European Champions Cup: Exeter 8-18 Leinster

Johnny Sexton
Johnny Sexton was one of five British and Irish Lions in Leinster's starting line-up
European Rugby Champions Cup
Exeter (3) 8
Try: Short Con: Steenson
Leinster (8) 18
Tries: Sexton, Conan Cons: Nacewa Pens: Sexton, Nacewa

Leinster maintained their 100% start in the Champions Cup and ended Exeter's year-long unbeaten home run with an impressive victory at Sandy Park.

Exeter had not been beaten on their own pitch since December 2016 but were outplayed by a powerful Leinster side.

After a dominant opening period, Johnny Sexton got the visitors' opening try and they took an 8-3 half-time lead.

Exeter's James Short crossed after Sean Cronin's yellow but a Jack Conan try and Isa Nacewa penalty sealed the win.

Exeter travel to the Aviva Stadium next weekend six points behind their opponents and level on points with Montpellier.

With all five of the other English teams in this season's competition having lost this weekend - Saracens' match was called off - it fell to Premiership champions Exeter to try to avoid the whitewash.

Both the hosts and Leinster came into the top-of-the-table clash in fine form, including victories in their opening pool games against Montpellier and Glasgow.

Rob Baxter's side were on a run of nine straight wins in all competitions, while three-time European champions Leinster had won seven of their last eight games.

But Exeter, unbeaten at home in all competitions since a 13-7 defeat by Bordeaux almost a year ago, were outmanoeuvred by an experienced Leinster side boosted by the return of a host of Ireland internationals.

The visitors dominated the early stages and the period raised questions over the use of video referee as they were twice denied in the first 15 minutes.

First, Sexton's boot was adjudged to have grazed the touchline as he offloaded to Luke McGrath and then despite TMO Eric Gonthier awarding Devin Toner a try, referee Romain Poite overruled his colleague by citing no clear evidence of grounding.

Exeter lost prop Harry Williams to the sin bin after pressure at the scrum and lost full-back Phil Dollman with a rib injury.

The hosts initially repelled Leinster with 14 men but were unable to hold out for the whole period as Sexton floated a kick pass to Nacewa on the wing before finishing his own move after quickly recycled ball.

Sexton added a penalty too but the boot of fly-half Gareth Steenson kept Exeter in touch at 8-3 down at the break.

James Short
Short's try drew Exeter level at 8-8 but the visitors asserted their dominance in the final period

Hooker Cronin was yellow carded for a high tackle on Exeter's replacement full-back Jack Nowell as he neared the try-line in the second half and this time it was the visitors who stood firm as the home pack came up short.

However the hosts' pressure eventually paid off as they overloaded the blind side and wing Short crossed for a try - but Steenson missed the conversion that would have given Exeter the lead.

However Leinster hit back when Nacewa stepped in for the injured Sexton to slot over a penalty before number eight Conan crossed after 44 phases of possession to stretch their lead to 10 points.

Despite missing out on a third try-bonus point in three matches, it was a stand-out performance and result from Leo Cullen's side, who rounded off a good weekend for the Irish provinces.

Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter: "I am not going to stand here and complain about officials' calls, because most of the things that were out there were completely in our hands, and that's what we have got to take responsibility for.

"Leinster played better than we did and deserved the scores they got. The positive is we can play better than that and we have got another opportunity in six days' time against the same opposition, and that is our challenge."

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen: "We controlled the ball pretty well in the first 20 minutes and we had some good chances, and we were a bit unlucky not to score.

"We eventually got over and had our noses in front, and there was a big moment on half-time when we held them and their pick-and-go game out.

"The try we gave up on the short side in the second half was a little bit disappointing but after that I thought we were quite strong aerially, and we were able to control possession reasonably well.

"But it is only half time and it will be a totally different challenge again next week."

TeamPlayedWonDrawnLostForAgainstBonus PtsPoints

Exeter Chiefs: Dollman; Short, Slade, Whitten, Woodburn; Steenson (capt), White; Hepburn, Cowan-Dickie, Williams; Lees, Hill; Armand, Kvesic, Waldrom.

Replacements: Yeandle, Moon, Francis, Skinner, Simmonds, Chudley, Hill, Nowell.

Leinster: R Kearney; McFadden, Ringrose, Henshaw, Nacewa; Sexton, McGrath; Healy, Cronin, Furlong; Toner, Fardy; Ruddock, O'Brien, Conan.

Replacements: Tracy, J McGrath, M Bent, J Ryan, J van der Flier, J Gibson-Park, Byrne, Larmour

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