Monday 19 March 2018

Leinster blown away and run ragged by rampant Cheetahs


Leinster players during the Guinness PRO14 Round 4 match between Cheetahs and Leinster at Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein. Photo by Johan Pretorius/Sportsfile
Leinster players during the Guinness PRO14 Round 4 match between Cheetahs and Leinster at Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein. Photo by Johan Pretorius/Sportsfile

Ruaidhri O'Connor in Bloemfontein

Welcome to the Guinness PRO14 party, South Africa. The Cheetahs always looked a better bet of the two newcomers to make waves in the tournament and they gave Leinster plenty to think about as they make their long journey home in drips and drabs this morning.

The Irish province had enjoyed their stint on tour up until kick-off, but they were blown away by the home side who looked like they were beginning to enjoy the new tournament after a full week at home to prepare.

They ran in a hatful of tries against Zebre last weekend, but this win was based on a more impressive body of work – albeit in front of a crowd of 6,980 that was swallowed up by the big stadium.

As his team move into an important phase of the season, Leo Cullen is sweating on Isa Nacewa’s calf which failed him after 15 minutes and meant he took four long-haul flights for a quarter of an hour’s rugby.

Without their captain, the tourists were a pale imitation of their normal selves and their poor discipline is perhaps what will irk Cullen most as he sits on a long flight home.

Altitude may have been a factor in the poor work in contact, but the bad decision making was at times unforgivable and meant that they let an early advantage slip after Barry Daly had crossed for the first of his three tries.

Considering they had six Ireland internationals in their pack, they’ll be particularly disappointed with being bullied in the tackle zone and at the breakdown and with a host of internationals about to return to action it was a bad night to lose your form.

Earlier in the day back in Dublin a Lions-heavy Leinster squad was being drilled by Stuart Lancaster in anticipation of next Friday’s meeting with Edinburgh at the RDS and with Edinburgh, Munster and Ulster to come before Europe gets underway there will need to be a big up-lift in performance.

The home side opened the scoring within two minutes as Ernst Stapelberg punished Cian Healy for going off his feet at a ruck by slotting over from just inside Leinster territory.

It didn’t take long for the men in blue to hit back after Joey Carbery exploited a poor kick-chase by scything through a gap, found Isa Nacewa who in turn fed Mick Kearney.

The second-row was forced into touch, but the Cheetahs couldn’t manage an exit and handed Leinster possession under their own posts. Jack Conan tapped a free-kick and sucked in the defence, before a beautiful Noel Reid cut-out pass found Daly in space and he touched down in the corner.

Ross Byrne missed the conversion and then sent an easier penalty wide after strong work over the ball by Jordi Murphy and instead it was Stapelberg who nudged his side in front after crossing in the Leinster midfield.

That department lost a lot of experience after just 15 minutes when Nacewa was forced off with a calf injury and the Cheetahs were denied the opportunity to make it a double-blow when Josh van der Flier brilliantly robbed Torsten van Jaarsveld just as they were building some pressure in the ’22.

Referee Mike Adamson handed the hosts a chance to further their advantage, however, penalising Jack Conan for not rolling and Stapelberg made no mistake.

Leinster were under pressure and struggling to establish field-position and Stapelberg punished further breakdown ill-discipline.

Another crucial intervention from van der Flier, this time under his own posts, prevented further damage as the visiting side struggled to cope with the powerful carries from No 8 Ouopa Mohoje and brilliant winger Makazola Mapimpi. Having just been bowled over by Mohoje, the flanker dusted himself off and forced a penalty just as the dam was looking creaky.

Leinster looked to take advantage and when Jamison Gibson-Park turned down points and went quickly, Rory O’Loughlin found space on the outside and fed Carbery who was hauled down close to the line.

Leinster couldn’t protect the ball, however, and the locals were able to clear the danger.

A Michael Bent knock-on handed them a scrum on their own 10m line and they didn’t ask twice, marching the blue scrum backwards before Tian Meyer broke free, fed captain Francois Venter who broke the Leinster cover, drew Carbery and put William Small-Smith over for the try.

Stapelberg converted to make it 19-5 and his side took their two-score lead into half-time.

He turned down an opportunity to extend it just after the break as Leinster’s poor discipline continued into the second-half and James Tracy paid the price for a no-arms tackle on Charles Marais that led to a yellow card and a maul try for van Jaarsveld.

Stapelberg sent the conversion wide, but a high tackle from Michael Bent – Leinster fourth penalty concession in six second-half minutes – robbed his side of a chance to hit back and instead it was the home side who went chasing the bonus point.

Ross Byrne prevented a certain fourth try with a clever hand as Rosco Specman put Venter away, but the home fans didn’t have to wait long and Ox Nche powered through Rhys Ruddock to score.

Stapelberg made no mistake this time around and it was damage limitation time for the beleaguered tourists.

Daly hit back with a similar try to his first to narrow the gap, this time O’Loughlin found him in space and Byrne’s converted to narrow the gap further.

Daly almost got another as the tourists finally started to put some phases together, but a good tackle from Nche denied him, but the UCD man managed his hat-trick minutes later as the home side faded and he stepped inside the cover and finished well.

Byrne's conversion meant one more try would earn Leinster a scarcely deserved double-bonus, but they couldn't manage it despite a concerted spell of pressure in the Cheetahs' territory.

A penalty as the clock ticked towards 80 handed them one last chanceon the '22, but Cathal Marsh's pass was picked off by Luther Obi the game was up and he raced clear and even managed a somersault when touching down.

It was that kind of night for Leinster.


CHEETAHS – S Petersen; R Specman, F Venter (capt), W Small-Smith (N Lee 64), M Mapimpi; E Stapelberg, T Meyer (S Venter 64); C Marals (O Nche 51), T van Jaarsveld (J du Toit 80), T Botha (J Coetzee 46); J Basson, R Hugo (R Bernardo 74); P Schoeman, H Venter, O Mahoje (J Pokomela 62) -

LEINSTER – J Carbery; D Kearney, N Reid, I Nacewa (capt) (R O’Loughlin 16), B Daly; R Byrne (C Marsh 74), J Gibson-Park (N McCarthy 61); C Healy (P Dooley 51), J Tracy (S Cronin 56), M Bent (A Porter 51); R Molony, M Kearney (R Ruddock 51); J Murphy (M Deegan 71), J van der Flier, J Conan (M Deegan 70).

Ref: M Adamson (Scotland)


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