Leinster had to wriggle their way off the hook last night before finally getting the better of a scrappy Cardiff team in Wales last night.
When Leinster scored two tries in the first 10 minutes it looked like they'd coast to a bloodless victory, but Cardiff are a proud bunch and they fought back to contribute richly to a thoroughly entertaining Pro 12 contest.
One of Leinster's great strengths is that they're quicker in mind as well as body than most teams, and they made the most of both attributes to score the game's first try after just six minutes. After the Cardiff scrum was pinged, Leinster's Eoin Reddan tapped the ball to himself and then off-loaded to Jamie Heaslip who splintered the disorganised Cardiff defensive line. Sean O'Brien was on the same alert wave length as Reddan and Heaslip, and appeared on the shoulder of the No 8 to take the perfectly timed pass that put him clear and over the try-line.
It was a terribly soft try to concede, and the home team were guilty of some more cotton-wool defending just four minutes later when Rob Kearney ran over for Leinster's second try. It didn't require any great sleight of hand to unlock Cardiff's front-door.
Reddan fed Sean Cronin who flipped a pass back infield to the charging Kearney. He sailed through the Cardiff defensive line and jinked past full-back Leigh Halfpenny before touching down.
Jonny Sexton kicked both conversions and, 14 points down after just 20 minutes, Cardiff were staring down the barrel of a gun. They weren't about to put their hands up and meekly surrender though. Two penalties from Leigh Halfpenny and a Dan Parks drop-goal brought them back into it, before a Sexton penalty helped Leinster to a 17-9 half-time lead.
Another penalty from Sexton shortly after the restart pushed Leinster 11 points clear, but they probably should have had more from their endeavours after battering the Cardiff line with phase after phase.
The home team made the most of the reprieve by rising their intensity levels, and as the half wore on their confidence and momentum grew visibly. Another Halfpenny penalty cancelled out Sexton's effort, and then burly prop Gethin Jenkins tunnelled his way over for a try that Halfpenny converted to close the gap to just one point.
Ten minutes later he had a chance to put the home team ahead, but his penalty from the half-way line fell short to groans from the home fans, who then gasped with disbelief a couple of minutes later when he fluffed a much easier chance.
Insult was added to injury when Leinster went straight down the field and won a penalty of their own that Fergus McFadden slotted straight and true between the posts to seal the spoils for the visitors.
It was the pivotal moment of the match. Cardiff's great opportunity had slipped between their fingers and Leinster are the sort of team who always make you pay.
The home team exerted incessant pressure in the final 10 minutes of the match as they searched for a game-breaking try, but Leinster gritted their teeth and held on for a win they just about deserved.
Scorers -- Leinster: O'Brien, Kearney tries, Sexton 2 pens 2 cons, McFadden pen. Cardiff: G Jenkins try, L Halfpenny 3 pens, con, D Parks d-gl.
Leinster: R Kearney; D Kearney, F McFadden, G D'Arcy (I Nacewa 39), A Conway; J Sexton (F Carr 59), E Reddan; C Healy (H van der Merwe 70), S Cronin, M Ross; M Flanagan (L Auva'a 75), D Toner; K McLaughlin (J Murphy ht), S O'Brien, J Heaslip.
Cardiff: L Halfpenny; R Mustoe (H Robinson 73), C Laualala, G Evans, T James; D Parks, L Williams (R Rees 49); G Jenkins, M Breeze (R Williams 42), S Andrews (S Hobbs 75); B Davies, M Paterson; M Molitika (J Navidi 49), S Warburton, X Rush.
Referee: M Mitrea (FIR)
Sunday Indo Sport