Cardiff Blues battled hard but ultimately couldn’t get close to undefeated Leinster after a final quarter blitz from the hosts at the Royal Dublin Showground.
John Mulvihill had two changes enforced on him from the side that started against Benetton last week, with Olly Robinson and Willis Halaholo ruled out. Alun Lawrence and Ben Thomas came in, while Ethan Lewis, Dmitri Arhip, Tomos Williams and Aled Summerhill were tactical changes. There was also a late change as Jarrod Evans failed a fitness test with Jason Tovey instead of him.
Despite comments about taking the game to Leinster and going to compete during the week, it was a nightmare start for Cardiff Blues as the home side went ahead after 37 seconds when Ciaran Frawley made a line break down the left wing and put Dave Kearney over. Harry Byrne converted for an early 7-0 lead.
The hosts pushed to make it a quick double a few minutes later, turning down three points to kick to the corner, but some resolute defending kept them out until they went off their feet at the breakdown. However, they did get the second try shortly after as Jimmy O’Brien found space on the edge and kicked ahead. Tovey couldn’t come across and deal, allowing the full-back to score and Byrne convert again.
By the time the mid-point of the first half came around, Cardiff had worked ourselves back into the game though, and did so clinically. Lineout ball was secured on the right wing and a good decoy line from Garyn Smith kept the defence narrow. Sharp passing worked possession out to the left where Aled Summerhill had enough space to get over in the corner.
There were further half chances for the Welsh side as the half wore on, with Ben Thomas at the heart of much of our good work, but one big carry wasn’t capitalised on and a smart break down the right was let down when Smith couldn’t take the pass cleanly.
Despite the positivity of the Cardiff Blues play, it only takes a momentary slip against Leinster and they punish you. A chip kick in our own half didn’t work and the return kick into the corner had to be taken into touch by Owen Lane. The home side set up a driving maul and James Tracy struck a killer blow right on half-time to send his side in 19-5 up.
John Mulvihill’s men came out firing after the break, taking the game to Leinster well. Josh Turnbull made a big carry while Aled Summerhill got away down the left before finding Tomos Williams on his inside, but on both occasions handling errors cost us as too many knock ons prevented any real pressure being exerted on the hosts.
With the scrum conceding a few too many penalties it allowed the Irish side to return to our 22 and set up camp, but the Cardiff defence wasn’t going to just lie down against the dominant side in the league without a fight as first Alun Lawrence and then James Ratti held them up over the line after two big defensive sets in the red zone, and then Rhys Ruddock was penalised for going off his feet.
There is only so much defending one team can do before the pressure tells though and eventually Scott Penny got over from close range to score Leinster’s bonus point try, with Byrne converting.
Unfortunately from there the scoreline got away from Cardiff Blues, with the unnecessary help of referee Mike Adamson and the TMO Ollie Hodges who missed a knock-on in the build up to the fourth try and a forward pass ahead of the fifth try. There were also two tackles in the air overlooked, and a suspicious looking boot to the face of Rory Thornton from Ruddock that avoided their attention.
The scores, from Penny again and Michael Silvester, as well as the boot of Byrne, saw the game finish 40-5, but in truth that didn’t accurately reflect what was another physical and committed defensive performance from Cardiff, who were also the better lineout side and confident enough to go to the RDS and play some attacking rugby even when the game was tight.
Hopefully the players and coaching staff can take confidence into what is a huge final game of this Pro14 fixture block when Glasgow travel to Rodney Parade next Sunday. A win will almost certainly see us enter December in a play-off spot, but a defeat will leave us with work to do going into the festive derbies.