Sunday 22 April 2018

Late blitz papers over Blues' cracks

Off-key Leinster snatch bonus point

Isa Nacewa of Leinster tackles Alex Cuthbert of Cardiff for which he was shown a yellow card during the Guinness PRO14 Round 2 match between Leinster and Cardiff Blues at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Isa Nacewa of Leinster tackles Alex Cuthbert of Cardiff for which he was shown a yellow card during the Guinness PRO14 Round 2 match between Leinster and Cardiff Blues at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile

Listless Leinster burst into life with three tries in eight minutes, deep into the final quarter, to crush Cardiff Blues for a bonus-point win at the RDS last night.

The boys in blue had a chance to apply some overnight pressure on the Scarlets and Ulster - the three of them were tied on five points after round one - in Conference B.

For this mission, coach Leo Cullen looked to release Jack Conan from number eight and trusted Isa Nacewa to shore up the centre.

The crowd was sparse and quiet until a minute was set aside in respect for the late Willie Duggan.

This aroused an energy from the stands that washed straight down onto the players.

The under-appreciated Michael Bent screwed Cardiff at the scrum to begin a series of drives which led to Rob Kearney almost getting to the right corner.

James Tracy and Rhys Ruddock failed to connect at a lineout in prime position and Ross Byrne miscued a penalty.

Steve Shingler nudged Cardiff ahead in the 16th minute, and visiting half-backs Shingler and Lloyd Williams kept Leinster penned in with probing kicks.

When the home side did breakout of the strait-jacket, Nacewa caught Alex Cuthbert high enough to be shown a yellow card in the 23rd minute.

Cardiff immediately exposed the loss of the Leinster leader for Rey Lee-Lo to split Rory O'Loughlin and Jordan Larmour through the centre, requiring an intervention from Kearney. Leinster compounded their ongoing failures by moving the ball away from a dominant scrum to O'Loughlin, who fumbled the ball forward.

This was the cue for Cardiff to turn the tables at the scrum, handing Shingler three more points in the 28th minute.

From somewhere, Leinster dredged up a concerted physical onslaught with Scott Fardy, Cian Healy, O'Loughlin and Conan to the fore. This time, Tracy found Ruddock out of touch and got around in support of a surging maul to locate the line for Byrne's conversion to make it 7-6 in the 34th minute.

Full-back Kearney's kick and chase was short-circuited by what appeared to be a leg injury, causing his removal.

Then, Nacewa was taken out by Josh Navidi for Byrne to make it 10-6 at the interval.

There was the significant matter of which coach Cullen or Cardiff's Danny Wilson had learned more from a disjointed, disorganised first half.

For starters, Barry Daly came on for Kearney and Larmour relocated to full-back, his first involvement not releasing on the floor for Shingler to hit his third penalty.

The Leinster scrum then did the business and Byrne's penalty made its way home off both uprights. The out-half wasn't as fortunate when his 55th minute penalty rebounded into play off the right post.

But it wasn't long before Byrne was back to bang over a 45-metre kick from Dan Leavy's turnover for 16-9 on the hour.

It took two textbook tackles from scrum-half Luke McGrath, on Cuthbert and Tom James, to bring the crowd to life.

When Fardy stole the ball on the floor, replacement Sean Cronin had the wheels on Corey Domachowski to make it home from distance, Byrne's conversion making it 23-9 in the 68th minute.

The third came from Byrne's crossfield kick and Barry Daly's miraculous left-handed catch for Byrne to add two on top.

The handbrake was well and truly off and an exquisite counter-attack was crowned by replacement Nick McCarthy's drive to the line, Byrne's conversion taking it out to 37-9 in the 77th minute.

Ultimately, it was a most unlikely five points that could not cover up a multitude of sins.

Scorers - Leinster: Tries: Tracy, Cronin, B Daly, McCarthy. Cons: R Byrne 4. Pens: R Byrne 3. Cardiff Blues: Pens: Shingler 3.

Leinster: R Kearney, A Byrne, O'Loughlin, Nacewa, Larmour, R Byrne, L McGrath, Healy, Tracy, Bent, Toner, Fardy, Ruddock, van der Flier, Conan. Reps: B Daly for R. Kearney (41), McCarthy for L McGrath (69), E Byrne for Healy (52), Cronin for Tracy (52), Porter for Bent (52), M Kearney for Fardy (73), Leavy for Ruddock (58).

Cardiff Blues: R. Williams, Cuthbert, G Smith, Lee-Lo, James, Shingler, L Williams, Gill, Rees, Assiratti, S Davies, Welch, Cook, Navidi, Turnbull. Reps: J Evans for Shingler (70), T Williams for L Williams (70), Domachowski for Gill (57), Myhill for Rees (61), D Lewis for Assiratti (57), Down for Welch (64), Bennett for Cook (75).

Ref: A Brace (Ireland).

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