Leinster picked up their first GUINNESS PRO12 win under new head coach Leo Cullen as they overcame a battling Cardiff Blues side 23-15 at the RDS…
Jack Conan's 16th-minute try from close range had Cullen's youthful team leading 10-9 at half-time, with Cardiff out-half Rhys Patchell booting three penalty goals – two of them from distance.
Patchell's accuracy from the tee had the Blues 15-13 ahead entering the final quarter, but the Leinster forwards dictated play late on and they were rewarded with a clinching penalty try, four minutes from the end.
Flanker Josh van der Flier turned in a man-of-the-match performance, catching the eye with some excellent link-up play and positioning at the breakdown, while fellow youngsters Garry Ringrose, Cathal Marsh and Ross Molony acquitted themselves well throughout and the bench had the desired impact at a crucial stage of the game.
Patchell's razor sharp right boot gave the visitors a 6-0 lead inside the opening seven minutes, as he punished an initial scrum infringement from Leinster and then fired over from inside his own half.
Isa Nacewa, on his much-anticipated return to the Ballsbridge venue, hit a post with his first place-kick but he was then on target – pushing past the 400-point mark for Leinster in the process – following a determined kick chase from Noel Reid and Dominic Ryan.
The barnstorming Ben Te'o carried with increasing intent during a fast-paced first quarter, with the home side's pressure leading to number 8 Conan burrowing over under Manoa Vosawai's challenge from a couple of metres out. Debutant winger Ringrose and van der Flier both got their hands on the ball in the build-up.
TMO Seamus Flannery confirmed the grounding and Nacewa converted from the right. However, despite dominating possession, Leinster were only one point clear at the break. Their full-back and stand-in captain sent a penalty narrowly wide before Patchell made it three from three, this time from halfway.
Vosawai's departure at the interval saw Ellis Jenkins brought on and Blues skipper Josh Navidi move to number 8 and with the Welsh outfit still struggling for continuity, a central penalty from Nacewa made it 13-9.
Cardiff's doggedness in defence and ability to win turnovers – as seen with a textbook ruck penalty won by youngster Jenkins in his 22 – launched them forward again and Patchell took full advantage with penalties after 51 and 56 minutes.
A powerful Leinster scrum, with replacement prop Royce Burke-Flynn making his presence felt, allowed Nacewa to boot the province back in front with 14 minutes remaining.
That set up a grandstand finish with Jenkins doing really well to hold up Bryan Byrne from an advancing Leinster maul. However, a series of scrums and lineouts near the Cardiff line saw Cullen's charges go for the jugular, particularly after Navidi saw yellow for a maul infringement.
Their persistence paid off when Cardiff gave way at a five-metre scrum and referee Ben Whitehouse signalled for a penalty try which Nacewa converted. The Blues tried to manufacture a last-gasp response, but Patchell's long range drop goal attempt drifted wide in the final seconds.
LEINSTER SCORERS: J. Conan (1 try), Penalty try, I. Nacewa (2 conversions and 3 penalties)
CARDIFF BLUES SCORERS: R. Patchell (5 penalties)
15. Isa Nacewa CAPTAIN
14. Garry Ringrose
13. Ben Te'o
12. Noel Reid
11. Fergus McFadden (Cian Kelleher, 59)
10. Cathal Marsh
9. Luke McGrath (Isaac Boss, 54)
1. Michael Bent (Peter Dooley, 75)
2. Aaron Dundon (Bryan Byrne, 56)
3. Jamie Hagan (Royce Burke-Flynn, 46)
4. Ross Molony
5. Mike McCarthy (Tadhg Beirne, 75)
6. Dominic Ryan (Dan Leavy, 43-48)
7. Josh van der Flier (Dan Leavy, 75)
8. Jack Conan
REPLACEMENT NOT USED: Ross Byrne.
CARDIFF BLUES: Dan Fish; Aled Summerhill, Tom Isaacs, Gavin Evans, Owen Jenkins; Rhys Patchell, Tavis Knoyle; Sam Hobbs, Kristian Dacey, Craig Mitchell, Jarrad Hoeata, James Down, Josh Turnbull, Josh Navidi CAPTAIN, Manoa Vosawai
REPLACEMENTS: Ethan Lewis, Thomas Davies, Scott Andrews, Lou Reed, Ellis Jenkins, Lewis Jones, Gareth Davies, Garyn Smith.
REFEREE: Ben Whitehouse (WRU); ASSISTANT REFEREES: Eddie Hogan O'Connell, Jonathan Peak (both IRFU); CITING COMMISSIONER: Peter Ferguson (IRFU); TMO: Seamus Flannery (IRFU).