Leinster ‘A’ produced a late rally at Donnybrook tonight as they finally saw off a determined challenge from the Cardiff Blues Premiership Select in Pool 2 of the British & Irish Cup.
The hosts had built a 17-point lead in the first half, but after Cardiff fought their way back into the reckoning, Noel McNamara's youngsters needed late tries from Bryan Byrne and captain Ross Molony to secure a 29-10 bonus point success.
Leinster ‘A’ were aiming to build on their five-point return against Doncaster Knights last week, and with a number of players among their ranks having senior experience (such as out-half Cathal Marsh and Molony), Cardiff needed to be on their toes right from the off.
Justin Burnell’s side soaked up some initial pressure, but after Ciaran Frawley kicked to touch from a 10th-minute penalty, Leinster ‘A’ duly broke the deadlock. The hosts threatened from the subsequent lineout maul, and with Cardiff forced back towards their own line, referee Karl Dickson awarded a penalty try to the hosts.
Molony and Mick Kearney were combining to good effect in the province’s second row, and although the Welsh outfit did pose a threat when they held onto possession, an offside decision inside the visitors’ 22 allowed UCD clubman Frawley to extend the lead to 10-0.
As the first half wore on, Leinster ‘A’ continued to build phases in the Cardiff half. Flanker Richard Dunne almost added his name to the scoresheet at the end of an prolonged attacking spell, before try number two arrived just past the half hour mark.
The ball was spread out towards the left and with a number of players involved in a concerted build-up, Ireland Under-20 international Frawley brilliantly raced over the whitewash and converted his own try. 17-0 is how it stayed up to half-time, Cardiff’s Ben Jones missing a late opportunity from the tee to get his side on the board.
With Ed Byrne sprung from the bench to join his twin brother Bryan in the front row, Leinster ‘A’ were looking to push on when play resumed. However, Cardiff were the dominant team during the third quarter and worked themselves back into contention.
A powerful maul, two minutes in, forced Leinster ‘A’ onto the back foot, and influential number 8 Sion Bennett, who captained Cardiff on the night, was there to touch down in clinical fashion.
Ben Jones made no mistake with his second place-kick of the night, and with their deficit now reduced to 10 points, the Blues Premiership Select sensed that there was something to salvage from their trip to Dublin. Scrum half Lewis Jones was just held up but despite winning a five-metre scrum, Leinster ‘A’ were soon on the defensive again as Cardiff pressed for further scores.
They conceded a penalty in front of the posts in the 57th minute and Ben Jones increased his personal tally with a routine strike – 17-10. This set up a compelling final quarter, and with both coaches introducing fresh legs, the next score was always going to be vital.
When Cardiff had a lineout deep in their own half, it looked like Leinster ‘A’ would need to be patient in their quest for a game-clinching score. A wayward throw found its way to hooker Bryan Byrne, however, and he took advantage of the space in front of him to power over for a key 73rd-minute try.
Frawley was unable to add the extras at 22-10, but when skipper Molony finished off a well-orchestrated attack for an 80th-minute bonus point try, the goal-kicking centre knocked over a straightforward conversion to complete his 12-point haul.
Referee: Karl Dickson (England)