Leinster's Celtic League title hopes took a sizeable dent at the Millennium Stadium on Sunday as the Cardiff Blues stole in for a 40-31 win.
CELTIC LEAGUE: Sunday, May 14
CARDIFF BLUES 40 LEINSTER 31, Millennium Stadium (Att: 15,327)
Scorers: Cardiff: Tries: Nick Macleod, Mike Phillips, Chris Czekaj, Martyn Williams, Craig Morgan; Cons: Nick Robinson 3; Pens: Robinson 3
Leinster: Tries: Shane Horgan, Gordon D'Arcy, Denis Hickie, Rob Kearney; Cons: Felipe Contepomi 4; Pen: Contepomi
In front of a League record crowd of 15,327, the province leaked five tries in what could turn out to be a season-defining defeat in Cardiff.
In their final home game of the season, the Blues edged the nine-try thriller with scores from full back Nick Macleod, scrum half Nick Macleod, wingers Chris Czekaj and Craig Morgan and replacement flanker Martyn Williams.
The result means Ulster sit top the table, on scoring difference, going into the League's final two weekends and crucially, the men from the north have a game in hand on chief chasers Leinster. Ulster must travel to Llanelli (next Friday) and the Ospreys (May 26).
Michael Cheika's side have just Edinburgh to play on May 26 and that's why a win in Cardiff was so essential to their title aspirations. Now, it seems the bridesmaid's tag from the Heineken Cup may be sticking with Leinster.
They did get the bounce of the ball for first half tries from Ireland stars Shane Horgan and Gordon D'Arcy, but their luck ran out when after going 31-28 in front, Williams and Morgan ran in late efforts for the Blues.
Playing at the Millennium Stadium due to a marquee from Saturday's FA Cup final covering their Arms Park home ground, Cardiff flew out of the traps and Macleod was over after only three minutes. Centre Jamie Robinson and Phillips made the hard yards and Macleod went over in the left corner, evading the tackles of Guy Easterby and Reggie Corrigan.
Having missed the conversion, out-half Nicky Robinson added two penalties before Leinster awoke from their slumber. There was a touch of good fortune about Horgan's 23rd-minute try as the province profited from the charge down of a Phillips clearance kick.
But the Welsh pivot got his own back on the half hour when he exposed some poor ruck defence from Malcolm O'Kelly and scooted clean through under the posts. Robinson converted, yet a 50-metre penalty from Felipe Contepomi and D'Arcy's converted try, after a Robinson chip was blocked down, saw Leinster just 18-17 in arrears at half time.
A run on the loop from Australian Marc Stcherbina allowed Welsh Under-21 flyer Czekaj to romp over after the break. But Leinster fired right back when Denis Hickie scored his 52nd provincial try, swerving away from Macleod's tackle in the left corner.
An off-the-ball clash saw both Cardiff prop John Yapp and Leinster lock Adam Byrnes sin binned just short of the hour. Robinson's third penalty edged Cardiff 28-24 clear - however Leinster were not out of sight.
Once more they got a slice of luck for substitute Rob Kearney's 71st-minute try. Horgan chased a Contepomi kick through, the ball rebounded off the goal post, evading both Horgan and the Blues defenders, for the lurking Kearney to collect and score.
Contepomi converted but frustratingly, the Blues had the final say.
TIME LINE: 3 mins - Cardiff try: Nick Macleod - 5-0; 8 mins - Cardiff penalty: Nick Robinson - 8-0; 13 mins - Cardiff penalty: Nick Robinson - 11-0; 23 mins - Leinster try: Shane Horgan - 11-5; conversion: Felipe Contepomi - 11-7; 30 mins - Cardiff try: Mike Phillips - 16-7; conversion: Nick Robinson - 18-7; 35 mins - Leinster penalty: Felipe Contepomi - 18-10; 37 mins - Leinster try: Gordon D'Arcy - 18-15; conversion: Felipe Contepomi - 18-17; Half-time - Cardiff 18 Leinster 17; 49 mins - Cardiff try: Chris Czekaj - 23-17; conversion: Nick Robinson - 25-17; 54 mins - Leinster try: Denis Hickie - 25-22; conversion: Felipe Contepomi - 25-24; 56 mins - Cardiff yellow card: John Yapp; Leinster yellow card: Adam Byrnes; 66 mins - Cardiff penalty - Nick Robinson - 28-24; 71 mins - Leinster try: Rob Kearney - 28-29; conversion: Felipe Contepomi - 28-31; 75 mins - Cardiff try: Martyn Williams - 33-31; conversion: Nick Robinson - 35-31; 80+3 mins - Cardiff try: Craig Morgan - 40-31; Full-time - Cardiff 40 Leinster 31
CARDIFF BLUES: Nick MacLeod; Chris Czekaj, Jamie Robinson, Marc Stcherbina, Craig Morgan; Nick Robinson, Mike Phillips; John Yapp, Rhys Thomas, Gethin Jenkins, Deiniol Jones, Robert Sidoli, Maama Molitika, Robin Sowden-Taylor, Xavier Rush (capt).
Replacements used: Kort Schubert for Jones (half time), Scott Roberts for Sowden-Taylor (58), Martyn Williams for Molitika (67), Ryan Powell for Phillips (79). Not used: Duane Goodfield, Tristan Davies, Matthew Nuthall.
LEINSTER: Girvan Dempsey; Shane Horgan, Gordon D'Arcy, Kieran Lewis, Denis Hickie; Felipe Contepomi (capt), Guy Easterby; Reggie Corrigan, Bernard Jackman, Emmett Byrne, Adam Byrnes, Malcolm O'Kelly, Eric Miller, Keith Gleeson, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements used: Niall Ronan for Miller (15 mins), Brian Blaney for Jackman, Will Green for Byrne (both half time), Rob Kearney for Lewis (64), Ben Gissing for Byrnes (68). Not used: Brian O'Riordan, Jonny Hepworth.
Sin Bin: J Yapp (Cardiff), A Byrnes (Leinster) (both 56 mins)
Referee: Rob Dickson (Scotland)