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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Leinster show the way to go

Cheika's men go top with Cardiff raid to inspire Ireland

Ireland need look no further than Leinster for inspiration on how to deal with Welsh wizardry at Croke Park next Saturday.

Coach Michael Cheika pointed to the "character" of his players in the 29-20 away win over Cardiff Blues, which sees the province return to the head of the Magners League.

It catapults Leinster to the top on points difference from Edinburgh, but with two games in hand, one point ahead of joint-third Ospreys and Glasgow and one game in hand on each.

"If you look at the league, there is still so much to play for, so we are not going to concentrate on where this puts us in the league just now. We are going to focus on our performance," issued Cheika.

The man-of-the-match performance from centre Fergus McFadden -- he posted a superb 24 points -- was, no doubt, the result of the low-key, but appalling, British & Irish Cup defeat to semi-professional Newport (10-6) at Donnybrook last Friday week.

You see, there were no fewer than eight players involved in what Cheika would have viewed as a 'video nasty' for the lack of application, intelligence and urgency from a bunch of professional players against nothing more than journeymen.

The core of that group would have received a frosty reception when they reported for work last Monday morning. For example, the centre partnership between McFadden and Eoin O'Malley looked second rate, at best, that night.

Eight days later, the exact same pair out-played, out-hustled and out- manoeuvred the revered Cardiff Blues midfield of All Black Casey Laulala and Wales' Tom Shanklin on a night to remember in the Welsh capital.

"The younger guys who had opportunities stood up quite well. Perhaps, teams will get lulled into a false sense of security when they see some of the names we have and some of the names that are missing," said Cheika.

This was not an act of grand larceny where Leinster hit the jackpot on the break and defended heroically against the odds.

They more than held their own at scrum and lineout. Stan Wright, Bernard Jackman and CJ van der Linde had the Blues in all sorts of difficulties, dominating the engagement. Second-row Devin Toner had arguably his best game for Leinster taking anything and everything thrown in his general direction and pilfering or pressurising the Cardiff throw.

By and large, there was a reassuring trust in the defensive system painstakingly put into place by Kurt McQuilkin. The inexperienced players were often able to take and make contact on their own terms.

"We knew we had to defend and take the opportunities when they came our way. Every time we got good field position, it was up to us to capitalise and we did quite well in this aspect," he said.

For certain, McFadden's cut-back angle onto out-half Shaun Berne's slide-rule pass for his first-half try and a similar skill by O'Malley to set up hooker Jackman for the second were illustrations of executing under pressure.

"This season, in the Magners League, we haven't had a lot of continuity. We haven't been as fluent as we would like to be. We haven't shown the full range of our skills," added Cheika.

"One thing we have shown is our character. We are trying to get everything we can out of this time of the year. We made the decision to play Andrew Conway and Eoin O'Malley, who hasn't played a huge amount of league games. It is a policy we will stick to at this time of the year."

This raid was carried out against a Cardiff side which included three All Blacks in Ben Blair, Laulala and Xavier Rush, their captain Paul Tito, a former Wellington Hurricane, the Tongan typhoon Ma'ama Molitika and a host of Welsh internationals such as Shanklin, Sam Warburton, Ceri Sweeney and Gareth Cooper.

It is an example of what can be done with the correct attitude and commitment to a simple game plan. The key was found in trusting the system and trusting each other.

This is a basic tenant of the game that Ireland know off by heart. It is ingrained in them over the extended winning period -- with one blip -- of 18 months.

It is what will see them through against Wales on Saturday.

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