O'Driscoll back with bang as Leinster secure bonus
LEINSTER 34 CARDIFF BLUES 20
ON a day that saw another crack develop in their Heineken Cup-winning foundations, Leinster were able to give their supporters some solace for the time being at least.
News that forwards coach Jono Gibbes was following Joe Schmidt, Isa Nacewa and Jonathan Sexton out the door might have dominated their fans' thoughts before this entertaining win, but as they left the RDS their fans could put those long-term concerns to one side and look forward to the season proper and Thomond Park next week.
Brian O'Driscoll got through 73 minutes of enterprising work, while returning Lions Rob Kearney, Jamie Heaslip and Cian Healy shook off their rust and Ian Madigan took his chance at No 10 to deliver an assured and confident display, which he marked with a bonus-point securing try.
Coach Matt O'Connor was full of praise for the former Ireland captain after his first appearance since being left out of the third Lions Test in July and he felt he had proved a few critics wrong.
"He was brilliant. Some of those touches were sublime," the Australian said. "He certainly proved all of those people who thought he might not have been as valuable as he was previously wrong."
With Munster, the Ospreys and French champions Castres their next three opponents, things are set to step up for O'Connor and his team in the weeks to come, but he is satisfied with where his side are after their opening four games.
"We knew it was a tough start to the year, we've played some tough sides and been on the road. We're pretty happy with where we are in the league, knowing we have Munster and then the Heineken Cup to come," he said.
Given their recent history of rolling over on their visits to Dublin, it was something of a surprise to see the Cardiff Blues bring the game to Leinster in the opening stages of a first half that O'Connor described as "disappointing" and they led through Leigh Halfpenny's fifth-minute penalty.
They might have gone further in front but for Quinn Roux's marginally early tackle dislodging the ball from Harry Robinson shy of the line and they were to rue that miss as Leinster responded in clinical fashion at the other end as O'Driscoll's delayed pass sent Sean Cronin over under the posts.
Madigan converted before extending the lead with a penalty, but the visitors scrapped and kept in it, with Halfpenny narrowing the gap with a penalty of his own before the break.
That meant that just four points separated them at the interval, but Leinster took control after half-time and extended their lead with a penalty try, thanks largely to Dominic Ryan.
With Filo Paulo in the sin-bin for a professional foul, Leinster went for a five-metre scrum but lost the hook, only for Ryan to react quickest and drag Robinson over his own line. They didn't make the same mistake a second time as Healy led the march over the line until Cardiff crumpled and referee Marius Mitrea ran for the posts.
Madigan converted, but again Cardiff came back as Robinson did well to pop the ball out of an O'Driscoll tackle to Owen Williams and he fed Halfpenny, who sent Alex Cuthbert wide. The giant wing skipped outside Rob Kearney and cut inside his brother Dave's tackle to score under the posts, with Halfpenny adding the extras.
Leinster almost hit back instantly, but Fergus McFadden was denied by the television official, before Cardiff had a go again and might have drawn level but for a despairing Dave Kearney tackle which forced Cuthbert to knock-on with the line at his mercy.
Leinster regained field position and after Mike Ross had a go at being a winger with limited success, Devin Toner brilliantly blocked a Lloyd Williams box-kick and earned a penalty when the scrum-half impeded him going for the loose ball.
Madigan went for touch, Cronin went to the tail and Leinster mauled over, with Ryan touching down.
Leinster went for the jugular thereafter, spurning penalties in search of the bonus point and just as the crowd were retaking their seats after O'Driscoll's 73rd-minute withdrawal, Ryan peeled off the back of a lineout and Madigan followed up by barrelling through Halfpenny for his now customary try and conversion.
He was withdrawn with five minutes to go and Cardiff replacement Cory Allen took advantage of a loose ball to score a try, but it couldn't affect the mood as the RDS faithful headed into the night with Munster very much on their minds.
LEINSTER – R Kearney; F McFadden, B O'Driscoll (B Macken 73), N Reid, D Kearney; I Madigan (J Gopperth 76), I Boss (J Cooney 69); C Healy (J McGrath 69), S Cronin (A Dundon 70), M Moore (M Ross 63); D Toner, Q Roux (T Denton 63); R Ruddock (J Murphy 69), D Ryan, J Heaslip (capt).
CARDIFF BLUES – L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, O Williams, D Hewitt (C Allen 72), H Robinson; R Patchell, L Williams (L Jones 76); S Hobbs (T Davies 59), M Rees (capt), T Filise; L Reed (J Down 68) (K Dacey 72), F Paulo; J Navidi (R Copeland 71), S Warburton, A Pretorius.
Ref – M Mitrea (FIR)