Leinster win to reclaim top spot
March 7, 2010
Ireland A centre Fergus McFadden notched 21 points in Leinster's victory over Cardiff Blues © PA Photos
Leinster climbed back to the top of the Magners League with an an efficient if unspectacular 29-20 victory over Cardiff Blues which owed much to their power in the scrum, allied to a 21-point haul by centre Fergus McFadden.
The Blues, who had won five in a row in all competitions, had an abundance of possession despite their troubles in the tight, but lacked the penetration to turn their attractive rugby into scores. They now face serious problems in next season's Heineken Cup, with the Scarlets now just two points behind them with a game in hand in the battle for the third Welsh slot.
McFadden opened the scoring when he took an excellent angle to cross beneath the posts after just eight minutes. The centre added the conversion, followed by a penalty after the Blues had once again spilled the ball in their eagerness to play expansive rugby. The home side finally got it right and prop Gary Powell - later to leave on a stretcher with an Achilles injury - squeezed in at the corner, but another McFadden penalty kept Leinster in front.
With the normally reliable Ben Blair off key in his attempts at the posts, the Blues opted to kick for position and it paid off when flanker Sam Warburton, released from Wales duty, dived over and Blair finally succeeded with the conversion. McFadden struck another penalty with the last kick before the break, but the Blues began the second half with a sparkling attack which saw left wing Chris Czekaj make it to the flag and the Welshmen were in front.
Their lead did not last. A superb break by Eoin O'Malley took Leinster into the Blues' 22 and the centre found tireless hooker Bernard Jackman on his shoulder for a try which gave McFadden a simple conversion. The Blues then lost fly-half Ceri Sweeney to the sin-bin for what was harshly ruled to be a spear tackle on opposite number Berne, but the home side managed to survive the 10 minutes without leaking any further points. But Berne then dropped a goal which extended Leinster's lead and robbed the Blues of a losing bonus point.
They seemed to have retrieved it when Sweeney kicked a late penalty after Leinster lock Devin Toner was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on, only for that man McFadden to step up and slot over a penalty from halfway with the final kick of the game.
The Dragons dented Munster's title hopes with a 31-22 victory in their clash at Rodney Parade on Saturday night. In an eventful opening, a try from Munster winger Doug Howlett was ruled out by the video referee for a knock on and fly-half Ronan O'Gara hit the post with a straightforward penalty. The let-offs allowed the Dragons to ease the pressure and, after gaining some territorial advantage, wing Aled Brew scored a blistering try, racing 40 metres past two defenders before getting the better of fullback Paul Warwick to score. Fly-half Jason Tovey converted but the lead did not last long as the home scrum, which had been under pressure, cracked on their line to concede a penalty try that gave O'Gara a simple conversion.
The tide turned, however, when the Welsh region gained significant territory. The mistakes came from the Irishmen towards half-time, allowing Tovey to boot two penalties and give his side a six-point advantage at the break. To add further headaches to Irishmen's troubles, centre Lifeimi Mafi was sin-binned for answering back referee Dudley Phillips.
And the Dragons took advantage for wing Will Harries who went over under the posts, only for that to be erased when flanker Tommy O'Donnell was on the end of a passing movement that included hooker Denis Fogarty, O'Gara and Warwick. Munster's chances of claiming top spot in the table took a turn for the worse a quick movement across midfield allowed fullback Martyn Thomas to get a third home touchdown. They may have had the bonus point fourth try when Harries ran 70 metres from his own line but the resultant Tovey penalty in front of the posts sealed the result. Prop Tony Buckley's consolation converted try for Munster at the end was meaningless.
Glasgow Warriors missed out on a chance to put pressure on the Ospreys at the top of the Magners League by drawing 19-19 with Connacht at the Sportsground on Friday night. A win would have taken the Warriors top but they were forced to settle for a share of the spoils following a gutsy comeback by bottom-placed Connacht. Three penalties from Glasgow fly-half Ruaridh Jackson and a try from Canadian international wing DTH van der Merwe had put the visitors in control at 14-3 before Connacht fullback Gavin Duffy struck for an individual try.
Duffy carved through the defence and left Mark McMillan and Ed Kalman trailing in his wake to score under the posts. Ian Keatley converted and added penalties either side of the try to leave the Warriors staring down an unwanted setback in their pursuit of a play-off spot. Flanker James Eddie gave Glasgow hope of a narrow win by squeezing over in the corner for a try in the last minute after some powerful forward drives, but replacement Colin Gregor's conversion sailed wide to leave both sides with an unsatisfying draw.
The Scarlets closed the gap on Cardiff Blues with a morale-boosting victory 25-8 over Ulster at Parc y Scarlets. Nigel Davies fielded a young side against the Irish play-off hopefuls and was rewarded with a performance of pace and invention. The Scarlets pressed to the death but they couldn't produce a vital bonus-point try as Ulster dug in despite having lock Ryan Caldwell in the sin-bin.
Wing Andy Fenby opened the scoring after only three minutes following a break by Joe Ajuwa and Scarlets scrum-half Tavis Knoyle soon crossed for their second after a 40-metre run. Flanker Dan Tuohy had a try disallowed for the visitors but they were able to strike immediately after the break through Ireland centre Paddy Wallace.
Ulster's efforts were undermined by a sin-binning for David Pollock and with Wales hooker Matthew Rees among their number the Scarlets pack powered forward. It was Rhys Priestland, deputising for Wales' Stephen Jones, who sealed the points with a try after Ulster had been softened up, the fly-half finishing the game with a 15-point haul thanks to a try, two penalties and two conversions.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September