Intensity the key as Leinster notch 10th league win in-a-row

LEINSTER added more substance to the sporting truism that the very best teams can play well within themselves and find a way to chisel out a victory against durable opponents, like they did on Saturday night.

They could have lost this RaboDirect Pro 12 match, but you somehow always knew they wouldn’t.

Had Cardiff’s Leigh Halfpenny kicked a late second-half penalty to put his team ahead, then maybe the result might have been different, but the probability is Leinster still would have found a way to claim their tenth successive league win.

There’s such a deep-rooted sense of self-confidence in this team that they’re utterly convinced of their own ability to persevere no matter what the circumstances.

“We don’t care where we go or where we play,” admitted Jamie Heaslip. “If we bring our own intensity and just worry about the job we have to do rather than the team that we’re playing, I don’t think it really matters where we go to or what the circumstances.”

Heaslip filled the captain’s brief admirably. He’s been accused of letting his standards drop recently, but the good news for Leinster and Ireland fans is the big Naas man looks close to his very best form again.

He made a series of eye-catching carries, hit every ruck with a manic intensity and, in a furiously physical final 10 minutes, threw his body into every collision.

He wasn’t the only one. Sean Cronin was his usual dervish self and his set-piece play has progressed, while Mark Flanagan was a revelation in his first start.

He’s not quite as tall as his cousin and second-row partner, Devin Toner, but he’s still a serious lump of a man and, at 22, has potential to develop.

“A lot of lads put their hands up tonight and I thought Mark in particular had an awesome game,” said Heaslip.

“I’m happy with the way the match went for myself and as a squad we’re all going well. I think we can be a lot more clinical though. We turned over the ball a lot too easily and threw one or two passes we shouldn’t have.”

The 15 that played on Saturday couldn’t have started the match more clinically as they scored two tries in the first 10 minutes through Sean O’Brien and Rob Kearney. Johnny Sexton kicked both conversions and, at 14 points to zip down after just 20 minutes, Cardiff were staring down the barrel of a gun.

They weren’t about to put their hands up though. Two penalties from Leigh Halfpenny and a Dan Parks drop-goal brought them back, and though Sexton slotted another penalty, Leinster were in a real match.

The teams exchanged penalties after the break before Cardiff’s burly prop Gethin Jenkins tunnelled his way over for a try that Halfpenny converted.

Ten minutes later he had a chance to put the home team ahead, but his penalty from half-way fell short and then he fluffed a much easier chance.

Insult was added when Leinster won a penalty for Fergus McFadden to slot between the posts to give his team a winning buffer they just about deserved.

Scorers for Leinster: Tries: S O’Brien, R Kearney. Pens: J Sexton (2), F McFadden (1). Cons: J Sexton (2).

Scorers for Cardiff: Tries: G Jenkins. Pens: L Halfpenny (3). Cons: L Halfpenny (1). Drop-goals: D Parks.

LEINSTER: R Kearney, D Kearney, F McFadden, G D’Arcy, A Conway, J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross; M Flanagan, D Toner; K McLaughlin, S O’Brien, J Heaslip.

Replacements: I Nacewa for D’Arcy (39), J Murphy for McLaughlin (ht), F Carr for Sexton (59), H van der Merwe for Healy (70), L Auva’a for Flanagan (75).

CARDIFF: L Halfpenny, R Mustoe, C Laualala, G Evans, T James, D Parks, L Williams; G Jenkins, M Breeze, S Andrews, B Davies, M Paterson, M Molitika, S Warburton, X Rush.

Replacements: R Williams for Breeze (42), J Navidi for Molitika (49), R Rees for Williams (49), H Robinson for Mustoe (73), S Hobbs for Andrews (75)

Referee: M Mitrea (FIR)

Atttendance: 9,930.

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