REPORT: Cardiff Blues 32 Leinster 33
REPORT: Cardiff Blues 32 Leinster 33
August 31, 2018 / Dave Mervyn
Three tries in the final quarter, including a brace from Bryan Byrne, saw Leinster erase a 15-point deficit and emerge with a brilliant 33-32 bonus point win over Cardiff Blues on the Guinness PRO14’s opening night.
This meeting of the reigning European Challenge Cup and Champions Cup winners produced an eight-try cracker on the Arms Park’s all-weather pitch. Try doubles from Jason Harries and Rey Lee-Lo had Cardiff on the cusp of an opening round victory, but Leo Cullen’s men edged ahead late on thanks to key scores from replacements Jamison Gibson-Park (66 minutes) and Bryan Byrne (52 and 77).
New signing Joe Tomane and Caelan Doris made their first PRO14 starts for Leinster, who wore their alternate green kit for the first time, and the visitors’ early control of possession almost saw them rewarded in the second minute. However, Ross Byrne’s cross-field kick was well covered by Harries under pressure from Barry Daly, and Jarrod Evans kicked the Blues ahead with a penalty two minutes later.
A promising Leinster attack, which exhibited Scott Fardy’s deft hands initially and then a well-timed surge from the Australian lock, was ended by Nick Williams and Brad Thyer’s sturdiness at the breakdown, earning Cardiff a clearing penalty.
The hosts showed their clinical edge when scoring off first phase from a 10th-minute lineout, opening up the Leinster midfield with Evans getting away from Tomane and passing for Ley-Lo to finish off an unconverted score.
Daly’s night was unfortunately ended by a knee injury and as the pace of the game increased, there were near misses at both ends. A tight call from referee Nigel Owens foiled Ross Molony as he broke through in the Cardiff 22, and Adam Byrne’s crucial tackle on Owen Lane, a few metres out, denied the latter a try for a double movement.
Young winger Byrne increased his influence as he pursued Luke McGrath’s box-kicks up the right flank, and following Rhys Ruddock’s rip in the tackle and a strong Doris carry, Ross Byrne opened Leinster’s account with a close range 21st-minute penalty. Another rip, this time by Molony who followed the example of his captain, launched a promising break which saw replacement Fergus McFadden tackled short near the left corner.
An opportunist try arrived five metres later when Cardiff blundered at a lineout in their 22 and James Tracy gobbled up the ball at the rear to stretch out and score with Owens and TMO Jon Mason confirming it. Ross Byrne’s conversion attempt came back off the right hand post but McFadden split the posts with a central penalty in the 32nd minute for 11-8, rewarding Ruddock and number 10 Byrne for their running in the build-up.
Cardiff enjoyed a purple patch thereafter, forcing a couple of gilt-edged try-scoring opportunities but coming away scoreless. Luck was on Leinster and Molony’s side when play was called back for a previous infringement by Williams – a pull-back on Fardy as Cardiff broke out wide – and the Welsh region missed out again when Willis Halaholo had a foot in touch a few minutes later.
The try that was eluding the Blues came from a Leinster error, with a hurried lineout seeing McGrath knock on and the Blues swiftly spun possession wide to the right where Matthew Morgan sent Harries over in the corner for a seven-pointer. Williams gave three of those points back on the stroke of half-time, his slowness to roll away allowing Byrne to reduce Cardiff’s lead to a single point – 15-14.
But Cardiff were much the stronger outfit on the resumption, notching two more tries through Harries and Ley-Lo within eight minutes to open up a 29-14 advantage. Soft defending afforded the Cardiff backs too much space and Morgan provided the assist again for Harris to make it over in the right corner. Evans converted and then provided a lovely skip pass to give Lee-Leo a simple run-in for the bonus point score.
Leinster regrouped impressive fashion and the fresh-legged front row of the Byrne twins and Andrew Porter had the desired impact. With 52 minutes on the clock, a well-executed lineout maul propelled 24-year-old hooker Bryan over the whitewash to cut the gap to 29-21, with Byrne sliding his conversion attempt to the right and wide.
The visitors’ momentum seemed to stall despite Rory O’Loughlin threatening from a kick through and the excellent Fardy clawing back hard-earned possession with a turnover and then a lineout steal. That was until another penalty set up a lineout in the Cardiff 22, the maul being stalled before Gibson-Park’s kick towards the posts was claimed by O’Loughlin and quick ruck ball allowed the incoming Gibson-Park to dummy and dot down from a couple of metres out.
The straightforward conversion from Byrne made it a three-point game, only for the Blues to hit back with a 70th minute penalty,rewarding replacement Olly Robinson’s work at the breakdown. Trailing by six points, Leinster showed the required accuracy and resilience to bludgeon their way downfield on the back of a penalty, the pack patiently picking and going before Byrne managed to burrow through and reach out for the base of the post.
Referee Owens spotted the hooker’s effort at the end of 24 phases and man-of-the-match Ross Byrne converted to put Cullen’s charges in front for only the second time. Cardiff made it back into the province’s half in the dying seconds but the green shirts forced a final knock-on to maintain Leinster’s unbeaten run against the Welsh side which stretches back to 2011.