Leinster jog past the Cheetahs and secure a home semi-final
Pro14 champions rely on individual brilliance to see them through at sodden RDS
Max Deegan steals a lineout ahead of Walt Steenkamp during Leinster’s win over the Cheetahs. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Leinster 19 Cheetahs 7
On a filthy night at the RDS Leinster emerged victorious in a Pro14 match that sparked to life intermittently but was predominantly a damp squib.
Conditions were certainly a factor but the home side will be a little disappointed with a couple of aspects of their performance. They have, however, guaranteed themselves a home semi-final.
The Cheetahs were doughty in defence, very physical at the breakdown and in the tackle, but Leinster’s attacking play lacked the customary zip, especially in respect of the passing game. While there could be no faulting the work ethic they relied on individuals rather than collective for the game’s defining moments.
None was better than Max Deegan, outstanding in every facet of the game and a deserved man of the match, while hooker Bryan Byrne and Scott Fardy also excelled. Leinster’s three tries through centres Conor O’Brien and Rory O’Loughlin and wing Adam Byrne were down to strong individual efforts and highlighted the fact that Leinster struggled to open up the visitors on a regular basis.
Dave Kearney ran hard from fullback while the three quarter line all had their moments but they were flickering in substance.
The first half burst into life on nine minutes when Cheetahs Ox Nche jumped into a tackle, leading with his shoulder and catching Fergus McFadden’s head. It was reckless, dangerous and should have been a straight red card.
Referee Nigel Owens immediately brandished a yellow but while McFadden was being attended to, had ample opportunity to watch multiple reviews on the big screen. He might have come to a different conclusion with the benefit of a second viewing.
Ross Byrne found a brilliant touch with the penalty deep inside the Cheetahs 22, Max Deegan won the lineout and on a penalty advantage, Conor O’Brien ran straight between two tacklers, carrying one over the line with the outhalf tagging on the conversion.
The Cheetahs riposte materialised in somewhat fortuitous fashion. The ball squirted out on the Leinster side of a ruck with no scrumhalf in situ; it was hoofed up the pitch and there was nobody going to beat wing Rabz Maxwane, with a time of 10.2 or thereabouts for the 100-metres, in a footrace. The ball bounced up kindly and he cruised over untouched. Tian Schoeman converted.
It galvanised the home side. Leinster won a scrum penalty, kicked to the corner and while the maul eventually ended up over the Cheetahs line with the help of a couple of backs, a view of the ball was obscured by the pile of bodies. It was a brief respite for the visitors.
It took Leinster two scrums and a dozen phases or so before they worked the ball to right wing Adam Byrne, making his 50th Leinster appearance; he still had plenty to do but his strength and footwork brooked no argument. Ross Byrne missed the touchline conversion.
The game lost its shape for the remainder of the half, disintegrating into a kick fest, largely poorly directed. The Cheetahs had zero ambition in that respect, happy to seek out territory through the boot and realign defensively.
A problem for the home side,who generally showed more ambition and imagination, was their passing - more often than not it forced the recipient to check. It negated quick ball and allowed the Cheetahs defence to drift with impunity.
Leinster’s 12-7 interval lead represented a meagre return from their dominance but did serve as a warning that they would have to be more fluent in moving the ball.
The Cheetahs revised their approach for the first eight minutes after the re-start keeping possession and barrelling forward in straight lines. It earned them a penalty, which Schoeman missed, before reverting to type and kicking the ball away.
Leinster centre Rory O’Loughlin cut through the torpor with a moment of genuine quality to cross for his team’s third try on 55 minutes, a well judged chip and decent soccer skills underpinned the score. Ross Byrne added a fine conversion to push the home side out to 19-7.
The rain returned, benches were emptied, the collisions remained as fierce but there was precious little subtlety or nuance as kicking remained the preferred option. Leinster were awarded a couple of penalties in the dying throes of the contest but the lineout maul, which had been so effective in the first half couldn’t assist them in their quest for a fourth try and a bonus point.
10 mins: O’Brien try, R Byrne conversion, 7-0; 14: Maxwane try, Schoeman conversions, 7-7; 23: A Byrne try, 12-7. Half-time: 12-7. 55: O’Loughlin try, R Byrne conversion, 19-7.
Leinster: D Kearney; A Byrne, R O’Loughlin, C O’Brien, F McFadden; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; P Dooley, B Byrne, M Bent; R Molony, S Fardy; R Ruddock (capt), M Deegan, C Doris. Replacements: A Porter for Bent 43 mins; J Tracy for B Byrne 53 mins; E Byrne for Dooley 53 mins; J Murphy for Ruddock 62 mins; N Reid for O’Loughlin 65 mins; B Daly for D Kearney 65 mins; M Kearney for Fardy 70 mins; H O’Sullivan for Gibson Park 75 mins.
Cheetahs: L Fouche; W Small-Smith, B van Rensburg, D Swanepoel, R Maxwane; T Schoeman, T Meyer; O Nche, R Venter, A Coetzee; W Steenkamp, JP du Preez; G Olivier, A Nonkontwana, J Pokomela. Replacements: C Marais for Small-Smith 16-19mins; Small-Smith for Marais 19 mins; H Venter for Pokomela half-time; S Venter for Small-Smith 49 mins; J du Toit for R Venter 49 mins; L de Bruin for A Coetzee 49 mins; S Manjezei for du Preez 52 mins; Marais for Nche 63 mins; R Paige for Fouche 77 mins; M van der Merwe for Nonkontwana 77 mins.
Referee: N Owens (Wales)
Yellow card: Ox Nche (Cheetahs) 9 mins.