October 2, 2014
Leinster had a number of issues in Galway. In the first half inaccuracies ensured that they couldn't convert possession and territory into points, while in the second half they began to lose the battle of the breakdown (often having backs against forwards here) and all structure in attack. These issues had to be addressed. And in the opening 10 minutes or so of this encounter most of them were. Forwards were hitting rucks and Leinster were getting clean ball. They were accurate and Cardiff were not. Wingers Cuthbert and Watkins contributed to this with 2 poor grubber kicks and a kick out on the full, while centre Corey Allen was pinged for being offside. Leinster converted 2 penalties in that time and minutes later had an opportunity to push that out to 9, but Madigan was unable to slot the kick from a difficult angle.
It was around this time that inaccuracies again started to creep back into the game. But the inaccuracies weren't just Leinsters. At 15 minutes Welsh referee Ian Davies penalised Fergus McFadden for being offside when Gopperth attempted a cross field kick. As you can see from the below screenshot McFadden was most certainly not offside. The resulting penalty allowed Cardiff into the Leinster 22 for the first time. From here they won, and converted, a penalty at the breakdown getting them on the board for the first time.
Just over 10 minutes later Cardiff put in a well weighted grubber that landed just outside the Leinster 22. It was then we saw what became a common tactic for them throughout the game. A Cardiff player (or two) would end up on the Leinster side of the ensuing breakdown preventing Leinster players from competing in and/or forming the ruck. This is obviously illegal, but not something that Davies penalised Cardiff for. In this case it allowed Cardiff number 8 Josh Navidi get over the ball. Leinster were penalised for holding on and Cardiff drew level from the resulting penalty. Suddenly it was 6-6 and things were looking ominous. Momentum was shifting towards Cardiff.
But it wasn't only the referee that was costing Leinster. After the opening 10-15 minutes Leinster began to become architects of their own misfortune. Kearney ignored the refs call to keep his hands out of the ruck and conceded a penalty. A few minutes later they lost a line-out in their own 22. Madigan put the ball out on the full on turnover ball when Leinster should have been punishing Cardiff for coughing up possession. Leinsters passing, particularly from the half-backs, started to become sloppy and protection at the breakdown began to creak. After Cardiff drew level Gopperth put his restart out on the full. You could hear it in the crowd during that second quarter. The RDS was as quiet as I've heard it in some time. People were starting to fear the worst.
What everyone needed was a stand out moment. A big play. And Rhys Ruddock delivered just that. Taking a great line off a pop pass from Gopperth mid way between the Cardiff 22 and 10m line he showed great power and pace to beat 4 tackles and get over the line. It really was a cracking try. The kind of thing you'd associate with Sean O'Brien in his 2010/11 season. Ruddock has become a serious player for Leinster in the last 10 months or so and if he can continue this form then he must be well in the running for the AIs. Cardiff still managed to get another penalty though on the stroke of half time to make it 13-9 at the break so the game was still very much in the balance.
However unlike last week Leinster came out from the changing rooms and kicked on from the Ruddock try. A lovely pass from D'Arcy to Madigan (now at full-back) put the latter into space on the outside of an onrushing Cuthbert. Madigan fixed Patchell and released Mick McGrath, who had come on for Rob Kearney, down the left wing. The Clontarf man showed great pace and strength himself to make the line. Minutes later a nice little step and half-break from Gopperth put D'Arcy under the posts for Leinster's third. This pushed the home side out to a 27-9 lead with just under 30 minutes to go. Cardiff looked done and the bonus point looked inevitable.
Of course true to form this season Leinster managed to find a way to let the opposition back into the game. The inaccuracies reappeared with Gopperth losing the ball in contact, Cardiff winning a line-out on our own throw and then Madigan putting in a very poor attempted cross field kick. This kick gave Cardiff a line-out on half-way which they took quickly. There was space in Leinster's 22 begging to be taken advantage of and Corey Allen put boot to ball to do just that. When Madigan spilled the ball while trying to collect it the Cardiff centre was on-hand to dot down. This brought the score to 27-16.
From the restart Cardiff returned the ball down field. Gopperth put in a very ill conceived kick across the left wing with the Leinster defensive line trying to readjust to the third kick in a row. Cardiff saw the opportunity for the counter and put the ball through the hands quite well. Captain Warburton went over for their second try. Cries of a forward pass were unfair as Warburton was clearly behind Dan Fish when the pass was given and not moving at the same kind of pace (see below). In the space of 3 or 4 minutes Leinster's lead had been cut from 18 points to just 4.
What was most frustrating about that 5 minute period was that Cardiff had not created a single try scoring opportunity on their own. They had barely managed to create any scoring chances at all. The previous week Leinster gave a sucker an even break by not finishing off Connacht when they had the chance in the first half. By handing Cardiff 2 gilt edged opportunities they did the same again on Friday. Thankfully this time they steadied the ship and managed to get themselves into a scoring position again. Madigan converted a penalty giving Leinster that extra cushion.
For the remaining 5-10 minutes of the game Leinster pressured the Cardiff line but struggled for a breakthrough. And in that time were more inaccuracies. Leinster were turned over in contact and McFadden attempted a really poor grubber giving up possession cheaply. At one point Cardiff looked the more likely to score the last try and potentially level the game. But eventually, with only 30 seconds to go, Heaslip won a penalty at the breakdown and Leinster went for touch. They could have played it safe and taken the win but the ambition was there to take all 5 points on offer. But yet again the inaccuracy led to another turnover and Cardiff had possession with the clock in the red. A knock on in contact gave Bryan Byrne a chance to scoop up the ball and he fed it to Luke McGrath who got in under the posts for the bonus point try.
That last passage of play probably summed up Leinster's day in a lot of ways. Dangerous to a point, but plagued with inaccuracies and lucky to get the result they did. As I said earlier Cardiff struggled to create anything yet Leinster let them back into the game in a big way. They came very close to conceding a draw towards the end and only through Cardiff's efforts to go looking for the 2 points were Leinster able to get the TBP. Had Cardiff been happy with the LBP then Leinster would have only managed the 4 points.
But while there were plenty of work-ons for the home team there were also positives. The scrum was dominant for the whole game, even when the front-row was completely replaced with young up-and-coming players. Kane Douglas looked good for a guy who had only been in the country a week and was still getting used to the guys names. He put himself about and didn't do a whole lot wrong. We couldn't really have asked for more than that. Ruddock was fantastic, and only for the fact he was replaced on 55 minutes he was a shoe in for man of the match. He's building a real head of steam and will be a critical player for Leinster this season, particularly now that Healy and O'Brien have been confirmed to be out of action for up to 6 months. The pack in general worked hard and got through a lot.
In the backs Gordon D'Arcy was a controlling influence and was good through-out, although he was noticeably better when he reverted to 12. Both Luke and Mick McGrath added to the performance when they came on, despite a couple of wayward passes from Luke. Mick McGrath took his try well and got Leinster on the front foot in the dying minutes when he picked and went down the blindside from a ruck. He has shown pace, strength and confidence which bodes well for his career. I feel I should also mention Fanning who, while not doing a huge amount of flashy work, again put in a big shift. I'd love to know how many rucks he hit in the game as he seemed to be all over the park getting stuck in. This enabled some of our fowards operate in open play, be it as carriers or link men. And finally we showed the kind of resolve and composure that we had lacked against Connacht. That in itself is a big step up. Hopefully we can continue that into the next game. The big inter-pro. With both provinces struggling for form at the moment it will be interesting to see how this one goes....