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Blues have the bottle.

Byline: By Delme Parfitt South Wales Echo

From bottlers to battlers in the space of just six days - oh what might have been for Cardiff Blues.

In sweeping aside a strong Leinster side at the Arms Park last night and equalling their opponents' record 15 home match unbeaten sequence in Celtic rugby, Dai Young's side looked every inch a team of champions.

But as they trooped off the pitch and thanked a 9,000-plus strong crowd for their season's backing, there was the nagging realisation that their latest ascent to the top of the table will probably last less than 24 hours.

The reason? Too many costly slip-ups earlier in the campaign, with the fatigue-induced surrender at Stradey Park a week ago freshest in everyone's mind.

Whether the Blues would have been able to produce such a comprehensive performance against the Irish province had they gone into this game knowing that a bonus point win would secure the trophy is a moot point.

Such is their penchant for no-shows in crunch games they may well have frozen again in those circumstances. We'll never know.

What we do know is that all eyes will now be on Netherdale at 5.30pm this evening when the Ospreys will be expected to claim the victory they need to seal the crown.

Nothing is guaranteed, the Borders are by no means incapable of winning.

But it's one hell of a long shot even if stranger things have happened in the world of sport.

The one element that might just make the long odds of a home win more appealing is that it is the last match the Scottish outfit will ever play, with the region being culled.

So the incentive for Borders players to finish the season with a bang will take on a whole new meaning.

That said, there was very much the sense among the Blues camp after last night's match of being resigned to their fate.

Not that it would have dampened any revelry among their squad.

Nor should it have because the Blues did what they said they must do all week.

They kept their part of the bargain and ultimately ensured that the title will come to Wales.

And you could argue they saved their best until last.

Though they were on the back foot territorially for significant spells, in my view it was as clinical and efficient a display as the Blues have produced in the last nine months.

And this, let's not forget, was against a team that itself was gunning for the championship.

If what we saw last night sticks in the minds of Blues fans for the summer, then there should be a real sense of anticipation when next term begins, particularly with Gareth Thomas on his way.

There were some outstanding individual displays in this one, not least from centre Jamie Robinson and flanker Robin Sowden-Taylor.

But it was the collective organisation, the all-round work rate and greater desire that marked it out as something special.

It said it all that the one Leinster try by Shane Horgan in the 54th minute was a gift courtesy of Rhys Williams fluffing an attempted pick-up after the ball had been hacked through along a skiddy Arms Park surface.

Apart from that, the Dubliners barely had a sniff other than a sustained series of forward-led battering raids in the first-half, raids that were repelled by a stubborn Blues rearguard.

Afterwards, Young revealed how not allowing Leinster to lift the silverware on a stage and spray Champagne around at their Arms Park fortress had been a huge motivation going into the encounter.

Well, quite frankly it showed.

By the time Rhys Williams and Marc Stcherbina had gone over in the first 10 minutes of the second half, it was game, set, match and bonus point to the home side.

Those two tries could not have been more different in their creation.

Williams' - the Blues' third - came after a lovely dink over the Leinster defence from Nicky Robinson to Chris Czekaj, who then put the wing in.

As for the Australian's effort, it took everyone by surprise when Horgan tried to chip the ball over his head on his way out of the 22, only for Stcherbina to grab it out of the air and sprint in unopposed.

The opening half hour was mainly one-way traffic with Leinster, who needed a bonus point win to secure the title, playing with far greater urgency.

Yet they trailed 8-6 after 30 minutes because they had leaked a try of surprising ease to the Blues early on.

Fly-half Robinson crafted the touchdown, bursting through a wide gap in the Leinster midfield to feed flanker Sowden-Taylor the scoring pass.

Ben Blair's later penalty to two from the boot of Argentine pivot Felipe Contepomi, who heard yesterday morning that examination passes had made him a doctor of medicine, left the Irish frustrated.

With the Blues defence outstanding and forcing errors from Leinster attackers through some dogged and aggressive tackling, they built themselves a platform.

And they got their reward in the 33rd minute when hooker Gareth Williams dived over after a rolling maul had Leinster back-pedalling on their own line.

It enabled the hosts to take a 13-6 lead in to the interval and the fact that they scored with their only two attacks of the half would have galled their opponents.

What may gall Blues supporters is the sight of the Ospreys spraying Champagne at Netherdale tonight.

The source of the pain will be that pre-Stradey it was in the hands of their own team to claim the honours.

But the bigger picture demands more perspective. How many of the Arms Park faithful would have predicted at least a runners-up finish back in September?
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 12, 2007
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