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Sunday 23 September 2018

Champs' get out of jail free card

Cardiff 32 Leinster 33

Breakthrough: James Tracy powers home for Leinster’s first try
Breakthrough: James Tracy powers home for Leinster’s first try

Leinster showed the confidence and grit of champions to complete a comeback against Cardiff Blues last night.

They did it with three second-half tries from replacements Jamison Gibson-Park and two from Bryan Byrne.

Presumably, they would have gotten ready for opening night on a similar surface at Energia Park all week.

It didn't seem to work for them in their final pre-season match against Newcastle Falcons when they were blown away.

That would have been a shock to the system and provided Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster with ample ammunition to warn against complacency in Cardiff.

They were given further notice of the task at hand when out-half Jarrod Evans landed a fifth-minute penalty.

It got worse when Evans fended off centre Joe Tomane and Rey Lee-Lo strode over for a soft try to make it 8-0 in the 12th minute.

Leinster stitched together a series of phases, the highlight of which was the footwork and offload from Michael Bent, only for referee Nigel Owens to call back Ross Molony for failing to release the ball in the tackle.

And they soon needed Adam Byrne to make a try-saving tackle on Owen Lane.

Byrne was back in the game quickly to take a high ball and Dave Kearney split the Cardiff defence to draw a penalty which Ross Byrne nailed for 8-3 in the 22nd minute.

In the blink of an eye, Leinster were hunting greater reward and looked patient until Byrne tried a low percentage grubber to let the home side off the hook.

Hooker James Tracy wasn't as generous, seizing on Kristian Dacey's overthrown line out to intelligently roll the ball onto the line to level it up in the 27th minute.

Then, Cardiff captain Ellis Jenkins was derelict in his duties when coming through blatantly to hand Fergus McFadden, on for the injured Barry Daly, the lead points from a penalty.

The Irish Blues were stretched to breaking point when Lee-Lo stepped on the touchline with Ross Byrne converging for a big hit.

An uncharacteristically rash lineout throw by Scott Fardy was quickly turned into points when wing Jason Harries stepped inside Ross Byrne for Evans extras to make it 15-11 in the 39th minute.

Out-half Byrne closed the first 40 by narrowing the difference to a single point when Nick Williams went off his feet at a ruck.

Tomane had the ball stripped away and bad decisions enabled Harries to hare down the right for Evans to make it 22-14 in the 47th minute.

Straight away, Cardiff cut loose on the left for Lee-Lo to claim his second try on the right, Evans extras making it 29-14 in the 50th minute.

20-year-old Caelan Doris was at the centre of Leinster's drive to recover, twice tearing across the gain line.

Bryan Byrne's lineout arrow was taken in by Fardy for the hooker to get back on the ball for a try from a maul in the 55th minute.

When the home side had a chance to convert from a maul, Fardy spoiled their go-forward and Luke McGrath hammered out a hit on the fringes.

Fardy's influence grew as the minutes slipped by and Rory O'Loughlin looked full of running in the wide channels.

Leinster just couldn't quite find the fluency, but Doris's rip in the tackle keeping Cardiff at arm's length.

Then, Byrne flighted a penalty to within five metres of the line for the maul drew attention.

Jamison Gibson-Park kicked crossfield for O'Loughlin and the scrum-half dived in from short range for Byrne's conversion to make it 29-26 in the 69th minute.

In retaliation, the reliable Evans stroked a penalty to put half-a-dozen points between them.

It took an Andrew Porter poach to allow Byrne to relieve pressure for a penalty.

Leinster married patience with potency for Bryan Byrne to ground the ball at the post for Ross Byrne's conversion to secure the bonus-point fourth try and the lead for the first and final time.

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