Saturday 22 July 2017

O'Driscoll set to be fit for autumn series

Leinster 59
Cardiff 22


When a team is on course for a bonus point by the end of the first quarter it gives you an idea of the way things are going. That Leinster missed their target was hardly the issue.

In fact, it was 26 minutes before they had got their fourth try. And to make up for the delay, they had five posted by the half-hour mark. They had nine by the finish, to complete a staggering aggregate of 145 points over the past three games with this opposition in Dublin, and the only negative aspect was the early departure of Brian O'Driscoll.

He went off midway through the first half, as a precaution we were told, having been unable to run off an ankle injury. Declan Kidney will be watching this one closer than Joe Schmidt, and given the issues the national coach has at 15 he will pray his captain is OK to face the Springboks in a fortnight. It's likely he'll be fine.

With all Leinster's Ireland contingent in action, it will have been a nervous night for Kidney but O'Driscoll was his only concern. Schmidt meantime had lots to be pleased about. It's been a scratchy first quarter of the season for the European champions, but everything fell into place here with such ease that the crowd of 17,236 spent the first hour watching the equivalent of a semi-opposed training run.

The last time they were here they were bemoaning a lack of accuracy and cohesion, against Exeter. This time the stream of quick, clean ball was more like a flood.

The plan was to run Cardiff off their feet in the first quarter, on the basis that Leinster had an extra two days to recover from last weekend's European tie, against Scarlets, than Cardiff had in their defeat last Sunday by Toulon. Even so, the plan was effected brilliantly.

Perhaps the biggest winner was man of the match Jordi Murphy. It helped that he was running forward to the point of contact a lot more than he was running back, but whatever direction he was going he brought enormous energy to the task.

"Jordi is a kid we've got a lot of time for," Schmidt said afterwards. "If nothing else, it's a reminder to Dominic Ryan who was in the same position two years ago -- he was the new kid on the block and blowing people away with some of the things he was capable of doing. Jordi is trying to remind people that he'd like to knock on the door as well."

By half-time, Leinster had six tries on the board, with Jamie Heaslip getting two of them. The pick of the bunch was probably Ian Madigan's effort after a lovely reverse pass from Fergus McFadden who was Leinster's best back.

It didn't help Cardiff that they had to soldier through 10 minutes without tight head Scott Andrews, who was binned for impeding McFadden who was chasing his own kick ahead. The second half looked like it would be just as bad when Murphy crowned his performance with a try two minutes into the period -- Jonny Sexton's conversion (he slotted seven from nine) put them 47-3 ahead -- but Cardiff didn't have to suffer too much after that.

They managed tries from Alex Cuthbert, Leigh Halfpenny and Tom James, against one from replacement Damien Browne. Then, with the last play of the game, Fionn Carr did brilliantly to latch onto a Sexton cross kick and scramble over the line. The decision went upstairs as the Cardiff players wondered if their concession would be over the 60 points mark. The missed conversion left it just under that mark. It's unlikely that this was a cause for consolation as they headed home after yet another mauling in Dublin. Leinster will be short-staffed for the trip to Swansea and a sit-down with their pals from Ospreylia on Sunday, but they will go in the knowledge that they have rediscovered their rhythm.

Scorers -- Leinster J Heaslip 2 tries; I Madigan, D Kearney, C Healy, J Murphy, R Strauss, D Browne, F Carr tries.

Cardiff L Halfpenny try, pen, 2 con; A Cuthbert, T James tries.

Leinster: I Madigan; D Kearney, B O'Driscoll (B Macken 23), G D'Arcy (F Carr 53), F McFadden; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy (H van der Merwe 49), R Strauss (S Cronin 47), M Ross (J Hagan 55), L Cullen (capt) (D Browne ht), D Toner, K McLaughlin (R Ruddock 49), J Heaslip, J Murphy (I Boss 66).

Cardiff: L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, D Hewitt, J Roberts, T James (T Williams 66); J Tovey, L Williams (L Jones 57); T Filise, M Breeze (R williams 57), S Andrews (yc 27-37), B Davies (L Reed 49), J Down, J Navidi, A Pretorius, S Warburton (R Copeland 49).

Referee: I Davies (Wales).

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