Leinster's European Cup adventure comes to an end

 

THE 30-man Ireland squad left on Sunday for a training week in Atlanta and to play the US on Saturday.

Following Leinster's European Cup semi-final defeat at Lansdowne Road on Saturday Ireland will have a full squad to choose from, for that match.

Leinster's European Cup adventure and their great winning sequence of 10 victories came to end in the biting wind that swirled around Lansdowne Road. But the crowd of over 7,000 who braved the elements were rewarded for their even though Leinster lost 14-23.

Cardiff now face Toulouse in the final on Sunday before their own faithful at the Arms Park. They learned that right on the strength of a greater level of tactical awareness, opportunism and on the strength of a very good display into the wind in the second half.

Leinster could have won this match had it not been for naivety on occasions and the price was paid for that against a side that contained 14 internationals.

When it was 14-20 in Cardiff's favour at the interval after Leinster had played into the bone chilling wind, there was more than a flicker of hope that an historic season for Leinster might be crowned by a European Cup final appearance. Its shad been an exhilarating 40 minutes on a surface that was in remarkable condition considering the recent weather.

"I must say at half time I felt we were in with a great chance," Leinster's manager, Jim Glennon, said. "The forwards had played well in many respects, used the maul effectively and scrummaged superbly." The tactics into the wind had been perceptive, apart from one ill advised decision, the will and the spirit full hearted.

"I was a bit concerned at the break," Cardiff's coach, Terry Holmes, said. "But in fact we learned from Leinster's first half approach and our pack played really well." In no area was their dominance more pronounced than in the line out and John Wakeford and Derwyn Jones were the masters here in the second period. Leinster needed a big performance from Neil Francis, he did not produce it. In fact Steve Jameson was more effective in every respect. With a back row of the calibre of Emyr Lewis the excellent Hemi Taylor and Owain Williams. and so accomplished a serum half as Andy Moore to use the ball won effectively, the second half was basically played in Leinster's territory.

"Their superiority in the line out in the second half was crucial," a disappointed Leinster captain, Chris Pim, said. "They had the throw in consistently and that was important. We did not want to be forced back on defence and to have to kick the ball to touch, but that is what happened."

And so indeed it was what happened. The long kick downfield was) not often used by Leinster in the second half. Leinster also brought trouble on themselves on occasions by trying to drive and maul their way forward out of defence from) free and penalty kicks in the second period.

Without wishing to detract in anyway from the Cardiff pack's play in the second half or the line out expertise of Wakeford and Jones, one cannot escape the fact that the referee Brian Campsall was neither, vigilant nor consistent in his application of the laws.

A confident and assured man he may be, a referee of quality and consistency he most certainly is not, on this display. But Cardiff played the game in the circumstances as they obtained and no one can blame them for that. Campsall is due to referee Ireland's opening International Championship match against Scotland, the prospect is not appealing.

The driving, rucking and mauling of the Leinster pack was admirable) in that first half and Victor Costello's strength going forward was used very effectively. He got tremendous support notably from) Paul Wallace, Shane Byrne he had a really good match and the full hearted Pim. But Leinster need a quick flanker in that back row the lack of such was exposed on a few occasions.

McGowan, although he missed one very good penalty chance from 30 yards in front of the posts, had a good first half and centre Kurt McQuilkin yet again had an excellent match. A first international cap against the United states next Saturday looks very likely for this) brave, strong and very perceptive player.

That first half had produced 34 points and three quality tries, two of them to Cardiff. Davies gave his side an early lead with a fourth minute dropped goal after a free kick, McGowan equalised with a penalty and then in the eighth" minute, the Leinster defence was broken after a short line out. Lewis and Taylor joined the backs and Cardiff won the ball, Lewis made the break and had Taylor in support to score by the posts. Davies converted and Cardiff led 10-3 before McGowan kicked his second penalty to bring it to 6-10.

But within four minutes Cardiff scored their second try and it came after Leinster had weathered pressure and been awarded a penalty. Alain Rolland elected to run the ball out of defence, but delayed his pass and went a few yards too far before he passed to his right. The Cardiff players closed in and Conor O'Shea, who was called into the team when Niall Woods failed a fitness test, knocked on. Cardiff won the serum and Mike Hall broke on "the short side to score a try that should not have been conceded. Davies kicked a superb conversion land Cardiff led 17-6.

But Leinster then had their best period. They pushed Cardiff back) with excellent driving and mauling. Ciaran Clarke, who played well at full back before a premature departure set up the attacking position. The ball was moved with authority through McGowan, O'Shea, Paddy, Gavin, and Pim. Cardiff saved the situation as Rolland made a dart for the line, but Leinster regained possession and Pim crashed over in the corner.

McGowan could not convert but Leinster were back in the game at 11-17. After McGowan missed a penalty chance, Davies kicked one) for Cardiff, awarded in the most) doubtful of circumstances before McGowan landed his third goal just on half time. So Leinster faced the second half only six points adrift. Their play in many respects had been good enough to be optimistic.

The second half produced just one score, a dropped goal from Moore in the 68th minute. McGowan had been wide with a penalty effort from 27 yards early in the half and then Davies was wide from another attempt as judgment in the wind came into play. But Cardiff pinned Leinster down. Leinster produced a superb serum under their posts and Byrne won his third strike against the head of the afternoon.

But Leinster could not break out of their territory and their attempts at times to do so were ill conceived. McGowan missed with a penalty for Leinster from 27 yards after Moore's dropped goal had left nine points between the sides. Then unwisely, Leinster elected to try and run a penalty in the 74th minutes. A penalty goal at point would have brought Leinster within six points again.

No similar chance presented itself and Cardiff held on comfortably in the closing stages against attempts more frenetic than concerted by Leinster. "We made some unwise decisions in that second half," the Leinster coach, Ciaran Callan, said. No one could argue with that.

Both Glennon and Holmes were unreserved in their praise for this competition. "It is a great competition and vitally important to the development of our players. It gives us experience at a high level and brings us into the kind of contact and competition with Irish provinces that we both need. For too long our only competition outside our own domestic scene was when we met in the International Championship."

Glennon was equally enthusiastic: "We are obviously disappointed, but this competition is crucial to the development of players. We have shown we can compete. For every possible perspective the European Cup has given a boost to rugby in these islands.

And the final word to Pim: "As a player may I say we all welcome it. It has been a fabulous experience."