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Wednesday 22 January 2020

Lesson is to never take foot off gas

Harry Byrne of Leinster is tackled by David Shanahan of Ulster during the Guinness PRO14 match at the RDS. Photo: Sportsfile
Harry Byrne of Leinster is tackled by David Shanahan of Ulster during the Guinness PRO14 match at the RDS. Photo: Sportsfile

Leinster Coach Leo Cullen will be delighted about his side’s first 60 minutes last Friday night, but less than impressed with the last quarter of the match.

Leading 54-21 heading into the last 20 minutes, Leinster never added another point yet let Ulster in for three late tries to leave the score line 54-42.

For the first half of this match Leinster were completely dominant, albeit against a weakened Ulster side debuting five new players and further weakened during the match by injuries and a yellow card.

Leinster started the game with real tempo, holding onto the ball for long periods of play and stretching Ulster’s inexperienced defence across the park.

For 50 odd minutes, Leinster were almost scoring at will, well led at out half by the ultra-talented Harry Byrne.

Despite fielding a much-changed line-up from the Champions Cup team the week before, Cullen must have been well pleased that his side had already grabbed the bonus point early in the game and were playing a super brand of rugby.

Annoyed

He will be annoyed about the last quarter and will address how his team built such a comfortable lead yet still let a team score three late tries and register over 40 points on Leinster’s hallowed turf. 

It is a purely mental thing. The perfect game is scoring your four-try bonus point win, but also priding yourself at the other end by not having your line breached.

Of course, all opposition teams will have purple patches sometime during the game when momentum shifts, but the secret is to pride yourself as much on your defence as your attack.

There has to be a learning element to all games you play in, win or lose, and the learning here for Leinster is that when you have a team on the rack as they did, then you keep the pedal down for the full 80 minutes.

That is the mark of a great side, which Leinster are.

On a positive note, the performance of both sides sends out a message that Irish rugby, despite its shortcomings in the World Cup, is still in a very good place, with so many of the players from both sides being the future of the game in this country.

In my opinion, Ireland are going to have a better Six Nations campaign than most people think.

I also believe we can look forward to success at various levels for a good while yet, such is the conveyor belt of talented young players coming through all the provinces at the moment.

Ulster, to their credit, stuck in and proved resilient, especially given the inexperience of their side. Leinster just had greater experience in key areas.

Plenty of players caught the eye, none more than out-half Harry Byrne. It is often said that the great out-halves seem to have so much time on the ball, time to make decisions, and while Byrne was not under as much pressure as he might be in other games, his option taking and reading of the game were for the best part excellent.

The Leinster back row was as a unit relatively inexperienced, but buzzed around the park, making the odd mistake but staying industrious.

The tight five was good and led impressively by Josh Murphy, who produced a high work-rate. Roman Salanoa, who came on for Andrew Porter, is a most interesting prospect, apparently only taking up the game a couple of years ago.

The Hawaiian born prop has impressive stats. He made a series of tackles, cleared rucks well and showed good handling.

If he can work on his set piece game, he promises to be a player that has all the qualities to make it.

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