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Dublin: 11°C Thursday 15 April 2021

Opinion: Winning never felt so pretty for Leo and Leinster

Battle-softened Blues will hope for a testing encounter in their final Pro 12 matches as tough semi-final awaits

Leo Cullen attempts to hold up Xavier Rush of Cardiff
Leo Cullen attempts to hold up Xavier Rush of Cardiff
Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

LEINSTER CAPTAIN LEO Cullen is a soft spoken individual but the lock’s dulcet tones raised an octave or two as he described Leinster’s first-half masterclass.

It was one of those feel-good days at the Aviva – similar in some way to the side’s demolition of Bath earlier in the year – and it was capped off with four-try Leinster holding firm and denying Cardiff a reply of their own.

Few (even the Welsh pundits) gave Cardiff a chance before kick-off but they still possessed quality operators such as Gethin Jenkins, who secured turnover ball more than once, Leigh Halfpenny, Xavier Rush and Alex Cuthbert.

They took a 3-0 lead and, even though Jonathan Sexton pegged them back, had the confidence to drive forward and give Connacht-bound Dan Parks a drop goal chance.

The day began with Shane Horgan receiving a rousing send-off by the Leinster faithful and ended with Cian Healy trying to contain a Chesire Cat grin upon learning he was named man-of-the-match.

In between, there were excellent tries for Isa Nacewa, two sniping scores for the peerless Rob Kearney and a try for returning Leinster hero Brian O’Driscoll. If the centre’s try was relatively simple his tackle on Halfpenny, when he wrapped the full-back up and flung him into touch, was the O’Driscoll the world knows and admires.

Sexton names the tune

Healy was fantastic at the scrum and drove deep into the heart of the Cardiff defence on at least five occasions. He also smashed flanker Michael Paterson with an excellent tackle. Sean O’Brien enjoyed himself – making a 50-metre break from inside his ’22 – and Mike Ross must be credited for a try-saving tackle on the left wing.

Behind it all was another masterclass in blue by Sexton. His dummies, delayed passes and reverse balls to rampaging runners, Nacewa and Luke Fitzgerald, had Cardiff in dire trouble. One missed penalty from in front of the posts and the odd ball too many chipped to the wings but Joe Schmidt will be delighted with his out-half’s form as the season reaches its climax.

The final 20 minutes were a non-event, with Leinster’s determination not to concede a try the only thing that kept fans from streaming out to follow the goings on at Augusta, Georgia.

Schmidt wanted another try but will really long for at least one more tough test before his side must board a flight for a Heineken Cup away day.

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