O'Driscoll justifies faith to give Welsh blues
Leinster 34 Cardiff Blues 3
The wait for Wales to have a finalist in the Heineken Cup goes on – 16 years and counting – and for all the Leinster coach Joe Schmidt's kind words about the Grand Slam holders' regional representatives, the chances are surely receding. A reported cut in Cardiff Blues' playing budget from £4.5m to £2.7m and the departure of their loose-head prop, Gethin Jenkins, to Toulon in the summer are further signposts to European misery.
Schmidt, a New Zealander, whistled up his countryman Brad Thorn – late of the All Blacks' World Cup-winning side – as a loan signing a few weeks ago, as if Leinster's combination of Ireland talent and a sprinkling of overseas spice was not good enough. Thorn likes to dedicate his good days to God; this quarter-final was one of them as Leinster obliterated Cardiff's scrum and ran beautiful, snappy patterns behind. On Easter Saturday the Irishmen were thankful to "BOD", as Brian O'Driscoll made a blistering first Heineken Cup appearance since last season's final win over Northampton.
The World Cup had ended in disappointment for O'Driscoll and Ireland when they were beaten by Wales; the centre then had a shoulder operation that sidelined him from October to March, during which spell Wales won in Dublin to kick off their Grand Slam. "I wouldn't say the Welsh regions are not capable," Schmidt said after tries by O'Driscoll, Rob Kearney (two) and Isa Nacewa in the opening 46 minutes blew Cardiff away. "Scarlets have a great back line and I wouldn't have wanted to meet Ospreys in this game. The Welsh Rugby Union have a strong group of players and there is a depth of player there."
And it was true that Cardiff's depth was almost bound to be found wanting in the absence of five key players, including the Wales stars Sam Warburton and Jamie Roberts. There was at least a "professional" refusal to roll over in the scoreless last 34 minutes.
While the WRU continues to pay off a £27m debt on the Millennium Stadium, and keeps a rein on investment, the regions are likely to remain underdogs against the Irish even if, at international level, Wales are on top.
Leinster : Tries Nacewa, Kearney 2, O'Driscoll; Conversions Sexton 4; Penalties Sexton 2. Cardiff Blues: Penalty Halfpenny.
Leinster R Kearney; I Nacewa, B O'Driscoll (I Madigan, 68), G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald (F McFadden, 59); J Sexton, E Reddan (I Boss, 61); C Healy (H van der Merwe, 65), R Strauss (S Cronin, 52), M Ross (N White, 72), L Cullen (capt), B Thorn (D Toner, 59), K McLaughlin (S Jennings, 49), S O'Brien, J Heaslip.
Cardiff Blues L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, C Laulala, D Hewitt, T James; D Parks (C Sweeney, 68), L Williams (R Rees, 68); G Jenkins, M Breeze, S Andrews, B Davies, J Down (M Molitika, 59), M Paterson, M Williams, X Rush (capt).
Referee D Pearson (England).
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