Leinster gave an emphatic demonstration of why they are considered by many to be the No 1 side in Europe as they scored 17 points in the first 13 minutes and went on to demolish South Africa’s top side, the Bulls, 31-3 in the opening round of the United Rugby Championship in Dublin on Saturday.
It was not even the Bulls’ first experience of European rugby as they travelled to Treviso for the Rainbow Cup final in June. They got hammered that day and they weren’t competitive on Saturday either, especially after a nightmare first quarter in which they conceded two tries.
It was one mistake after the other from the start as flyhalf Johan Goosen sent the kickoff straight into touch and the Bulls were then penalised at the resulting scrum. Jonathan Sexton set the lineout and then knocked over a penalty to give Leinster an early lead.
Three minutes later, a good dart by former Kiwi wing James Lowe put Leinster on attack and a superb run by flank George van der Flier brought the first try.
The second try came six minutes later as the Bulls won a lineout – which did not happen as often as it should have – but there was no half-back to take the tap-down. Leinster claimed the ball and a little dink over the top was regathered before the brilliant outside centre Garry Ringrose fed Andrew Porter, with a Bulls defence in disarray allowing the prop to cross an open tryline.
The Bulls showed good tenacity to stay in the contest after such a torrid start, and they produced some excellent rugby, but they lacked the polish and clinical efficiency of their opponents, who just did everything quicker and better than they did.
There was a noticeable gap in skills under pressure, especially at the breakdown, where Leinster went hard and pounced on every little inaccuracy.
The Bulls wasted two excellent try-scoring opportunities in the second quarter, with the brilliant Van der Flier stripping Cornal Hendricks of the ball on the tryline after great work by wing Madosh Tambwe, who had a fine game.
Goosen was at least able to kick a penalty, but then the Bulls were pressing hard when the ball was just left unguarded next to the line and Leinster pounced and were able to clear their lines.
Leinster, with classy flyhalf Sexton pulling the strings, varied their game in impressive fashion and, in the second half, replacement hooker James Tracy scored from a lineout maul.
The Irish powerhouses then completed the scoring with an excellent try to Sexton’s replacement Ross Byrne that showcased their superb support play, offloading skills and use of space.
Leinster – Tries: George van der Flier, Andrew Porter, James Tracy, Ross Byrne. Conversions: Jonathan Sexton (3), Byrne. Penalty: Sexton.
Bulls – Penalty: Johan Goosen.