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Monday 18 December 2017

Epic win in Cardiff proved the quality Blues have in depth

Michael Cheika said after Sunday's win over the Cardiff Blues that, "It's a happy dressing room in there, as it should be". He was spot on. It was the happiest Leinster dressing room that I have been in this season so far.

The reason for this was that it was a real win for our squad. Sunday was a day for the non-internationals to show what they could do and there was a real feeling of satisfaction afterwards having got the win.

Cardiff are a quality side and had the luxury of bringing Andy Powell off the bench in the second half. Powell was playing his first match since being caught by the Welsh police driving a golf buggy at 7am on the motorway and was given a 15-month driving ban last week in court.

It wasn't long before the sledging started with quips like, "Can I have a lift home after the game Andy?" prevalent as soon as he came on. He took it in good spirits, in fairness, and he was eager to make an impact on the match, but he was well tackled by our backrow any time that he carried.

Cardiff really try and bully you with their forward runners, especially away from home, and we had done a lot of work all week on targeting Ulster-bound Xavier Rush and Ma'ama Molitika running at us off ruck ball. They try and get wide and run at opposition backs and we had a different defensive strategy to try and nullify that threat.

We had some young lads playing, such as Eoin O'Malley and Andrew Conway, but I always say that if you are good enough to be picked for Leinster you are good enough for this stage, and those two lads once again proved the strength in depth that we have all the way down to the Academy.

The 29-20 win means that we have returned to the top of the Magners League with two matches in hand over some of our competitors.

We had centre Fergus McFadden to thank for our 16-12 half-time lead and were boosted by his well-executed eighth-minute try, when he took a deft inside pass from Shaun Berne, after a spell of forward pressure, and he also scored 11 points from his boot.

Gary Powell, Sam Warburton and Chris Czekaj scored the Blues' tries and Ben Blair and Ceri Sweeney kicked penalties as the home side rallied. But I scrambled over for a 50th-minute try after an excellent break by O'Malley -- a second McFadden conversion, a Berne drop-goal and a fourth McFadden penalty sealed the win.

We got a nice surprise last week when we got our schedule for this one and we found out that we were heading to the Heritage in Co Laois for a couple of days' training camp. Sometimes it's great to get off site and just change the environment.

We were down to train hard and we had some team building meetings, among other things. It was great to be heading away with another win under our belts and sitting at the top of the league.



Form

Our next match is against Glasgow at home in the RDS on Thursday next, March 18. Glasgow are only a point behind us and with Edinburgh in second place the Scottish Districts are in very good form this year.

The squad completed their British and Irish Cup campaign with an away win against the Gael Force in Stirling on Wednesday. Unfortunately, losing the match against Newport meant that we couldn't qualify for the knockout stages but, overall, it was a great tournament for keeping guys match fit and to also get players familiar with the Leinster patterns and style.

The big game this weekend is Ireland's clash with Wales in Croke Park. After Ireland's great win over England two weeks ago the excitement is building nicely. Brian O'Driscoll wins his 100th cap and it will be a special week for him and a deserved milestone.

Wales have been talking it up this week about how Croke Park holds no fears for them after they won here two years ago. However, I think that Ireland are too experienced to lose to them again and that we will win by around seven points.

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