Leinster took a big step to securing a home semi-final in the Magners League playoff with a workmanlike 20-8 win against Aironi at the Stadio Luigi Zaffanella this afternoon.
Having made a number of changes with their Heineken Cup semi-final next weekend in mind Leinster were a little disjointed at times but in the main they played well and were comfortable winners.
Leinster, who took the lead with a Fergus McFadden penalty after three minutes, got the first try of the game when after some good build up play from the pack Sean O Brien, who had another big game, scored underneath the posts and allowed an easy conversion for McFadden.
Aironi, who made six changes to their starting XV competed well in the opening stages determined that they would put up a fight to Leinster and the boot of their scrumhalf Tito Tebaldi kept them on Leinster’s coattails.
But it was the excellent kicking of Fergus McFadden that allowed Leinster to always be in control and keep the score board ticking over. The wind was taken out Aironi’s sails on the 21 minute mark when they kicked the ball out on the full which allowed Leinster a lineout just inside their half. What followed was vintage Leinster.
A great move was finished off by the excellent Cian Healy and again McFadden made no mistake with the extras. That try allowed Leinster to go 17 points up at half time.
That should have been the spark for Leinster to kick on and go after the extra tries for the bonus point. But a combination of good defence from Aironi and some rustiness on the part of Leinster always meant that Leinster were never fully out of sight.
The second half started much the same for both teams. Aironi nearly snuck over for a try in the 42nd minute but were held up just short of the Leinster line. Leinster came roaring back led by the bulldozing presence of Rhys Ruddock who again played with a maturity beyond his tender years. He made several darting breaks but the final pass would just not stick for Leinster.
But Aironi, who despite been bottom of the league, refused to go away and pressed Leinster for the majority of the second half without quite been good enough to trouble the vaunted Leinster defence.
They eventually managed to cross the Leinster white wash in the 68th minute when after a powerful lineout from Aironi flanker Gareth Krause managed to get over. The conversion was missed however.
That would prove to be the last score in a game that was comfortable enough for Leinster although they will be concerned that they didn’t manage to score a single point in the second half.
The win today moves Leinster back into second place in the Magners League and two points ahead of Ulster. They can now look forward with relish to their showdown with Toulouse next Saturday in what promises to be a seismic showdown.