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Keenan claims hat-trick as Leinster come from behind to throttle Connacht

By PA
Hugo Keenan (Photo By David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Hugo Keenan scored a hat-trick of tries as Leinster came from 16 points down to claim their opening Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup win with a 50-21 victory over provincial rivals Connacht at the Sportsground.

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Stung into action by Connacht’s strong start, Leo Cullen men’s reeled off tries from Keenan (2), James Tracy, Ross Molony and Cian Kelleher to lead 33-16 at half-time.

With last week’s European exit still raw, 2021 British and Irish Lion Andrew Porter, Scott Fardy and player-of-the-match Keenan took their side’s haul to eight tries, while Peter Sullivan added to Caolin Blade’s earlier touch down for Connacht.

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Another of Leinster’s Lions picks, number eight Jack Conan went off injured during the first half but it looked a precautionary withdrawal.

Buoyed by their recent first-round victory at Ulster, Connacht made the early running with Conor Fitzgerald knocking over two penalties.

The westerners made it 13 unanswered points through Blade’s opportunist try, Finlay Bealham getting in to disrupt Luke McGrath’s pass and Blade nabbed the bouncing ball for a 40-metre run-in.

The score, converted by Fitzgerald, survived a captain’s challenge and was supplemented by another Fitzgerald penalty.

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However, Leinster’s counter-rucking from the restart supplied possession for Keenan’s opening try as the full-back raided over from Ciaran Frawley’s cleverly-delayed pass.

Making it two quick-fire converted tries, Keenan then slipped out of a tackle to finish off some smart phases by both backs and forwards.

Leinster’s impressive maul set up their next two scores, firstly driving hooker Tracy over from 15 metres out for a 19-16 lead.

The PRO14 champions drove Connacht backwards again before Molony burrowed over for a 28th-minute bonus point. Connacht’s unsuccessful captain’s challenge was compounded by game-ending injuries to Jarrad Butler and Matt Healy.

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Two minutes before the break, Ross Byrne’s pinpoint cross-field kick found Rory O’Loughlin who sent Kelleher scampering clear from 40 metres out. Byrne added a fine conversion from wide out.

Connacht had no answer to Leinster’s dominant drives as the lineout provided the platform for Tracy and Fardy to plunge over after 45 and 52 minutes respectively, while Byrne sent over his fifth conversion.

The hosts went close through Dave Heffernan before Sean O’Brien superbly dislodged the ball to deny Dave Kearney a breakaway try.

Eleven minutes from time Connacht winger O’Sullivan beat two tackles for a deserved score.

Leinster had more in them and fittingly it was the tireless Keenan who completed his hat-trick in the 78th minute, following up on an initial break by Josh Van Der Flier.

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Keenan claims hat-trick as Leinster come from behind to throttle Connacht

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