Saturday 10 December 2016

Cullen has Reds in his sights after Leinster ride luck to end Cardiff's run

Rob Cole

Published 03/10/2016 | 02:30

Devin Toner and his Leinster team-mates celebrate at the final whistle of Saturday’s game. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Devin Toner and his Leinster team-mates celebrate at the final whistle of Saturday’s game. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Leinster are preparing to mount an assault on the European Champions Cup and banish the memories of last season's dismal campaign.

Cardiff Blues 13 Leinster 16

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Away victories in Edinburgh and now Cardiff have helped them win four of their first five matches in the Guinness Pro12, and this weekend's derby shoot-out with Munster at the Aviva Stadium will be the perfect dress-rehearsal for two big clashes with Top 14 clubs Castres Olympique and Montpellier at the start of their European journey.

In truth, the titanic struggle with an unbeaten Cardiff Blues side on their plastic pitch could have gone either way.

But the strength and determination of the Leinster defensive effort hauled them over the line and made it two weekends in a row that Leo Cullen's side had robbed a Welsh region of a 100pc record.

"Cardiff have had some good wins this season and we certainly had to dig deep in the end to get the win," said Cullen.

Disjointed

"It was a bit scrappy and disjointed at times, but we are happy to come away with four points. Now we can move on to a big game against Munster at the Aviva Stadium.

"We had a very disappointing European campaign last season, but that is a dead and buried now. We've got three big, bruising encounters ahead of us with Munster and then two French teams in the Champions Cup."

The home crowd were baying for the blood of Irish referee Dudley Phillips for the final 10 minutes after he not only penalised Cardiff replacement back-row Josh Navidi for lazy running, but also sent him to the sin-bin.

Kiwi scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park couldn't believe his luck when he spotted Navidi trying to get back into the defensive line after Leinster had got up to with 14 metres of the Cardiff line.

He simply passed the ball at Navidi to pick up the penalty and must have thought it was Christmas when Phillips added a yellow card.

Jonathan Sexton kicked the penalty and that made it 16-13 to the visitors to crown a great second-half comeback.

Sexton had kicked his side into the lead, but the hosts came storming back to lead 13-3 at the break.

Gareth Anscombe led the charge with two penalties, one from a metre inside the Leinster half, and a stunning solo try and conversion after former Munster and Ulster back-row Nick Williams had ripped the ball out of a tackle.

Sexton kicked a 45th-minute penalty and then Rhys Ruddock was driven over from a five-metre line-out to level it up after 50 minutes.

And that piece of cunning play from Gibson-Park was enough to secure the match-winning penalty.

It took more dogged defence from Leinster to keep their line intact and Cullen will be looking for the same again when Munster arrive in Dublin on Saturday - a team that the Blues beat in Cork recently.

Cardiff Blues - M Morgan (D Fish 41); B Scully, C Allen (S Shingler 65), R Lee-Lo, T James; G Anscombe, L Williams (T Williams 70); G Jenkins (captain, R Gill 55), K Dacey (M Rees 55), T Filise (S Andrews 41), G Earle (M Cook 24), J Turnbull, S Warburton (J Navidi 15), E Jenkins, N Williams.

Leinster - Z Kirchner; F McFadden (J Carbery 72), R O'Loughlin, N Reid, D Kearney (B Daly 41); J Sexton (captain), J Gibson-Park; J McGrath (P Dooley 66), J Tracy (S Cronin 51), M Ross (M Bent 51), M Kearney (D Toner 51), I Nagle, D Leavy, J van der Flier (J Heaslip 60), R Ruddock.

Ref - D Phillips (Ire)

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