Madigan leads rout of Cardiff
LEINSTER 52 CARDIFF 9
IT was this fixture last season that first brought Ian Madigan to our attention as a third Irish No 10 to monitor closely and, last night at the RDS, Madigan gave a display to suggested he has his eye on the third out-half slot behind Ronan O'Gara and team-mate Jonathan Sexton.
Certainly, the injury to imported playmaker Matt Berquist is not now the blow it could have been as Madigan helped steer Leinster to an emphatic bonus-point victory over the unfortunate and understrength Cardiff Blues to move them top of the Pro12 table and set them up perfectly for the back-to-back Heineken Cup clashes with Bath.
Whether it was the precision passing, such as the one which set Fionn Carr away to appreciative gasps from the home crowd, the prodigious length of his kicks or the pace and angle of running which led to his second-half try, this was extremely impressive from Madigan.
He was not alone. Isaac Boss had a big game, Dave Kearney scored two tries while Fergus MacFadden relished his No 12 role and augmented it with superb place-kicking while Rhys Ruddock put himself to good use in the back row.
Steven Sykes looked very rusty in the second row and there were periods when Leinster concentration lapsed but, overall, this was an excellent performance from Joe Schmidt's men and one which emphasises the strength in depth in his squad.
The Blues travelled to a venue where they have never tasted victory minus a clutch of front-liners away on international duty but got the confidence boost they needed when Ceri Sweeney knocked over an excellent penalty after two minutes.
The Leinster response was instant, winning a turnover from the kick-off and embarking on series of phases that culminated in the Blues infringing at the breakdown and McFadden knocking over his first kick of the night to tie it up after five minutes.
Leinster's high tempo saw Cardiff begin to flap desperately, ominous with less than 10 minutes on the clock.
The Blues defenders were struggling to get back into the best defensive positions to cater for Leinster's attacking waves and it was no shock when Boss planted down for the first try following a superb show and go by Isa Nacewa.
McFadden, naturally, converted and tagged on another penalty after 14 minutes to leave it at 13-3 to the home side, cut back to 13-6 by Sweeney six minutes later when Leinster were too eager in their attempts to win back the ball following a Fionn Carr turnover.
It was all a bit frantic and scrappy but the Blues began to get their hands on the ball, with Casey Laulala their most threatening runner, but Sweeney was unable to turn possession and territory into points when he missed a straight-forward penalty with half an hour gone.
A lot of huffing and puffing followed, along with a few nice touches from Madigan, before Sweeney did hit the target from roughly the same position and the teams went in with Leinster only 13-9 ahead.
McFadden added another penalty on the resumption before Leinster applied some yeast to the doughy affair with a touchdown which already looks like a contender for try of the season.
Madigan was at the heart of it, fielding the Cardiff kick and putting Nacewa into space, the full-back finding Carr, who embarked on one of those searing surges that made him such a success at Connacht.
The winger had the presence of mind to transfer back to Madigan who set Kiwi prop Nathan White on a deliriously acclaimed romp to the tryline.
McFadden did the usual for 23-9 before following it up with a drop-goal.
The prospect of complete humiliation stung the visitors into action and, using the wind, the Blues set up camp in the home 22 -- Leo Cullen's sin-binning prompting a series of scrums and pressure which the 14 Leinstermen did splendidly to repel.
Down the field they came again and with the Blues' fatigue increasingly obvious, Madigan got the try his efforts deserved after a running an excellent line off substitute Eoin Reddan, converted by McFadden (his 11th straight success off the tee dating back to last week's win over Treviso) for 33-9.
Cardiff had given up the ghost by this stage as Leinster ran at them from everywhere, Sean Cronin making a big impact off the bench and Dave Kearney pouncing for two well-conceived tries.
There was time for Leo Auva'a to strike for a final try, converted by Sexton, and 52-9 was an accurate reflection of Leinster's dominance and of the momentum which suggests this season could be as productive as the last.
LEINSTER -- I Nacewa; D Kearney, E O'Malley (R Kearney 63), F McFadden, F Carr; I Madigan (J Sexton 65), I Boss (E Reddan 61); C Healy (H van der Merwe 41), R Strauss (S Cronin 61), N White (M Ross 52); L Cullen (capt), S Sykes (D Browne 66); R Ruddock, S Jennings, S O'Brien (L Auva'a 61).
CARDIFF -- D Fish; R Mustoe, C Laulala, G Evans, T James; C Sweeney, R Rees; J Yapp (N Trevett 65), R Tyrell, T Filise; C Hill (M Paterson 62), P Tito (capt, M Cook 65); M Molitika, J Navidi, X Rush.
REF -- A Macpherson (Scotland)