Leinster steer a steady course through the storm

Poor conditions make for poor spectacle but Leinster get the job done

 Leinster’s Ronan Kelleher scores a try at the RDS. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Leinster’s Ronan Kelleher scores a try at the RDS. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Leinster 36 Cheetahs 12

Leinster made it 17 wins in succession in all competitions this season, defying the horrendous conditions of gales and heavy rain, with what could be described as a serene victory, given that the Cheetahs only roused themselves when the game was long over as a contest.

The floodlights were required at the RDS for the early afternoon kickoff, Storm Dennis a menace as only the committed, all 7,967 of them, turned up, huddled against the elements. The North and South stands were closed, the safety threshold a wind speed of 65 kilometres per hour. It exceeded that comfortably in gusts.

Leinster’s performance was clinical and ruthless for the most part and there was plenty to admire in the way they went about the task in hand. The lineout maul was particularly effective, the game appreciation of their decision makers intelligent, and this coupled with the work ethic of the pack underpinned the win.

It was a day for the forwards and therefore no surprise that all five of Leinster’s tries came through the pack. Indeed, so too did the Cheetahs’ brace. The pack laid the foundation, the backrow of Rhys Ruddock, Will Connors and Max Deegan particularly prominent while Ross Molony’s lineout work deserves credit.

Ronan Kelleher had an excellent game at hooker, Luke McGrath was superb, while Ciaran Frawley’s passing game put teammates into space. Joe Tomane carried powerfully.

An example of the strength of the wind could be gleaned from Ruan Pienaar’s kickoff which went dead, having bounced on Leinster’s 22-metre line. Leinster got a penalty inside the Cheetahs 22 and kicked to the corner but turned over the lineout and the visitors cleared.

The first 13-minutes were dominated by several lengthily preambles to scrums, getting them set and the ball away. It was tedious to watch and eventually referee Ben Whitehouse lost patience with the visitors, awarding first a free-kick - Leinster elected for another scrum - and then a penalty.

Leinster’s hard graft around the fringes took them to within five metres of the Cheetahs’ line but Michael Bent was unable to hang onto Luke McGrath’s pass under pressure in the tackle and the Pienaar cleared long from the resulting scrum.

The home side broke the deadlock on 20 minutes. Max Deegan’s excellent footwork allowed him to step out of a tackle and get his side within a few metres of the line and from there, the home side, on a penalty advantage, engaged in a softening up process before Will Connors spun out of two tackles on the line to dot down.

Leinster’s Scott Fardy is tackled by Cheetahs’ Clayton Blommetjies. Photo: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Leinster’s Scott Fardy is tackled by Cheetahs’ Clayton Blommetjies. Photo: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

The Cheetahs were reduced to 14 players when loosehead prop Charles Marais received a yellow card for leading with the shoulder in a tackle. Frawley kicked a penalty to nudge Leinster into a 10-0 lead as the home side continued to play all the rugby. The South African club’s ill discipline allowed the home side to kick their way up the pitch and employ an impressive lineout maul.

Michael Bent grabbed Leinster’s second try with a one-metre plunge, his third of the season and then in first half injury time Kelleher barrelled over, the lineout maul once again the perfect platform. It was the hooker’s seventh try in the Pro14 this season.

At 22-0 having played into the gale, the only thing up for dispute ahead of the second half was when and not if Leinster would manage the four try, bonus point. The answer was provided swiftly, three minutes after the resumption, with McGrath’s superb break eventually culminating in a muscular finish from the hardworking Ruddock.

Frawley converted as he would do again on 50 minutes when Connors crossed for a second try. Molony won a lineout, there was a nice switch to the focal point of the maul and the Leinster flanker was on hand to break off just short of the line and force his way over.

Kelleher was initially offered the sanctuary of the stand following an excellent 52 minutes when he was replaced by Sean Cronin but within seven minutes was back on the pitch as the latter received a yellow card. The Cheetahs were awarded a host of scrum penalties that belatedly led to a try for replacement prop Boan Venter. Pienaar added the conversion to take the bare look off the scoreboard for the visitors.

It was the Cheetahs turn to lose another player to the sin bin, Benhard Janse van Rensburg guilty of a poorly judged, sliding challenge that upended Fergus McFadden; Leinster had just been restored to their full complement. Cronin had returned, Cian Kelleher came on for Dave Kearney and younger brother Ronan finally got the rest he deserved.

The South African side did rustle the final score of the match, replacement secondrow Aidon Davis using his power to force his way over. It will have been scant consolation on a numbing afternoon in every respect.

Scoring sequence 20 mins: Connors try, Frawley conversion, 7-0; 29 mins: Frawley penalty, 10-0; 34 mins: Bent try, Frawley conversion, 17-0; 40(+1) mins: R Kelleher try, 22-0. Half-time: 22-0.43 mins: Ruddock try, Frawley conversion, 29-0; 50 mins: Connors try, Frawley conversion, 36-0; 63 mins: Venter try, Pienaar conversion, 36-7; 80 mins: A Davis try, 36-12.

Leinster: R Kearney; F McFadden, J O’Brien, J Tomane, D Kearney; C Frawley, L McGrath; P Dooley, R Kelleher, M Bent; R Molony, S Fardy; R Ruddock, W Connors, M Deegan. Replacements: S Cronin for R Kelleher 52 mins; R Baird for Fardy 52 mins; R Kelleher for D Kearney 59 mins; M Milne for Dooley 63 mins; R Salanoa for Bent 63 mins; J Gibson-Park for McGrath 63 mins; H Byrne for Frawley 63 mins; C Kelleher for R Kelleher 69 mins; S Penny for Ruddock 70 mins.

Cheetahs: R Smyth; C Blommetjies, W Smith, B van Rensburg, R Maxwane; T Schoeman, R Pienaar (c); C Marais, J Dweba, A Coetzee; W Steenkamp, JP du Preez; C Massyn, J Pokomela, J Wiese. Replacements: B Venter for Maxwane 31-40 mins; W Arnoldi for Dweba 46 mins; L de Bruin for Coetzee 46 mins; B Venter for C Marais 46 mins; T Meyer for Pienaar 67 mins; L Fouche for Schoeman 67 mins; A Davis for du Preez 68 mins; G Olivier for Pokomela 68 mins.

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

Yellow cards: C Marais (Cheetahs) 28 mins; S Cronin (Leinster) 59 mins; BJ van Rensburg (Cheetahs) 69 mins.

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