Leinster carve Cardiff to shreds
Leinster 34 Cardiff Blues 3:Leinster could take their foot off the pedal from the 47th minute and turn this Heineken Cup quarter-final into a defensive training session. With the scoreboard reading 34-3, that was the only real value of the time remaining.
The 50,340 attendance didn’t seem to mind; sticking around to see the champions glide into the semi-finals on autopilot.
Some individual performances are worth highlighting.
Rob Kearney looked like a 14-year-old ringer playing under-11s rugby. He has added a dangerous long passing game to an already packed arsenal this year.
Cian Healy minced Scott Andrews in the scrums. For that alone “man of the match” was deserved but he was prominent in the loose as well.
Brian O’Driscoll was, well, he was brilliant in patches and looks primed for a few huge performances between now and his summer holidays in July.
Jonathan Sexton, though, was the best of the lot. The outhalf’s distribution ruptured the Cardiff defence. The Welsh had no response to Leinster’s scattergun attack with Sexton’s distribution deciding the result way before half-time.
A couple of early probes brought play into Blues territory, whereupon Sexton cleverly attacked the short-side, throwing an audacious dummy before putting Kearney away.
The fullback had already plucked two Garryowens from the heavens, in trademark fashion, to settle into the contest. Now he was presented with a choice; Jamie Heaslip on his inside or Isa Nacewa hugging the touchline. He went to the finisher and Sexton’s conversion had Leinster motoring after just nine minutes.
You feared for Cardiff. And the poor bookmakers who only lumped a -15 handicap on Leinster’s saddle beforehand.
With Mike Ross and Gethin Jenkins breaking even on one side of the scrum, Andrews was under fierce pressure from Healy and Richardt Strauss.
Sexton missed a penalty soon after but atoned when Bradley Davies was caught shoving an airborne Heaslip in the lineout to make it 13-3. Leinster had barely broken sweat. Only for the surroundings and Cardiff’s pink costumes, it would have been mistaken for a Pro 12 outing with Leinster in complete control.
Really, Cardiff, shorn of two established world class operators in Sam Warburton and Jamie Roberts, were miles off the required European standard. Some pathetic defending on the half-hour mark killed off their challenge.
The second try came off another solid scrum platform. Sexton brought his three-quarters to the gainline twice, with Gordon D’Arcy making good yardage, before O’Driscoll’s offload sent Eoin Reddan scampering into open country. The cover collared Reddan but Strauss’s scrumhalf impersonation saw Kearney go between two defenders and under the posts.
They were in the same spot hugging O’Driscoll three minutes later. This time Leo Cullen’s off-the-top lineout ball saw Heaslip pick out Sexton in an orchestrated move. His beautiful inside pass put Luke Fitzgerald into the 22 where O’Driscoll was on his shoulder to finish it off.
The difference O’Driscoll makes was highlighted yet again six minutes into the second half. When Healy was held short, Reddan cleverly fed the Ireland captain and a delicate inside pass put Kearney over for his second try.
Then came an understandable lull with Martyn Williams eventually crawling over for a Cardiff touch down only for the TMO to deem the grounding to be illegal.
Leinster got a free-kick from the resulting five-metre scrum, Heaslip tapped and carried before Seán O’Brien got to bulldoze over Dan Parks to lift the pressure.
Cardiff came again, and again, but the blue line held.
Too easy perhaps, but an important showing from so many with Clermont or Saracens coming next.
Scoring sequence – 2 mins:L Halfpenny pen, 0-3; 7 mins:J Sexton pen, 3-3; 9 mins:I Nacewa try, 8-3; J Sexton conv, 10-3; 22 mins:J Sexton pen, 13-3; 29 mins:R Kearney try, 18-3; J Sexton conv, 20-3; 33 mins:B O’Driscoll try, 25-3; J Sexton conv, 27-3. Half-time. 46 mins:R Kearney try, 32-3; J Sexton conv, 34-3.
LEINSTER:R Kearney; S Horgan, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross; L Cullen, B Thorn; K McLaughlin, S O’Brien, J Heaslip. Replacements:S Jennings for K McLaughlin (48 mins), S Cronin for R Strauss (52 mins), F McFadden for L Fitzgerald, D Toner for B Thorn (both 59 mins), I Boss for E Reddan (61 mins), H van der Merwe for C Healy (65 mins), I Madigan for B O’Driscoll (68 mins), N White for M Ross (72 mins).
CARDIFF BLUES:L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, Casey Laulala, D Hewitt, T James; D Parks, L Williams; G Jenkins, M Breeze, S Andrews; B Davies, J Down; M Paterson, M Williams, X Rush. Replacements:M Molitika for J Down (59 mins), C Sweeney for D Parks, R Rees for L Williams (both 68 mins).
Referee: D Pearson(Eng).