Leinster 23 Cardiff Blues 15
Leinster picked up their first Guinness PRO12 win under new head coach Leo Cullen as they overcame a battling Cardiff Blues side 23-15 at the the RDS.
Jack Conan’s 16th-minute try from close range had Cullen’s youthful team leading 10-9 at half-time, with Cardiff fly-half Rhys Patchell booting three penalty goals – two of them from distance.
Patchell’s accuracy from the tee had the Blues 15-13 ahead entering the final quarter, but the Leinster forwards, including man-of-the-match Josh van der Flier, dictated play late on and they were rewarded with a clinching penalty try, four minutes from the end.
Patchell’s razor sharp right boot gave the visitors a 6-0 lead inside the opening seven minutes, as he punished an initial scrum infringement from Leinster and then fired over from inside his own half.
Isa Nacewa hit a post with his first place-kick, but he was then on target - pushing past the 400-point mark for Leinster in the process – following a determined kick chase from Noel Reid and Dominic Ryan. Ben Te’o carried with increasing intent during a fast-paced first quarter, with the home side’s pressure leading to number eight Conan burrowing over under Manoa Vosawai’s challenge from a couple of metres out.
TMO Seamus Flannery confirmed the grounding and Nacewa converted from the right. However, despite dominating possession, Leinster were only one point clear at the break. Their full-back and stand-in captain sent a penalty narrowly wide before Patchell made it three from three, this time from halfway.
Vosawai’s departure at the interval saw Ellis Jenkins brought on and Blues skipper Josh Navidi move to number eight and with the Welsh outfit still struggling for continuity, a central penalty from Nacewa made it 13-9.
Cardiff’s doggedness in defence and ability to win turnovers – as seen with a textbook ruck penalty won by youngster Jenkins in his 22 – launched them forward again and Patchell took full advantage with penalties after 51 and 56 minutes.
A powerful Leinster scrum, with replacement prop Royce Burke-Flynn making his presence felt, allowed Nacewa to boot the province back in front with 14 minutes remaining.
That set up a grandstand finish with Jenkins doing really well to hold up Bryan Byrne from an advancing Leinster maul. However, a series of scrums and lineouts near the Cardiff line saw Cullen’s charges go for the jugular, particularly after Navidi saw yellow for a maul infringement.
Their persistence paid off when Cardiff gave way at a five-metre scrum and referee Ben Whitehouse signalled for a penalty try which Nacewa converted. The Blues should have taken something from the game, but Patchell’s long range drop goal attempt drifted wide in the final seconds.