THE floodlights were on early here yesterday as an icy wind and intermittent swirling sleet added a suitably seasonal air to the Heineken European Cup semi-final between Leinster and Cardiff.
But the lights went out for Leinster for the first time this season as the Irish inter-provincial champions' 10-match winning sequence came to an end. Cardiff now enjoy the privilege of playing host to Toulouse in the final a week today.
Leinster had every right to fancy their chances despite the setback of an early drop goal from the Cardiff fly-half Adrian Davies after three minutes. Cardiff had an impressive array of big names in their line-up, but in the first half Leinster were no respecters of reputations and the determined driving of their pack - epitomised by the young prop Paul Wallace on his 24th birthday - was exemplary.
A late injury, and the fact that London Irish did not have a match, brought the full-back Conor O'Shea into the Leinster team. He played on the left wing instead of Niall Woods, a potentially interesting development since Ireland's selectors had toyed with the idea of playing him in the threequarters earlier this season.
O'Shea had a good match and played an important part in Leinster's only try, scored by their captain Chris Pim midway through the first half. Trailing only 20-14 at the break, and with wind advantage to follow, Leinster looked quite capable of causing an upset. True, they gave Cardiff plenty of trouble before half-time, but, unhappily, the wheels came off the bandwagon in the second period even though Cardiff's only score after the interval was a drop goal by their scrum-half Andy Moore.
That statistic was somewhat misleading. Leinster certainly defended with commendable commitment, but in reality a dominant Cardiff would not have been flattered by a couple more tries. Leinster's cause was not helped by missed goal-kicking chances by their fly-half Alan McGowan, who had amassed a sizeable tally of points in Leinster's previous 10 matches, but tends to be inconsistent. A missed conversion from a difficult position was excusable. But two fluffed kicks from the 22-metre line early in the second half were not.
Cardiff comfortably deserved to win and their forwards, with Derwyn Jones supreme in the line-outs, were rampant through- out the second period.
Following Davies's early drop goal, McGowan was on target with a penalty after the Leinster pack had taken a strike against the head, luring Cardiff offside. But the Welsh team hit back with a well-executed try by their No 8 Hemi Taylor which Davies converted. McGowan kept Leinster in touch with a second penalty before a sweeping Cardiff attack sent their centre Mike Hall scorching through for Davies again to convert.
Leinster's try began with excellent running by O'Shea and McGowan. After their scrum-half Alain Rowland was held up short of the line, Pim barged his way over for an unconverted try. Davies and McGowan both then added penalties just prior to the break.
Leinster may have been disappointed not to reach the final, but the Ireland selectors will secretly be happy because, had Leinster won yesterday, their plans for the national squad's week-long training camp in Atlanta this week would have been badly disrupted.
Leinster: C Clarke (Terenure Coll); P Gavin (Old Belvedere), V Cunningham (St Mary's Coll), K McQuilkin (Bective Rangers), C O'Shea (London Irish); A McGowan, A Rolland (both Blackrock Coll); H Hurley (Old Wesley), S Byrne, P Wallace (both Blackrock Coll), S Jamieson (St Mary's Coll), N Francis (Old Belvedere), C Pim (Old Wesley, capt), S Rooney (Lansdowne), V Costello (St Mary's Coll). Replacement: R Hennessey (Lansdowne) for Clarke, 54.
Cardiff: M Rayer; S Hill, M Hall, M Ring, S Ford; A Davies, A Moore; A Lewis, J Humphreys, L Mustoe, J Wakeford, D Jones, E Lewis, O Williams, H Taylor (capt).
Referee: B Campsall (England).Reuse content