Leinster 19 Cheetahs 7
The only reason this match will be remembered because it was the day which Leinster secured top spot in Conference B and a home semi-final in the PRO14 thanks to their victory over the Cheetahs at the RDS on Friday night.
As a spectacle, it was poor viewing for the most part until Rory O’Loughlin showed some individual brilliance in the second half to kill off the Cheetahs challenge.
Leinster will know they can produce better performances but with nine changes made from the win over the Southern Kings last weekend, they won’t be too concerned as they have secured their playoff spot with four rounds of regular season action remaining.
Games of kick tennis dominated long periods of the opening 40 minutes but the first real flashpoint came after 10 minutes when Ox Nche was yellow carded for colliding with the head of Fergus McFadden. The loosehead prop blocked the Leinster man’s run as he jumped and made contact with his shoulder to the head of the Leinster winger.
Referee Nigel Owens immediately issued a yellow card and the colour of the card remained the same despite the Welsh referee reviewing the footage for some time. Nevertheless, Leinster immediately punished their opponents as the resulting penalty was kicked to the corner.
From the resulting lineout set piece, the ball was played to Conor O’Brien who powered through a gap to get the first try of the game. Ross Byrne converted to give Leinster a 7-0 lead after 12 minutes.
At this point, those who braved the elements inside the RDS expected the flood gates to open but it was the Cheetahs who hit back with a try of their own soon after.
Ross Byrne took the ball into contact but the ball spilled out of the ruck as the Cheetahs kicked downfield. Sibhale Maxwane showed his blistering pace to win the foot race and the ball bounced up perfectly for him to collect and dot down under the posts.
Just after the midway point of the first half, Byrne kicked a penalty to the corner and Leinster’s lineout maul saw them power over the line but with no clear grounding, Owens awarded a 5m scrum to the home side. They went through numerous phases until Leinster were awarded another scrum for a knock on in the tackle.
This time Leinster did strike as they sent the ball wide to Adam Byrne and the winger stepped inside try-scorer Maxwane to dot the ball down just before he was tackled into touch. Byrne’s conversion attempt drifted to the right of the posts to give Leinster a five-point lead after 25 minutes.
Little of note happened for the remainder of the first half and the home side went in at the break 12-7 to the good.
The Cheetahs showed a little bit more in attack in the second half as they started talking the ball flat to the gainline rather than kick it away at every opportunity. However, all they could muster for this work was a penalty when replacement tighthead Andrew Porter infringed but out-half Tian Schoeman kicked wide.
At 55 minutes, Leinster got their third try of the game and it was down to some superb individual work from Rory O’Loughlin.
After a series of unsuccessful lineout mauls, a sweeping backline move saw O’Loughlin pick up the ball on the near touchline. The outside centre kicked the ball over the top before he showed sublime skill to kick the bouncing ball forward just enough to allow him to touch down. Byrne nailed the touchline conversion and the eastern province had a 12 point lead after 57 minutes.
The final 20 minutes, like the end of the first half, was characterised by unforced errors for both sides but despite the lack of bonus point, Leinster will happy with the knowledge that they have secured a home semi-final.
Leinster: Dave Kearney (Daly 66′), Adam Byrne, Rory O’Loughlin (Reid 66′), Conor O’Brien, Fergus McFadden, Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park (O’Sullivan 76′), Peter Dooley (Byrne 54′), Bryan Byrne (Tracey 54′), Michael Bent (Porter 44′), Ross Molony, Scott Fardy (Kearney 71′), Rhys Ruddock (captain) (Murphy 63′), Max Deegan, Caelan Doris.
Replacements: James Tracy, Ed Byrne, Andrew Porter, Mick Kearney, Josh Murphy, Hugh O’Sullivan, Noel Reid, Barry Daly.
Cheetahs: Louis Fouche (Paige 78′), William Small-Smith (Marais 17′, Small-Smith 20′, Shaun Venter 52′), Benhard Janse van Rensburg, Dries Swanepoel, Rabz Axwane, Tian Schoeman, Tian Meyer, Ox Nche (Marais 63′), Reinach Venter (du Toit 51′), Aranos Coetzee (de Bruin 52′), Walt Steenkamp, JP du Preez (Manjezi 53′), Gerhard Olivier, Abongile Nonkontwana (van der Merwe 78′), Junior Pokomela (Hanco Venter 41′).
Replacements: Jacques du Toit, Charles Marais, Luan de Bruin, Sintu Manjezi, Marnus van der Merwe, Hanco Venter, Rudy Paige, Shaun Venter.