Heineken Cup, Pool 2
YOU had to laugh or you had to cry. It all depended on whether you were among the pocket of Leinster supporters at a near-deserted Murrayfield, or whether you were part of a disillusioned Edinburgh clan. If the visitors should be applauded for some devastating finishing, this opening game in Pool Two of the Heineken Cup was lost, not won.
Not that Leinster, who could have been forgiven for tip-toeing into a Scottish graveyard where they've endured one or two nightmares in recent seasons, could give a damn. In an extraordinary departure from all pre-match portents, they had a bonus-point victory wrapped up by half-time.
And yet, while the scoreboard operator was working overtime, it wasn't as if coach Michael Cheika's side was particularly pleasing to the eye. The superficial evidence was of four scintillating tries in the space of 20 minutes that brought Edinburgh to their knees, but below the waterline, this was a Leinster which once again failed to protect ball at the breakdown and whose line out was mostly a shambles.
You couldn't say the win was a steal, because there were several flashes of sheer quality from Brian O'Driscoll, Felipe Contepomi and Rocky Elsom which effectively decided the outcome, however, it was hardly a convincing performance.
If Cheika must be hugely relieved to be on the front foot again after two consecutive Magners League defeats without registering a single try, the most pleased observer might well have been Ireland coach Declan Kidney.
Given that O'Driscoll's form has been a matter of debate for some time, there was enough evidence yesterday to suggest that he is back to close as makes no difference to his very best. While the blistering acceleration over the first 10 yards might not return, the centre's display of clever running, off-loading and defending was a joy to behold.
O'Driscoll scored one try with a lovely angle off Contepomi, made another for the Argentine, and then near the end almost put Luke Fitzgerald in between the posts after a searing break through what, in truth, was masquerading as an opposition defence.
Which brings us nicely to Edinburgh. A thorn in Leinster's side last season when they also ran Toulouse to just a couple of points at Murrayfield, the presumption was that Andy Robinson would have them well organised and bristling with intent.
Yet, for much of the first half, they resembled the pathetic Edinburgh which turned up for a Magners League game at the RDS last month and conceded 52 points. For a professional team with 11 internationals in the starting line-up to cough up tries the way they did before the break was nothing short of a disgrace.
In fact, Leinster weren't going anywhere in a hurry when the rot started after 18 minutes. Although Girvan Dempsey had pinched the ball cleverly from Mark Robertson just outside the Edinburgh 22, there didn't seem to be any red lights flashing for the home side. Elsom found himself possession, showed the ball, a gap which never should have been there opened up, and a couple of seconds later the Aussie back-row had outpaced Mike Blair and Phil Godman.
It was the sort of try you'd see most weeks at an under-12 game when the one big kid on the pitch sets off for the line scattering players in his wake. But almost immediately Jamie Heaslip was doing a fair imitation of the big kid as he ran 50 yards before CJ van der Linde was stopped a couple of yards short of the objective.
Edinburgh weren't alone in their generosity because when referee Rob Debney and his officials somehow failed to see a wildly forward pass from Fitzgerald to Rob Kearney, Contepomi took advantage of more brittle defending to send O'Driscoll clear for the second try.
There was worse to follow for Edinburgh as another mistake led to O'Driscoll breaking out from his own 22 and eventually returning the favour to Contepomi with a well-timed pass. Within a minute, the Scots' humiliation was complete when Dempsey and Heaslip combined down the blindside where the defence was conspicuous by its absence to put Shane Horgan through for the bonus point.
That made it 24-6 at the changeover, and although after a verbal pummelling from Robinson you knew Edinburgh wouldn't be as useless during the second half, the game was over.
Leinster's no-risk policy was decided for them when Contepomi – yards offside at the time – was sin-binned for intercepting a pass as Edinburgh poured forward, and when Debney awarded Edinburgh a penalty try, no one was arguing.
That try, and a deliberate knockdown of a Hugo Southwell pass in the red zone by Chris Whitaker which could have led to another sin-binning, were the only moments in the second half when Leinster cast a slightly anxious glance at the scoreboard. For the most part, they stuck the ball up their jumpers and when Contepomi landed a penalty with 10 minutes remaining, that was that.
Relief, more than satisfaction then for Leinster. Surely, they can only be better when they take on Wasps at home next Saturday.
EDINBURGH Edinburgh C Paterson; M Robertson, H Southwell, N De Luca, S Webster; P Godman, M Blair (capt); A Jacobsen, R Ford, G Cross; M Mustchin, J Hamilton, S Newlands, A MacDonald, A Hogg Subs B Gissing for Hamilton, J Houston for Robertson, both 59 mins; C Hamilton for Newlands, 72 mins Sin bin Mustchin 69 mins
LEINSTER G Dempsey; S Horgan, L Fitzgerald, B O'Driscoll, R Kearney; F Contepomi, C Whitaker; S Wright, B Jackman, CJ van der Linde, L Cullen (capt), D Toner, R Elsom, S Jennings, J Heaslip Subs C Healy for Wright, half time; T Hogan for Toner, 65 mins; C Keane for Whitaker, 68 mins; J Fogarty for Jackman, 73 mins; J Sexton for O'Driscoll, 79 mins Sin bin Contepomi 51-61 mins
Referee R Debney (England)