I think if you look at the table, it’s three Irish teams at the top. Connacht are always such a big team in the interpros and you’ve got to give credit to them. Last season they beat all three of the Irish teams away.
“That’s why the players and the coaches and the supporters, and everybody involved loves an interpro, because that’s what you get. It’s not a classic but for the purist it’s a battle.
“That’s what the game is about and that’s why Irish rugby is in such a good place because they have got four top teams and some very good players across the four teams. That was a grind from our side, and proud of the way we finished that with that try and the conversion,” he said in reference to Diarmuid Barron’s 78th minute try and Joey Carbery’s nerveless conversion.
His counterpart, Andy Friend, was left with immense pride in his team’s performance mixed with acute frustration at their infuriating inconsistency and key mistakes, not least at restart receptions, but also the key decisions that went against his team.
Most notable of these was the failure by TMO Brian MacNeice and referee Chris Busby to spot that Tadhg Beirne was clearly in front of the ball before hacking on Rory Scannell’s crosskick in the build-up to Chris Cloete’s 39th minute try.
“I’ve got to be careful here,” he said when asked if he felt Connacht don’t receive a fair rub of the green from officials. “I’ve been here three and a bit years, mate, and if it’s a 50-50 I rarely see it going our way.
“I know that, but listen we’ve got to keep pushing our limits and making sure that we’re trying to be as squeaky clean as we can with things. I’m just…. to me, that try and the missed offside there – that’s inexcusable. Whether it’s Connacht or somebody else, I don’t know, it’s just inexcusable.”
To compound his frustrations, nor does the URC have channels to go through.
“We don’t have a referees’ manager, so I’m assuming that URC will be looking at that and hopefully something happens to the TMO that missed it. But it doesn’t help us, mate.”
Putting his own team’s errors into perspective, Friend highlighted their lineout pressure, strike plays, kicking and defence.
“On the whole the majority was really good, there’ll always be elements we need to work on. Otherwise we’d be out of a job.”
With next Saturday’s home game against Ulster at the Aviva in mind, Friend said: “What we will use is that we know we’re a good football side.
“We’ve just pushed a good Munster team who haven’t looked like losing a game this year and have played some really good rugby.
“We’ve turned up at their home field, where we beat them last season, knowing full well there was going to be a kick-back and we pushed them all the way to their limits.
“So, we know we’re a good football side. Our blip last week (against the Dragons) was a blip. We just have to make sure we never drop to that again and we keep our standards high.”
A 24-year-old man who drowned in a swimming pool near Marbella in Spain has been named locally in Co Clare as Irish Defence Forces member Gerard McMahon.
Authorities responded to a distress call at 10.25am on Friday. The alarm was raised by friends who found Mr McMahon lifeless in the pool.
Spanish authorities are treating the death of the holiday maker as a “tragic accident”.
Mr McMahon lived in the Killaloe area of Co Clare. Local priest Fr Jerry O’Brien confirmed he had met the family of the young man and expressed his sympathy on behalf of the community.
Ogonnelloe GAA posted a tribute to Mr McMahon who was well known and liked in the community.
“It is with profound shock and sadness that we learned today of the sudden passing of our young member and friend, Gerard McMahon. Our thoughts and prayers are with his parents, Pat and Carmel, his sister Bríd, and all the McMahon family at this extremely difficult time.”
The club Facebook page posted a picture of Mr McMahon from 2016 when he and his team mates won the Division 3 League.
Scarriff Hurling also paid tribute to Mr McMahon who played for them at juvenile level. “Always with pride, great skill and giving all to the team and club.”
Meanwhile, local Fine Gael councillor Joe Cooney said the family of the young man were in the thoughts and prayers of the community.
Mr McMahon was a Private in the First Infantry Battalion in Renmore Barracks in Galway. St Patrick’s Garrison Church posted a message on Facebook asking for prayers for Mr McMahon and for his “family and comrades”.
A postmortem was expected to take place over the weekend at the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Malaga.
So for now, your best course of action is to stay put.
If you are coming to the end of a fixed deal, roll onto your supplier’s standard variable tariff.
These default deals are protected by the energy watchdog’s price cap — £1,277 a year for the average gas and electricity user — until April 2022. And there are no exit fees, so you are free to switch away the moment better deals return.
For those who signed up to ultra‑cheap deals a year or two ago, there is no getting away from the fact that your bills are going to rise.
But locking into a new fixed deal now could mean you’re hit with even higher energy costs over the cold winter months.
To avoid adding to any confusion, Money Mail has temporarily removed all energy tariffs from our Best Buys tables.
But rest assured, we are tracking the market closely and will update you as soon as something changes.
Suppliers, many of which are at risk of going under, can’t offer competitive fixed deals
While on the topic of rising bills, a big thank you to everyone for their top energy-saving tips after I publicly scolded my husband, Chris, last week.
Money Mail reader Molly Clark suggests leaving the oven open after cooking so not to waste the heat, using candles for softer lighting and ditching the dishwasher in favour of a good old-fashioned washing-up bowl.
Another reader, Robert, goes a step further and washes his dishes with cold water.
A small squirt from a 29p bottle of diluted white vinegar along with a dash of washing-up liquid on a little green fabric scouring cloth used in circular motions will ensure they are squeaky-clean, he assures me.
But I was most taken by Julie Priest’s suggestion of a fridge alarm that will go off when the door is left open.
Amazon has one with a ‘repeated siren’ mode — and if that doesn’t teach Chris to close it, I don’t know what will.
But at £21.99, I might stick to nagging for now.
Keep those tips coming!
Many see a monthly subscription, such as Netflix, as essential (pictured: Netflix’s Squid Game)
Need for Netflix
It’s fascinating to see how our spending priorities have changed since the pandemic.
Take the popular streaming service Netflix. Once a luxury, a monthly subscription is now considered essential, according to a report by the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association published yesterday.
One pensioner commented that their partner’s quality of life would just not be the same without it.
Another man from Wales said that he had not realised how important dining out was for ’emotional well-being’.
But as the cost of living soars, experts fear people could cut back on pension saving. With many already failing to put aside enough for the lifestyle they want in retirement, this could prove disastrous.
So if you have spare cash leftover at the end of the month, consider using it to give your future self a better life.
It could be me…
Inspired by a colleague, I bought my first ever EuroMillions lottery ticket last Friday. It was a rollover with a juicy £174million jackpot, and I was feeling lucky.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t win. But what fun I had daydreaming about what I’d do with such a windfall.
And since no one scooped the prize money, I figured there was no harm in having one more go in last night’s record £184million draw. Who knows, I could be a multi-millionaire by the time you read this.
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