Leinster survived a late surge from Cardiff Blues to claim a one-point GUINNESS PRO12 victory in very wet and windy conditions in the Welsh capital…
Isa Nacewa’s seventh try of the league campaign, created by Jack Conan’s brilliant blindside break, proved crucial as the province picked up only their second win in the last seven trips to Wales.
Ian Madigan’s second successful penalty on the stroke of half-time, in response to a lone effort from Gareth Anscombe, had the visitors leading 6-3.
Anscombe and Madigan booted two more penalties before Conan and Nacewa combined to telling effect up the left wing, moving Leo Cullen’s men into a 14-6 lead.
But Jordi Murphy’s yellow card – Leinster’s second of the afternoon following the first half sin-binning of Fergus McFadden – was quickly followed by Josh Navidi’s 75th-minute try.
Rhys Patchell swung over the conversion for good measure, reducing the margin to the minimum, and Leinster just about hung on in a nervy finish, their gutsy defence leading to Patchell’s blocked drop goal attempt and a subsequent knock-on.
Cardiff elected to play into the wind and hit the front in the fourth minute, punishing a Leinster offside with a drilled place-kick from Anscombe.
The visitors’ all-international front row of Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Tadhg Furlong led a dominant early scrum that allowed Madigan to level within three minutes.
Cardiff did well to soak up a spell of further scrum pressure, the heavily-involved Manoa Vosawai carrying strongly off the base and captain Lloyd Williams clearing out of the 22.
Madigan hit the post with a long range penalty towards the end of a first quarter which Leinster dominated territorially but without the points to show for it.
A clever kick through from Madigan should have led to a try in the corner for McFadden, but a fully-committed challenge from Patchell led to the right winger knocking on as he lunged for the try-line.
McFadden was rather harshly sin-binned soon after, referee Peter Fitzgibbon carding him for an apparent ‘high’ and ‘no-arms’ tackle on Williams after Alex Cuthbert had countered from deep.
Anscombe sent the resulting penalty wide, but a couple of penalty-winning turnovers at the breakdown by Ellis Jenkins saw the Blues continue to curtail Leinster’s attacking opportunities.
Cardiff had an increasing amount of possession towards the end of the first half, however an obstruction call allowed Madigan to boot the province in front from the 10-metre line.
Leinster made a sloppy start to the second period, though, a knock-on from Madigan and penalty conceded by debutant Mick Kearney seeing Anscombe level matters at 6-all.
The scrum, fortified by the arrival of fit-again tighthead Mike Ross, drove Cardiff backwards on two occasions in quick succession, the second of them teeing up Madigan’s third three-pointer of the day.
Improved defence from Leinster shut the Blues attack down and following the unique sight of Eoin Reddan’s kick forward blowing back into his hands, man-of-the-match Conan sprinted away from a ruck on the 10-metre line to set up Nacewa for his score near the left corner.
Madigan could not add the extras and while Cardiff hit back strongly through Vosawai and company, Richardt Strauss redeemed himself for giving away a needless penalty with a power-packed tackle on Dan Fish.
The Blues pressed again following Murphy’s sin-binning – he felt the ball was out at the back of a ruck, but the referee ruled otherwise. Replacement Tom James made the initial incision, charging past three tacklers, and Leinster were unable to clear from close to the right corner.
Cardiff used scrappy lineout possession well with big number 8 Vosawai making the hard yards, and then replacement Navidi drove low between two defenders to crash over the whitewash.
Patchell’s well-struck conversion set up a grandstand finish at 14-13, but Leinster ground out the win with Reddan racing up to charge down the Cardiff full-back’s injury-time drop goal.
CARDIFF BLUES SCORERS: J. Navidi (1 try), R. Patchell (1 conversion), G. Anscombe (2 penalties)
LEINSTER SCORERS: I. Nacewa (try), I. Madigan (3 penalties)
CARDIFF BLUES: Rhys Patchell; Alex Cuthbert, Cory Allen, Rey Lee-Lo, Blaine Scully; Gareth Anscombe, Lloyd Williams CAPTAIN; Thomas Davies, Kristian Dacey, Salesi Ma’afu, Jarrad Hoeata, James Down, Josh Turnbull, Ellis Jenkins, Manoa Vosawai.
REPLACEMENTS: Matthew Rees, Bradley Thyer, Taufa’ao Filise, Macauley Cook, Josh Navidi, Tomos Williams, Tom James, Dan Fish.
15. Zane Kirchner
14. Fergus McFadden
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Ben Te’o
11. Isa Nacewa CAPTAIN
10. Ian Madigan
9. Eoin Reddan
1. Cian Healy (Peter Dooley, 67)
2. Sean Cronin (Richardt Strauss, 44)
3. Tadhg Furlong (Mike Ross, 44)
4. Mick Kearney (Tom Denton, 52)
5. Hayden Triggs
6. Rhys Ruddock
7. Jordi Murphy
8. Jack Conan
REPLACEMENTS NOT USED: Dan Leavy, Nick McCarthy, Noel Reid, Adam Byrne.
REFEREE: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU); ASSISTANT REFEREES: Sean Brickell, Simon Rees (both WRU); CITING COMMISSIONER: John Charles (WRU); TMO: Gareth Simmonds (WRU).