Leinster claimed a hard-fought 19-7 victory against a gutsy Cheetahs side in Dublin on Friday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
Leinster coach Leo Cullen will be thrilled with this result, especially since his team struggled to gain complete ascendancy in a dull contest that never came to life. The forward battle was a fairly equal exchange, but both sets of backlines struggled to stamp their authority on the game.
The Cheetahs were in the contest right until the end despite Leinster leading for the majority of the match. They battled to negate the rainy conditions and made a number of handling errors, which ultimately led to their downfall.
The Cheetahs suffered an early blow when prop Ox Nche was yellow-carded for a deliberate late shoulder charge. Nche got off lightly with that sanction, though, as replays confirmed he had made contact to the head of centre Rory O’Loughlin.
No sooner had Nche taken up position in the sin bin than Leinster scored through inside centre Conor O’Brien. The Cheetahs hit back with a fortuitous try to level matters. With Leinster hot on the attack and the Cheetahs defence all over the place, the hosts failed to protect the ball at a ruck. It squirted out and Cheetahs fullback Louis Fouche reacted first as he hacked it forward, resulting in wing Rabz Maxwane outpacing the field in the chase to score.
But Leinster would take a five-point lead into the break after wing Adam Byrne breached the Cheetahs’ line for their second try, which went unconverted.
The game stagnated in the second half as both sides’ handling error rate increased. O’Loughlin outfoxed the defence when he chased down his own chip kick for what proved to be the only try of the half in the 56th minute.
Leinster pushed hard to get the four-try bonus point, but there was to be no late flourish from the champions in the face of some rock-solid Cheetahs defending that left the hosts frustrated.
Leinster – Tries: Conor O’Brien, Adam Byrne, Rory O’Loughlin. Conversions: Ross Byrne (2).
Cheetahs – Try: Rabz Maxwane. Conversion: Tian Schoeman.
Leinster – 15 Dave Kearney, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Rory O’Loughlin, 12 Conor O’Brien, 11 Fergus McFadden, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Max Deegan, 6 Rhys Ruddock (c), 5 Scott Fardy, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Michael Bent, 2 Bryan Byrne, 1 Peter Dooley.
Subs: 16 James Tracy, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Josh Murphy, 21 Hugh O’Sullivan, 22 Noel Reid, 23 Barry Daly.
Cheetahs – 15 Louis Fouché, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Tian Meyer (c), 8 Junior Pokomela, 7 Abongile Nonkontwana , 6 Gerhard Olivier, 5 JP du Preez, 4 Walt Steenkamp, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Reinach Venter, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Luan de Bruin, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Marnus van der Merwe, 21 Henco Venter, 22 Shaun Venter, 23 Rudy Paige.
Photo: Leinster Rugby