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Saturday 7 December 2019

Bogey boys from Benetton hold no fear of RDS

Leo Cullen
Leo Cullen

Imagine, Benetton can legitimately lay claim to being Leinster's bogey team at The RDS.

Their coach Kieran Crowley has been the difference-maker to their preparation and their performances, leading Treviso from minnow status to coming force.

The world at large has already chalked down four, probably five points to Leo Cullen's men in Pool A of the Champions Cup on Saturday (KO3.15, BT Sport 3).

However, there will be altogether more genuine respect from inside Leinster for what the former All Black Crowley has done for Italy's representatives since taking charge in 2016.

Stretching back to September of that year, Benetton gave the Blues all the problems they could handle in Crowley's first shot at the fortress.

Despite going behind to two Joey Carbery tries, Treviso never wilted in going down 20-8 in Dublin.

In 2017/2018, Leinster headed up Conference B from 14 wins, one draw and six losses at the end of the regular season.

They were unable to overcome Cheetahs, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Ospreys or Connacht away from home and ended all-square with Scarlets in West Wales. Their only home loss of the campaign came against Benetton at The RDS in April (15-17).

The reaction of Benetton's players to the final whistle hinted at the progress they were making, even earning the appreciation of The RDS supporters.

Demoralising

Last season, Leinster again topped Conference B in the PRO14 League with 15 wins, one draw and five losses from the completed schedule of 21 rounds.

From those, there were four defeats on the road to Scarlets, Munster, Edinburgh and Ulster, a draw at home to Benetton and, one week later, a demoralising defeat to Glasgow at The RDS.

Cullen would have preached the value of redemption for what happened the previous season when Benetton arrived in town in April.

Leinster had been forewarned and forearmed. Still, there was no give. They could do no better than break-even (27-all).

After that, the Italians were unlucky to lose out 15-13 to Munster in the play-offs, Crowley stepping to the podium as the PRO14 Coach of the Year for guiding Benetton to their first-ever quarter-final. That means Crowley has a lost one, won one, drawn one record on his three visits to Ballsbridge.

The points difference over the three League matches is a meagre +10 for Leinster (62-against-52).

More importantly, the home side has failed to pick up the treasured bonus-point each time.

The possibility of complacency seeping into Leinster for the opening round of the Champions Cup is about as remote as the Aran Islands.

There are those who interpret Benetton at home as an easing in process ahead of French club Lyon and familiar English rivals Northampton.

That would be a mistake.

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