Thursday 5 December 2019

McFadden puts boot into Blues to clinch top spot

Magners League

Leinster's Shaun Berne is upended by Ceri Sweeney, of Cardiff Blues, during yesterday's Magners League clash
Leinster's Shaun Berne is upended by Ceri Sweeney, of Cardiff Blues, during yesterday's Magners League clash

Leinster moved back to the top of the Magners League as their young guns came up trumps to end a five-month wait for an away win.

You had to go all the way back to September 26 for the last time the Dublin outfit had won on the road in the league, but they saved one of their best performances of the season to get back on the victory trail and move back to the top of the pile.

With the battle for a top-four finish, and a place in the new play-off semi-finals, it was a great day to take advantage of some topsy-turvey results in the league, with only two of the top five sides winning.

Leinster came into the game looking to be the third team of the day to top the Magners League table. The Ospreys led coming into the weekend and, because of Glasgow Warriors' draw at Connacht, they stayed there until yesterday afternoon. But the Welsh region's unexpected hiding by Edinburgh at Murrayfield meant last season's runners-up leap-frogged them to lead with 34 points.


That gave captain Shane Jennings' side a new target to aim for, a win being good enough to hoist them to the top of the pile with two games in hand on most of their nearest rivals.

And, despite losing the lead for nine minutes at the start of the second half, they were in command for most of the way against a desperately disappointing and disjointed Cardiff Blues outfit.

The Welsh region may be fighting to be in the Heineken Cup next season, but they were guilty of going through the motions and presenting Leinster with too many errors to feed off.

No wonder Leinster coach Michael Cheika was beaming when Fergus McFadden landed his fourth penalty of with the last kick of the match to leave the Blues pointless despite outscoring their visitors by three tries to two.

"Things can change very quickly at this time of year, so we are focussing more on the performance and the fact the young guys had an opportunity to play and stood up well," he said.

"There is still so much to play for in the Magners League. We haven't had much consistency in the league this season, but we showed good character in the second half after we went behind.

"We knew we would have to defend, take our opportunities when they came and make sure when we had good field position we took some points."

The Blues threw the ball around at every opportunity, yet their lack of urgency in the early stages saw them fall 10 points behind as Leinster preyed on mistake after mistake.

The impressive Shaun Berne made the most of the home side's first blunder as he snapped up a loose pass near half-way before sending Isa Nacewa racing up the left wing to launch a dashing raid that ended with Devin Toner being held up on the line.

At the following scrum the Blues were penalised, Berne kicked for the line-out and, after two drives from the pack, the Aussie out-half sent McFadden over at the posts.

Centre McFadden -- who enjoyed a fine game and ended with 16 points -- added the conversion and then a penalty. Cardiff responded with a try out wide for prop Gary Powell, and the home revival continued after another McFadden penalty when back row man Sam Warburton dived over for a try which Ben Blair converted.

That cut the gap to a single point but, on the stroke of half-time, the Welsh side coughed up another penalty to give McFadden another shot at goal that allowed him to send Leinster into the break four points to the good.

The Blues took just 47 seconds to respond after the break with a try in the left corner by wing Chris Czekaj that gave them the lead for the first time. Yet, with a win and a bonus point beckoning, it took them another 38 minutes to add to their score as Leinster showed off their defensive prowess.

McFadden may have been dominating the scoring, but his centre partner Eoin O'Malley also chipped in with a massive contribution. The 21-year-old, starting only his second Magners League game, weaved his way past two Blues forwards in midfield to carve out an opening that left Bernard Jackman with a 25-metre race to the line.

The hooker's try at the posts put Leinster back in front and McFadden's conversion gave his side a six point lead. After that, a Berne drop goal and fourth McFadden penalty not only condemned the Blues to their eighth defeat of the campaign, but also stripped them of a losing bonus points.

CARDIFF BLUES -- B Blair (S Norton-Knight 64); T James, C Laulala, T Shanklin, C Czekaj; C Sweeney, G Cooper (L Williams 54); T Filise, TR Thomas (H Dowden 27-32, 64-67), G Powell (S Andrews 72), S Morgan (A Pretorius 64), P Tito (cpt), M Molitika, S Warburton (A Powell 54), X Rush.

LEINSTER -- G Dempsey; A Conway, E O'Malley, F McFadden, I Nacewa; S Berne, E Reddan; S Wright, B Jackman (R Strauss 55), CJ van der Linde (M Ross 60), D Toner, M O'Kelly, K McLaughlin, S Jennings (cpt), S Keogh (T Hogan 78).

Ref-- A Macpherson (SRU).

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