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Leinster huff and puff but eventually put Cardiff away to seal unlikely bonus point win

Three late tries maintains Leo Cullen’s side’s perfect start to the side.

Sean Cronin celebrates his try.
Sean Cronin celebrates his try.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Leinster 37

Cardiff Blues 9

Ryan Bailey reports from the RDS

THE SCOREBOARD WILL read like this was an utterly convincing and emphatic victory for Leinster on their first home outing of the season, but Leo Cullen’s side were made to work incredibly hard to come out the right side of a physical, and error-strewn, arm wrestle.

Cardiff, as expected, brought a huge amount of physicality to the contest and the outcome was still in the balance right up until the final quarter, only for Leinster to finish powerfully and pull clear with three late tries.

James Tracy’s first-half try, his third for the province, and a Ross Byrne penalty on the stroke of the break had given the hosts the half-time advantage, despite Isa Nacewa’s sinbinning for a reckless and dangerous high tackle on Alex Cuthberth, the Cardiff and Wales winger.

It seemed to galvanise Leinster, however, and once Tracy’s score had cancelled out two early Steven Shingler penalties, the eastern province were always ahead before landing three knockout blows in the final 13 minutes.

Sean Cronin was typically explosive off the bench and sealed the victory with an opportunistic try, running it in from 40 yards out after gathering the loose ball in midfield, before Barry Daly’s sensational finish in the far corner and Nick McCarthy’s close-range score sealed an unlikely bonus point win.

Leinster, with 10 points from a possible 10, now lead the Guinness Pro14 ‘B’ Conference after a perfect start to the campaign, although this performance leaves huge room for improvement going forward, with Cullen describing his team’s showing as ‘poor’ afterwards.

The margin of victory flatters Leinster, who were flat and lifeless for large parts of the first hour as a string of errors and Cardiff’s intensity at the breakdown and quick linespeed made it a pretty uninspiring affair.

Jack Conan, named man of the match, was again immense and set the early tone with a couple of big carries, swatting off Cardiff defenders with pure belligerence and disdain.

Sean Cronin on his way to scoring a try Cronin scored Leinster's second try. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Byrne converted all four tries and his two second-half penalties, in addition to his one in the opening 40, ensured Leinster kept a distance between themselves and the visitors even when they were struggling to inject any sort of momentum or life into the occasion.

The out-half’s cross-field kick for Daly to soar and acrobatically gather in the corner and dive over for Leinster’s third was Byrne at his best, although his decision-making wasn’t always as convincing and he missed two kickable penalties from the tee.

He squandered an early chance to get Leinster up and running after the hosts had made a bright start. Cardiff, committing numbers to the breakdown, were penalised for not rolling away, but the former St Michael’s man pushed his effort right of the uprights when he really should have done better. It was to become the story of his game until he produced when it mattered most in the final minutes.

Five minutes later, Shingler showed him how it’s done with a beautifully-struck penalty from this near touchline after Leinster were pinged for hands in the ruck. Advantage Cardiff.

The visitors grew into the contest from there, standing firm in defence as their quick line speed — although they were blatantly offside on several occasions — denied Leinster time and space.

Shingler and then Lloyd Williams kicked into the space in behind, turning Leinster’s defence and putting pressure on the hosts’ set-piece, and when they attempted the same, Nacewa’s overeagerness added to early frustration.

The Leinster captain knew straight away he was in trouble, holding his hands up and bowing his head, so was mightily relieved when Andrew Brace only brandished yellow after a lengthy consultation with his TMO.

Down the other end, Shingler extended Cardiff’s lead after Rory O’Loughlin had knocked on in midfield. 6-0 after 26 minutes, but Leinster went about rectifying the early mistakes from there.

O’Loughlin’s initial burst got the crowd on their feet for the first time and when Byrne kicked for the corner, Leinster’s rolling maul was far too hot for Cardiff to handle. Tracy emerged from the pile with ball in hand.

Devin Toner after his 200th appearance Devin Toner won his 200th cap for Leinster. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Leinster had calmed down and Byrne soon kicked the hosts into a four-point interval advantage.

Rob Kearney, who is now an injury doubt for the trip to South Africa, was withdrawn with a hamstring complaint at the break, with Jordan Larmour switching to fullback.

Cardiff looked to test the 20-year-old immediately, launching a towering up-and-under in his direction and although Larmour gathered cleanly, he was guilty of hanging on too long. Shingler sent it between the posts and it was a one-point game again.

Cullen changed his entire front row on 52 minutes and Leinster started to pull clear through Byrne’s boot, although he was fortunate his second penalty dropped over after striking both posts. His next effort came back off the upright.

No worry, however. Cronin was quickest to react after the ball came out of the ruck sideways and the hooker showed all his pace to power clear and dot it down under the posts. The bonus point was suddenly on.

Byrne picked out Daly and McCarthy finished off a sweeping move involving Andrew Porter and the dynamic Conan. All was right in the end.

The cracks papered over, five more points on the board and now all eyes on South Africa.

Leinster scorers:
Tries: James Tracy, Sean Cronin, Barry Daly, Nick McCarthy
Penalties: Ross Byrne [3 from 5]
Conversions: Ross Byrne [4 from 4]
Cardiff scorers:Tries:
Penalties: Steve Shingler [3 from 3]
Conversions:

LEINSTER: 15. Rob Kearney (23. Barry Daly 40′), 14. Adam Byrne, 13. Rory O’Loughlin, 12. Isa Nacewa (captain), 11. Jordan Larmour, 10. Ross Byrne, 9. Luke McGrath (21 Nick McCarthy 69′); 1. Cian Healy (17. Ed Byrne 52′), 2. James Tracy (16. Sean Cronin 52′), 3. Michael Bent (18. Andrew Porter 52′), 4. Devin Toner, 5. Scott Fardy (19. Mick Kearney 72′), 6. Rhys Ruddock (20. Dan Leavy 57′) (22. Cathal Marsh 77′), 7. Josh van der Flier, 8. Jack Conan.

CARDIFF BLUES: 15. Rhun Williams (23. Matthew Morgan 70′), 14. Alex Cuthbert, 13. Garvyn Smith, 12. Rey Lee-Lo, 11. Tom James, 10. Steve Shingler (22. Jarrod Evans 69′), 9. Lloyd Williams (21. Tomos Williams 69′); 1. Rhys Gill (17. Corey Domachowski 56′) , 2. Matthew Rees (captain) (16. Kirby Myhill 60′), 3. Keiron Assiratti (18. Dillon Lewis 56′), 4. Seb Davies, 5. Damian Welch (19. James Down 63′), 6. Macauley Cook (20. Sion Bennett 74′), 7. Josh Navidi, 8. Josh Turnbull.

Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU).

Attendance: 13,535.

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