Schmidt: Next two crucial

LEINSTER coach Joe Schmidt has admitted that the next fortnight will be crucial to his team’s hopes of reaching the Magners League play-offs.

Schmidt’s men lost further ground on league leaders Munster as they tumbled to fourth place following a narrow defeat at Cardiff Blues.

The Irish outfit produced a stirring defensive display but that rarely looked enough to edge this closely-fought tie and maintain their seven-game winning streak.

Leinster have now been hauled back into what appears to be a scrap for the three remaining play-off places behind Munster. So close is the battle, that Leinster would have slipped further to fifth place had it not been for Ruan Pienaar’s last-gasp winner for Ulster at Scarlets the previous night.

The defeat has upped the stakes ahead of their next two games, both at home, against Treviso and Scarlets.

Schmidt said: “We have to get in the play-offs. It’s a congested table and we are sitting fourth. Cardiff have a game in hand and they can move further in front of us. The Scarlets and Ulster are jammed up behind us so there is no breathing space at all. We have two tough games coming up, minus our international players, and we have to try and make sure we win those two matches.”

Dan Fish scored the game’s only try at the Cardiff City Stadium to lift the Blues into second place, nine points behind Munster though with a game in hand.

Ceri Sweeney’s second penalty, five minutes from time, ensured Leinster were even denied the consolation of a losing bonus point.

“We are disappointed, particularly in not getting the bonus point at the end,” Schmidt added. “We felt we deserved that at least. There were a couple of stray passes, one in the first half at the edge and when Andrew Conway went straight through the middle in the second half, but didn’t find the man. We got close immediately after half-time when we got held up over the line after picking and driving. We felt a little bit unlucky not to get some reward for our play.

“Full credit to Cardiff though because they took the one chance that they had. They had some other opportunities but I was pretty proud of the way the lads scrambled in defence.

“Cardiff are a tough team and gave us a tough time at the line-out. I felt our scrum got better and better throughout the game but we didn’t have the platform to give our reshuffled backline, which was pretty young in the first place.”

Sweeney opened the scoring after Isa Nacewa sliced his first penalty inside three minutes, but it was not until the 30th minute that the Blues finally managed to capitalise on their glut of possession. Even then, it took the quick hands of veteran Wales flanker Martyn Williams to unlock a stubborn Leinster defence.

The Blues hammered at the door, within sniffing distance of the line, through ten phases before Leinster inevitably ran out of numbers and Williams’ pass sent young full-back Fish sliding over in the corner.

Nacewa cut the lead to 8-3 on the stroke of half-time but knocked on within sight of the line after Eoin O’Malley was prevented from grounding the ball. Instead, it was Cardiff who claimed the only points of the second half, five minutes from time.

Leinster blooded plenty of youngsters on the night, but also saw the return of prop Stan Wright, following a five-month lay-off, from the Achilles injury he suffered last September.

Schmidt concluded: “It’s a huge boost to have Stan back on the field. He was puffing, but for him to get 20 minutes under his belt is a small step for him. The problem with Stan is he is not really ready to play at this level but we don’t have any other options. We don’t have time to give him club rugby.”

Scorers for Cardiff: Try: D Fish. Pens: C Sweeney (2).

Scorers for Leinster: Pen: I Nacewa.

CARDIFF BLUES: D Fish; R Mustoe, G Evans, D Hewitt, T James (J Loxton, 63); C Sweeney, T Slater (R Downes, 73); J Yapp, G Williams, T Filise (S Andrews, 55), D Jones, P Tito (capt), A Pretorius, X Rush (M Molitika, 60), M Williams.

LEINSTER: I Nacewa; A Conway, E O’Malley, E Sheridan (E Reddan, 47), N Morris (M Keating, 66); I McKinley (I Madigan, 57), I Boss; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, C Newland (S Wright, 57), L Cullen (capt), D Toner (N Hines, 57), K McLaughlin, R Ruddock (S Keogh, 63, R Ruddock, 70-75), D Ryan.

Referee: C Damasco (Italy) Attendance: 10,471.

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