This was always going to be a tricky one, the first game of the season with all the Irish Summer tour players bar Ross Byrne still in cotton wool, but they persevered.
It came down to the second last minute for them to finally edge back in front after taking an early three point lead to finish the game with a score of 32-33 in favour of the visitors.
Tomane had a shaky debut, losing far too many balls and missing one or two tackles, however there were glimpses of what he can do; one wide pass to Vardy that did not look on but made it memorable.
Don’t forget the Isa Nacewa had a similar rough start to his Leinster career. He started out as an option number ten before settling into almost every other position in the back line. So time may tell if he can replace the un-replaceable man.
Dave Kearney stood out in the air and he chose to use his running game as often as he could. He makes dead ends look passable. Unfortunately his fellow back liners were not always on the same wavelength.
Rory O’Laughlin was the other stand out player, making three or four excellent solo runs ending phases of Cardiff dominance.
The forwards had a decent outing, one ill-conceived quick line out from Vardy the blot on the copy book — it cost a try.
Andrew Porter and Brian Byrne were brilliant off the bench, especially with the Cardiff players looking tired.
Cardiff dominated the break down for the opening quarter earning penalties or turnovers at will. Their back line looked zippy and quick whenever they got the ball and their opening try was well earned.
Nick Williams in particular was fiery, making it look like a personal battle with his old rivals. He was instrumental in a lot of the turnovers Cardiff forced.
His eagerness to win everything cost his team a certain try. A pull back on Vardy, who could never have made a tackle anyway, was spotted by Owens and his assistant and the opportunity was pulled back. It probably would have been a penalty try for a tackle without a ball.
The second quarter saw Leinster scoring with a steal by Tracy at a Cardiff line out inside their twenty-two. He muscled over and the TMO confirmed — eventually — that the ball had touched the line with Tracy in control.
However, Vardy’s quick line out gave Cardiff possession with the entire Leinster back line out of defensive position. Cardiff moved the ball wide and scored with ease. There were questions from commentators about the last pass, was it forward? The hands moved back so it probably was fine. Referee and linesman were perfectly placed.
We got back to 15-14 as the penalty count started to swing back in favour of Leinster. Ruddock was immense as the second half came to a close, making the break down area his own.
The second half opened with a string of mistakes and disasters. We seemed to drop off tackles, get the defensive spacing wrong, our wingers came in too soon. Cardiff were having a field day.
They scored twice in the opening ten minutes, converting for maximum fourteen points. Both tries had similarities. An early mistake to give Cardiff position and possession. Then they moved the ball wide to one side, cleared it quick and then moved it back to the other side. Score in open space.
Even at 29-14 down we still looked like we could play enough rugby to get back into it. Some might call me the eternal optimist where Leinster are concerned, but we had half an hour to figure it out. And the substitutes were coming on.
One notable change was Brian Byrne on at hooker. His first touch was a line out throw. His second was to receive it at the back of a well constructed maul. The drive was good and he got over for a nice score, albeit without a conversion, Ross Byrne limping back to halfway after the kick.
At times it was a struggle, but with each substitute that came on we looked stronger. Kearney kept making runs. Ruddock kept making tough carries. But Gibson-Park brought some extra zip to the back line.
His box kicks are still suspect, but he gets the team moving like neither Luke or Nick can do. He was able to sneak in for a try under the posts after some great setup play, a penalty advantage and a well retained kick forward. The dummy he sold the defensive line was priceless.
The conversion was straight forward this time leaving us three points behind. We handled restarts better in the second half, but Cardiff still managed to get the upper hand, winning a penalty at the ruck. Ruddock had words with the referee. Did the tackle delay his roll hampering the clear out? Did the counter rucker even have his hands on the ball? The penalty was scored leaving it 32-26.
We still had ten minutes. No need to panic.
Ross had been using long kick offs for most of the second half, but he switched to a short one for this restart, and Cardiff made a mess of it. But the decision went against Leinster for a knock on.
From the eventual kick, Dave Kearney made a fantastic, winding run but the momentum was lost with a Tomane knock on. The flow of the game brought Leinster right back to their five meter line and it began to look hopeless. Porter, another of the substitutes that made a huge impact, made an all important steal at the ruck, staying on his feet and nabbing th ball.
As Tomane came off the backs seemed to suddenly gel for a moment and we quickly found ourselves getting into their twenty-two. The link play with the forwards was best in this short couple of minutes.
Jamison drew a penalty, the Cardiff player encroaching on the ruck and with the advantage Leinster made huge inroads and got close to the posts, eventually touching down against the base of the posts.
The final two minutes were shaky but Leinster held on to take the victory with a bonus point. Not a bad start to the season for the champions.