Sunday 21 January 2018

Blues' perfect preparation

Tough away win will stand to Leinster as Munster come calling

Jonathan Sexton takes a kick during the clash against the Cardiff Blues
Jonathan Sexton takes a kick during the clash against the Cardiff Blues

The influence of Stuart Lancaster is beginning to find favour with Leinster.

They had to shelve their new expansive outlook to turn to what Rob Kearney described last week as a much changed defence for a dramatic 16-13 decision at the Arms Park.

There can be no better preparation for Munster at the Aviva next Saturday and for the heavy artillery that will come from Castres Olympique and Montpellier in the Champions Cup than to withstand an onslaught from an in-form and in-synch Cardiff Blues.

The Irish Blues had to make-do with a raiding expedition founded on a resilient defence, the playmaking of Jonathan Sexton and a controversial converted try from Rhys Ruddock.

There was a question mark over whether Ruddock had been stopped short in the 50th minute and if his try was born out of a second movement or the sheer weight of support from Mike Ross in behind the number eight.

Ultimately, the winning three came from Sexton when the influential Dan Leavy made a burst and Jamison Gibson-Park smacked his pass against the slowly retreating Josh Navidi, who was binned.

What was certain was that Leinster received the benefit of more than one doubt from referee Dudley Phillips to come away with four points that places them in third, three points behind the leaders Ulster and two off Munster.

In the last play of the game, Leinster were hot on attack when Noel Reid bravely seized on a loose ball and replacement prop Rhys Gill was penalised for going off his feet.

The final whistle was greeted with the Cardiff 'boo boys' giving vent to their feeling about many of the decisions Phillips handed down.

This means Ulster are the only unbeaten club in the League from a gritty 9-7 edge over the Ospreys at the Kingspan.

It all came down to three Paddy Jackson penalties, the third coming in the last minute, the first time they led in the game. Next up for them are Connacht who finally got off the mark with a bonus-point domination of Edinburgh.

Munster were content to see-off Zebre 49-5 in what amounted to a 'behind closed doors' domination at Thomond Park.

The sight of Peter O'Mahony back fit and healthy was even more welcome than the seven tries, two from CJ Stander.

It was noteworthy how Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus made multiple changes with one eye on the three weeks ahead.

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