Leinster young guns come up short as Sharks hold on for narrow win in Durban

It’s fair to say that while ‘it’s a hard place to go’ is one of most used and inaccurate lines in rugby, in South Africa it’s on the money.

retty much anywhere in South Africa. It doesn’t have to be at altitude, it’s enough that it’s on their patch in their conditions and they’re geared up to do what South African teams love doing more than anything else: smashing opponents.

So for this new-look Leinster, chasing another win to make themselves uncatchable at the top of the URC, there was hand to hand combat between the learnings and takeaways columns to see which had the best info at the end of the day. They were trumped by the Sharks and unusually for Leinster, a losing bonus point was a creditable return.

As the weather worsened the game became more chaotic, especially for the refereeing team who were under huge pressure from the Sharks to match up the gap between Leinster’s diminishing numbers and the scoreboard. In the end it was the Sharks who were down a man as the game descended to near farce, but for Leo Cullen’s gaggle of greenhorns, the battle scars from struggling for a period with 13 men will be worth the pain.

So Leinster’s place at the top is not yet guaranteed, with the hard-chasing Stormers to come at the weekend and then on May 21st they are at home to Munster, in the last round in regulation. It remains to be seen how many of this group get to lace a boot when the knockouts arrive, but either way all will be the better for this experience.

The lessons began to motor towards exam point in the third quarter when replacement Josh Murphy was binned for a none-too-subtle bit of interference at the lineout, and got hotter and heavier on the run-in. Murphy was only seven minutes on the field when he was turfed. Having conceded a well-shunted maul try a few minutes earlier, this was food and drink to the locals.

So, run a bit of traffic off the bench, get a few lads treated for timely injuries, and park any thoughts of comfort zones. It helped that it was spilling down by that point, increasing the handling challenge for the Sharks, but soon enough they were down to 13 when another replacement, Lee Barron, was binned as well at a retreating set-piece.

Leinster quickly made a patchwork quilt but between Bongi Mbonami and Phepsi Buthelezi bullocking their way over a game Leinster looked like sneaking was all but gone.

Still they managed to finish the game out pressurising the Sharks line, with the TMO working overtime. Like a lot of efforts these days, they literally were held up.

Still, from new boys John McKee and Lee Barron sharing the hooking duties, to a clatter of other lads with limited exposure to this kind of rugby, it was well worth the effort. Tommy O’Brien is slightly above that class and he had a fine game, from finishing the best score of the night to proving himself a very useful carrier on exit plays.

Sharks: A Fassi; W Kok, B Tapuai, M Louw, M Mapimpi; C Bosch, J Hendrikse (G Williams 73); O Nché (N Mchunu 69), B Mbonambi (K van Vuuren 68; yc 80), T du Toit (capt)(K Mchunu 75), L Roux Roets, G Grobler; S Kolisi, H Venter, (J Labuschagne 58), P Buthelezi.

Leinster: C Cosgrave (J McKee 65); T O’Brien, J Osborne, C Frawley, R O’Loughlin; H Byrne (D Hawkshaw 62), N McCarthy (C Foley 66); A Porter (P Dooley 57), J McKee (L Barron 56; yc 61-71), T Clarkson (M Ala’atoa 47), B Deeny (J Murphy 47; yc 54-64)), J Dunne, R Ruddock (capt), M Deegan (M Moloney 60), S Penny.

Referee: N Amashukeli (Georgia).

Scorers: Sharks 28 (M Mapimpi, J Hendrikse, B Mbonami, P Buthelezi try each; C Bosch 4 con)
Leinster 23 (S Penny, T O’Brien try each; C Frawley 3 pens, 2 cons)

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