Leinster hold off Cardiff comeback
January 7, 2012
Jonathan Sexton kicked two penalties and two conversions for Leinster
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Leinster held off a second-half onslaught from Cardiff Blues to secure their tenth successive RaboDirect Pro12 victory with a 23-19 win.
Leinster led 20-9 early in the second half after tries from Rob Kearney and Sean O'Brien and two conversions and a penalty from Jonathan Sexton. Cardiff prop Gethin Jenkins barged over in the 51st minute to add to three penalties from Leigh Halfpenny and a drop goal from Dan Parks to give the hosts hope.
And when Halfpenny converted the try they were just one point adrift but Fergus McFadden landed a late penalty to secure the win for leaders Leinster.
The Blues, already without Lions centre Jamie Roberts, suffered a pre-match blow when Gavin Henson was ruled out with a calf strain and then made a disastrous start as they conceded two early tries. Leinster ran a free-kick, skipper Jamie Heaslip burst past a static defence and back row colleague O'Brien was at his shoulder to score.
Minutes later a move from the training ground saw fullback Kearney take an inside pass and knife through to touch down under the posts. Sexton converted both to leave Leinster 14-0 ahead and seemingly in total control.
But the Blues, with fly-half Dan Parks abandoning his usual kicking game to spread the ball wide, hit back with two penalties from Leigh Halfpenny before Parks, reverting to his usual script, dropped a goal. Halfpenny was just short with an ambitious attempt from wide on the halfway line, but Sexton made no mistake with a much easier effort to end the first half with the visitors holding a 17-9 lead.
The Blues shot themselves in the foot on the restart, first by allowing Sexton's kick off to bounce into touch inside their 22 and then having the line-out stolen by the alert O'Brien, but stout tackling meant Leinster had to settle for another Sexton penalty.
A further massive kick from Halfpenny took the Welsh region into double figures and the lively fullback then forced Leinster wing Dave Kearney to concede a five metre scrum. The Irish pushed too soon, yielding a free-kick, from which prop Gethin Jenkins forced his way over for a try eventually confirmed by the TV official. Halfpenny converted to reduce the deficit to just one point at 20-19.
A 60 metre kick by Halfpenny fell beneath the crossbar, but the Blues were causing all sorts of problems for the European champions, who had lost key men Gordon D'Arcy and Sexton to injury. But they missed a chance to take the lead when Halfpenny fluffed a straightforward penalty and Leinster nerves were settled when McFadden slotted over a similar kick to confirm their victory.
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