The first half was gripping with both sides scoring three tries, but Leinster’s three conversions to one conversion and a penalty goal by the Cell C Sharks saw the hosts enter the sheds with a narrow 21-20 lead.
Leinster hit their straps in full force in the second half, scoring five tries to two by the visitors – which marked fullback Aphelele Fassi and wing Thaakir Abrahams’ braces – as their accurate execution and a red card in the dying minutes for Cell C Sharks centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg for a dangerous tackle, allowed the hosts to walk away with the convincing victory.
The Irishmen opened the scoring in the third minute with Springbok lock Jason Jenkins scoring from a pick-and-go after some dominant attacking play, but this was cancelled out a few minutes later as Fassi touched down from a nice move from a maul, and the successful conversion by Boeta Chamberlain saw the teams’ level the scores at 7-7.
The Durbanites showed good enterprise on attack and could have scored two more tries soon after, but they failed to capitalise on their chances.
Chamberlain kicked a penalty goal in 23rd minute to push his side into the lead, but Leinster replacement back Garry Ringrose broke through the defence soon after to dot down and Jonathan Sexton converted to edge them back into a 14-10 lead.
The action continued with the Cell C Sharks’ Werner Kok and Abrahams (both wings) scoring tries in quick succession from some hard running and good support play on attack, which nudged the visitors 20-14 ahead with minutes left in the half.
Ringrose, however, had the final say before halftime as he scored his second five-pointer after gathering a stunning cross kick and Sexton converted to hand the hosts a 21-20 lead.
Leinster broke out of the blocks quickly in the second half with Ireland prop Andrew Porter scoring their fourth try as he dived over from a pick-and-go, and the successful conversion stretched their lead to 28-20.
Abrahams scored his second try of the match in the 55th minute from a great break in loose play and he chipped the ball forward then dashed to the tryline and managed to place downward pressure on the ball, and Chamberlain’s conversion left them trailing by only one point.
Leinster struck back with three tries within minutes by centre Robbie Henshaw, wing Rob Russell and Sexton, and the experienced flyhalf maintained his fine kicking form to slot all three conversions for a commanding 49-27 lead with just under 10 minutes left on the clock.
The Cell C Sharks did not give up, with Fassi scoring his second try from a chip-and-chase and replacement back Nevaldo Fleurs added the extra two to reduce their deficit to 15 points.
The visitors were dealt a big blow in the dying minutes as Janse van Rensburg received a red card, and this paved the way for replacement Leinster hooker John McKee to cross the chalk after breaking away from a rolling maul for the confidence-boosting 54-34 victory.
Leinster 54 (21) – Tries: Jason Jenkins, Garry Ringrose (2), Andrew Porter, Robbie Henshaw, Rob Russell, Jonathan Sexton, John McKee. Conversions: Sexton (7).
Cell C Sharks 34 (20) – Tries: Aphelele Fassi (2), Werner Kok, Thaakir Abrahams (2). Conversions: Boeta Chamberlain (2), Nevaldo Fleurs. Penalty goal: Chamberlain.