Thursday 24 August 2017

Leinster hold out in frantic finale

Cardiff Blues 13-14 Leinster

Leinster's Mick Kearney is tackled by Cardiff's Kristian Dacey Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Leinster's Mick Kearney is tackled by Cardiff's Kristian Dacey Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Cardiff's Alex Cuthbert tackles Isa Necewa of Leinster Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Leinster's Garry Ringrose celebrates his side's victory Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Leinster's Isa Necewa tries to shake off a tackle from Cardiff's Alex Cuthbert Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Isa Nacewa's opportunistic try proved enough as 14-man Leinster held out to claim a narrow victory in Cardiff. Nacewa took top spot in the Guinness Pro12 scoring charts with his seventh try of the campaign, and it proved enough in a game of few chances at a rain-lashed Arms Park.

Jack Conan, on his first appearance in three months, was the architect of the second-half try with a break out of nothing. But Leinster had to rely on backs-to-the-wall defending for the final eight minutes after Josh Navidi's try was converted by Rhys Patchell to set up a nail-biting climax.

Leinster led 6-3 at the break, but it was scant return for their dominance in the scrum and having a near gale-force wind at their backs off the River Taff.

As well as starting with six Ireland men released by Joe Schmidt, Leinster included Cian Healy as part of an all-international front-row that dominated the early set-piece exchanges and allowed Ian Madigan to cancel out Gareth Anscombe's early kick.

Madigan was making his 140th appearance for the province but missed the chance to double the lead when his long-range effort struck the already swaying post on 19 minutes. It summed up Leinster's first half.

Fergus McFadden went closest to scoring when he latched onto Madigan's cross-field kick. But Patchell did well to scramble across and did enough to force the wing to drop the ball over the line.

It got worse for McFadden just a minute later when he was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Lloyd Williams.

The Blues were reluctant to kick into such a strong wind, but Alex Cuthbert led a piercing breakaway from under their own posts. Patchell and Williams carried over half-way before McFadden committed the reckless challenge. However, Anscombe sliced the penalty into the wind.

Lineouts were a lottery given the conditions and Leinster struggled to find any width to their game, so they were grateful for Madigan's injury-time kick to take a slender lead at half-time. Cardiff would have been far happier with the score and swiftly equalised through Anscombe. Madigan regained the lead moments after Wales centre Cory Allen was carried off on a stretcher.

But a game of precious few scoring chances was eventually decided with one moment when Conan caught the Blues napping from a maul with his burst, supported by Nacewa.

Jordi Murphy became the second Leinster player binned, for offside, late on to spark a frantic last few moments that ended with Patchell's drop-goal attempt being charged down.

Scorers - Leinster: I Nacewa try, I Madigan 3 pens; Cardiff Blues: J Navidi try, R Patchell con, G Anscombe 2 pens.

Cardiff Blues: R Patchell; A Cuthbert, C Allen (T James, 47) R Lee-Lo, B Scully; G Anscombe (Fish, 53), L Williams (capt) (T Williams, 70); T Davies (B Thyer, 50), K Dacey (Rees, 50), S Ma'afu (Filise, 50), J Hoeata (M Cook, 70), J Down, J Turnbull, E Jenkins (J Navidi, 63) , M Vosawai.

Leinster: Z Kirchner; F McFadden, G Ringrose, B Te'o, I Nacewa (capt); I Madigan, E Reddan; C Healy (P Dooley, 67) , S Cronin (R Strauss, 44), T Furlong (M Ross, 44), M Kearney (T Denton, 53), H Triggs, R Ruddock, J Murphy, J Conan.

Referee: P Fitzgibbon (IRFU)

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