Title holders Leinster stumble in tournament opener

The English Premiership's in-form side, London Irish, secured a shock win in Dublin over Heineken Cup holders Leinster (9-12) in the tournament's opener. Elsewhere, Ulster overcame Bath and Gloucester squeezed past the Newport Gwent Dragons.


AFP - European Cup holders Leinster kicked off this season's tournament with a 9-12 loss to in-form English Premiership club London Irish on Friday.

Ryan Lamb's penalty in the 80th minute proved the reigning champions' undoing.

In the night's other two games Ulster opened their campaign with a valuable 26-12 home win over Bath and Nicky Robinson's late penalty rescued Gloucester who ran out 19-17 winners over Newport Gwent Dragons.

Jonathan Sexton put Leinster into a third minute lead with a penalty with Peter Hewat levelling shortly after.

Sexton regained the lead for the Irish champions on 12 minutes only for Hewat to convert London Irish's second penalty to level at 6-6 at half-time.

Lamb put London Irish into the lead for the first time with the first of his kicks over the bar after the hour mark with Sexton responding to set up a nervy final five minutes.

Lamb though was to have the last word with a thumping kick from just inside the hosts' half.

Leinster slipped up against a London Irish side with a superbly organised defence and the sure-footed contribution of Hewat and Lamb whose' killer kick was as a result of a penalty awarded against Leinster's Mike Ross.

Leinster will have a chance to redeem themselves in their next Pool 6 tie against French side Brive, who face Llanelli in Wales on Saturday.

The Dublin side will have felt aggrieved as this was a match they could and should have won. They were the side that came closest to breaking the try deadlock, but they never built on a strong opening quarter.

Leinster attacked with vigour at the start, with Brian O'Driscoll hurtling through a gap after just 40 seconds and Sexton converting his first penalty from the left side.

Producing quick ruck ball, the Magners League leaders were oozing confidence and Sexton tried his luck with a drop goal from almost halfway.

Irish got some relief when full-back Hewat kicked over an impressive penalty - but a high tackle by Chris Hala'Ufia on Cian Healy allowed Sexton to restore Leinster's lead.

Sexton's rifled kicks and Isa Nacewa's high-fielding skills delighted the Dublin crowd, yet Toby Booth's side drew strength as they weathered the storm.

Although his kicking was at times wayward, Chris Malone stepped to the mark to produce a try-saving tackle on Luke Fitzgerald - and Australian Hewat's defensive skills also shone.

Such was the tight nature of the first half, a degree of needle always seemed likely and it was no surprise when Jamie Heaslip and David Paice saw yellow for getting involved in a touchline fracas.

Nick Kennedy also alleged that Shane Jennings had gouged him, an incident which the citing commissioner is sure to analyse.

Territorially Leinster, with Sexton, Nacewa and Fitzgerald rifling kicks away, were on top but the Exiles' dogged defence steeled them and following a Sexton penalty miss, Hewat right-footed Irish level at 6-6 on the stroke of half-time.

The visitors pressed early in the second half but Hewat was off target with a penalty and a clever break from Seilala Mapusua came to nothing.

Casey and Kennedy increased the heat on the Leinster lineout, dominating set-piece ball and producing steals in key areas. It was their efforts here and at the breakdown which ultimately won the game.

Both backlines, packed full of supreme attacking talent, struggled to engineer try-scoring chances, although dangerman Sailosi Tagicakibau came more into it as the game progressed.

Six days after their win over Munster, Leinster allowed their error count to increase and after a second Hewat miss, Lamb announced his arrival with a superb 66th-minute penalty from distance.

Leinster stormed back with a brilliant bout of continuity which almost sent Fitzgerald haring over on the left - Hewat and the industrious Steffon Armitage stopping the Lion in his tracks.

A scrum offence from Hala'Ufia allowed Sexton boot Leinster level, but Lamb was equally up to the task after an offside decision against Ross.

The champions had enough time to roar forward and end the game under the Irish posts. Drama followed when referee Romain Poite dismissed claims for a high tackle and Booth's battle-hardened charges clung on for a famous win.

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