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Sexton goes off injured as Leinster handle Connacht

By PA
Dublin , Ireland - 1 January 2023; Jonathan Sexton of Leinster reacts as he makes his way off the pitch after picking up an injury during the United Rugby Championship between Leinster and Connacht at RDS Arena in Dublin. (Photo By Ben McShane/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

United Rugby Championship leaders Leinster began the new year in familiar fashion with a 41-12 bonus-point win over Connacht at the RDS.

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Tries from David Hawkshaw and Tom Farrell had Connacht just 19-12 behind at half-time, with Liam Turner, Brian Deeny and Jordan Larmour crossing for Leinster.

Larmour, Rob Russell, Ryan Baird and Josh van der Flier made it a seven-try victory for Leo Cullen’s men, whose only real worry was losing captain Jonathan Sexton to a facial injury.

Connacht were missing three of their Ireland internationals, with illness ruling out Finlay Bealham and Mack Hansen while Bundee Aki was rested due to Ireland player management.

Turner took a lovely line in the second minute as Charlie Ngatai and Sexton combined to put him over to the right of the posts. Sexton missed the conversion.

The Murray brothers, Darragh and Niall, both pinched lineouts and Connacht’s improving play was rewarded when Hawkshaw broke through tackles from Sexton and Russell for a fine 16th-minute score, converted by Jack Carty.

Leinster turned to their powerful pack, young lock Deeny springing over from close range for Sexton to make it 12-7.

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On the half-hour mark, a sidestepping Larmour linked with Jimmy O’Brien, whose kick through evaded the unfortunate Carty, and Larmour gleefully followed up for a seven-pointer.

Connacht pulled back five of those before the break, Carty slickly sent Farrell over but the skipper miscued the conversion.

Larmour baged a 44th-minute bonus point from an inviting Jamison Gibson-Park pass, while Connacht lost Hawkshaw to injury in the process. Carty was soon sent to the bin for being offside from a penalty.

Nonetheless, Connacht coped well while down to 14 men, Caolin Blade igniting their attack again and Jarrad Butler thwarting a Leinster maul.

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Sexton had to be replaced after head-on-head contact when tackling Butler which could have seen him carded.

In his absence, Leinster finished with a flourish, Cormac Foley and Ngatai providing the assists for Russell and Baird to go over respectively, before Van der Flier showed his pace to make the left corner after Larmour was again involved in the build-up.

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