Away wins in Edinburgh and now Cardiff have helped them win four of their first five matches in the Guinness PRO12 and this weekend’s derby with Munster will be the perfect dress-rehearsal for two big clashes with TOP 14 clubs, Castres Olympique and Montpellier at the start of their Pool 4 journey.
The titantic struggle with an unbeaten Cardiff Blues side on their plastic pitch could have gone either way. But the strength and determination of the Leinster defensive effort hauled them through and made it two weekends in a row that Leo Cullen’s side had robbed a Welsh region of a 100% record.
“The side showed good character, but there were a lot of things we could have done better in the game,” said Cullen.
“It was a bit scrappy and disjointed at times, but we are happy to come away with four points.
“Now we can move on to a big game against Munster at the Aviva Stadium. We had a very disappointing European campaign last season, but that is a dead and buried now.
“We’ve got three, big bruising encounters ahead of us with Munster and then two French teams in the Champions Cup (Castres Olympique and Montpellier).
“They are all big, strong physical sides and it is going to take a big squad effort. Selection is a challenge at the moment because there is so much competition in the squad.”
The home crowd were baying for the blood of Irish referee Dudley Phillips for the final 10 minutes after he not only penalised replacement back row man Josh Navidi for lazy running, but also sent him to the sin-bin.
Kiwi scrum half Jamison Gibson-Park couldn’t believe his luck when he spotted Navidi trying to get back into the defensive line after Leinster had got up to with 14 metres of the Blues line.
He simply passed the ball at Navidi to pick up the penalty and must have thought it was Christmas when Mr Phillips added a yellow card.
Jonathan Sexton kicked the penalty and that made it 16-13 to the visitors to crown a great second half comeback. Sexton had kicked his side into the lead, but the Blues came storming back to lead 13-3 at the break.
Gareth Anscombe led the charge with two penalties, one from a metre inside the Leinster half, and a stunning try and conversion.
The try came from a rip out of the tackle by Nick Williams and Anscombe was sent racing through the first line of Leinster defence before sprinting 30 metres to the line. Cullen had some stern words at the break and it didn’t take long for his side to get back on level terms.
Sexton kicked a 45th minute penalty and then Rhys Ruddock was driven over from a five metre line-out. That levelled things up at 13-13 after 50 minutes and it was almost a case of which side would blink first.
The Blues’ second string front row came on to make an impact at the set-piece, but Leinster kept on plugging away and eventually they found a way to eek out the match winning score.
That piece of cunning play from Gibson-Park did the trick, although a 14-man Blues side came on strong in the closing 10 minutes in pursuit of a response.
It took more dogged defence from Leinster to keep their line intact and Cullen will be looking for the same again when Munster arrive in Dublin on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Wales captain Sam Warburton will have a scan today after suffering a suspected fractured cheekbone in the three point loss.
Tries: G Anscombe; Cons: G Anscombe; Pens: G Anscombe 2.
Tries: R Ruddock; Cons: J Sexton; Pens: J Sexton 3.
M Morgan (D Fish 41); B Scully, C Allen (S Shingler 65), R Lee-Lo, T James; G Anscombe, L Williams (T Williams 70); G Jenkins (captain, R Gill 55), K Dacey (M Rees 55), T Filise (S Andrews 41), G Earle (M Cook 24), J Turnbull, S Warburton (J Navidi 15), E Jenkins, N Williams.
Z Kirchner; F McFadden (J Carbery 72), R O’Loughlin, N Reid, D Kearney (B Daly 41); J Sexton (captain), J Gibson-Park; J McGrath (P Dooley 66), J Tracy (S Cronin 51), M Ross (M Bent 51), M Kearney (D Toner 51), I Nagle, D Leavy, J van der Flier (J Heaslip 60), R Ruddock.
Dudley Phillips (Ireland).