O’Driscoll and Leinster back in business with bonus point win

Leinster’s Brian O’Driscoll and Owen Williams of Cardiff Blues in action at the RDS. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Leinster’s Brian O’Driscoll and Owen Williams of Cardiff Blues in action at the RDS. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Sat, Sep 28, 2013, 00:15

LEINSTER 34 (Tries: Cronin, Penalty, Ryan, Madigan; Pens: Madigan 2; Cons: Madigan 4)
CARDIFF BLUES 20 (Tries: Cuthbert, Allen; Pens: Halfpenny (2); Cons: Halfpenny, Patchell

He’s back, and how. A good-sized crowd turned up to see Brian O’Driscoll kick start his 15th and last season with Leinster, and he duly hit the ground running. O’Driscoll looked lean, sharp and hungry for the ball and for work, marking the occasion with the full range of his skills and plenty of slashing breaks to boot.

O’Driscoll isn’t the only Leinster player looking in prime nick. Suitably buoyed by first starts of the season for a quartet of Lions, Leinster set about breaking down a Cardiff side (themselves boosted by the return of Sam Warburton alongside their other summer tourists Alex Cuthbert and Leigh Halfpenny) from the off by hardly putting boot to ball all night on a perfect evening for running rugby.

The line
The bonus point was accrued courtesy of a trademark show and charge for the line by Ian Madigan, who possibly came into the game under more pressure than anyone after watching Jimmy Gopperth stake his claim over the previous three games. Coupled with a six from six, 19-point haul, Madigan threw down his marker as best he could and Matt O’Connor’s selection at outhalf for next Saturday’s Thomond Park rendezvous will be interesting.

Cardiff, despite last week’s ignominious defeat at home to Zebre, demonstrated a good deal more spirit than they have on several previous visits to Dublin. This was their eighth defeat in eight visits to the RDS.But they were full of running intent and kept Leinster honest for much of the night.

For all the running rugby, ultimately it was the efficiency of Leinster’s pack at set-piece time which laid the foundations, their scrum earning one seven-pointer and their lineout maul another as well as providing the foundations for Madigan’s final flourish.

For all their clever lines and willingness to go wide, not all of Leinster’s handling will have pleased themselves or O’Connor. While playing with impressive depth and width, at times they were a little too lateral and too much of the passing made the receiver check his stride. Still, it was hardly going to be perfect given such a revamped line-up.

They set the tone when O’Driscoll was straight into the action with a hard straight carry off Madigan’s flat skip pass but with Marius Mitrea particularly harsh on players coming in from the side Cardiff made much the brighter start. Halfpenny deservedly opened the scoring when Jamie Heaslip was pinged for a mild off the ball hit.

Although there was further evidence of Leinster’s harder line speed in defence, there were defensive glitches too in the middle, O’Driscoll’s opposite number Owen Williams making a couple of clean line breaks before aggressive defending by Heaslip and Quinn Roux earned a relieving penalty.

Deft hands
A nice move off the tail of the ensuing lineout led to deft hands by Devin Toner releasing Dave Kearney, and Leinster pounded through the phases before O’Driscoll drew two men and Seán Cronin scored with a strong inside line off the delayed pass.

Warburton had one steal off Heaslip but after another good O’Driscoll carry Madigan landed the penalty. From a big maul off the restart, the lively Isaac Boss skinned Matthew Rees and the crowd revelled in O’Driscoll’s one-handed behind the back flick to Roux.

Another Madigan penalty, was cancelled out by Halfpenny and at half-time Leinster would have been irked not to have made more of half a dozen clear line breaks, including another one by O’Driscoll.

Resuming with increased intent, Heaslip rumbled, Noel Reid sidestepped and Madigan danced toward the line before Filo Paulo was binned for killing the ball. Opting for the scrum yielded seven points when the depleted Cardiff pack buckled and Mitrea marched under the posts.

However, Cuthbert brought Cardiff vibrantly to life when running around Rob Kearney and inside Fergus McFadden to score from 50 metres out in almost the blink of an eye. He nearly put Harry Robinson over too to draw the sides level after Owen Williams’ stunning offload to Patchell.

But, helped by Toner blocking Lloyd Williams’ box kick, who then held the lock back for a penalty, Madigan kicked to the corner. From Tom Denton’s take, Ryan peeled off to reward a good night’s work and shortly after O’Driscoll was roared off, Ryan broke from another lineout ball and Madigan left Cuthbert clutching the air before muscling through Halfpenny. An intercept try for Cory Allen hardly mattered.

LEINSTER: R Kearney; F McFadden, B O’Driscoll, N Reid, D Kearney; I Madigan, I Boss; C Healy, S Cronin, M Moore, D Toner, Q Roux, R Ruddock, D Ryan, J Heaslip (C). Replacements: M Ross for Moore, T Denton for Roux (both 63 mins), A Dundon for Cronin, J McGrath for Healy, J Murphy for Ruddock, J Cooney for Boss (all 69 mins), B Macken for (73 mins), J Gopperth for Madigan (76 mins).
CARDIFF BLUES: L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, O Williams, D Hewitt, H Robinson; R Patchell, L Williams; S Hobbs, M Rees (capt), T Filise, L Reed, F Paulo, J Nividi, S Warburton, A Pretorius. Replacements: T Davies for Hobbs (59 mins), J Down for Reed, R Copeland for Navidi, C Allen for Hewitt (all 69 mins), K Dacey for Down (72 mins), L Jones for L Williams (76 mins). Not used: S Andrews, G Davies. Sinbinned: Paulo (47-57 mins).
Referee: M Mitrea (FIR).