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Cullen challenges 'far from perfect' Leinster to improve

The head coach admitted his team will need to be better after conceding three tries at home to Benetton.

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen.
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

LEINSTER HEAD COACH Leo Cullen has challenged his team to lift their performance levels for their Heineken Champions Cup trip to face Lyon next week, accepting that Saturday’s 33-19 defeat of Benetton Treviso at the RDS was “far from perfect.”

Leinster got their new European campaign off to a winning start despite a sluggish, and at times complacent performance against the Italians.

Some of the flaws in Leinster’s display will be pardoned given many of Cullen’s frontline players were making their first appearance of the season for the province, but Cullen admitted that they will need to be more clinical when they visit the current Top14 leaders next Saturday, with last season’s shock 28-27 defeat at Toulouse still fresh in the memory.

“We’ve got more guys through games and off the back of what a lot of guys have been through… It’s like their season is starting again so, in many ways, it’s like round one for us as an entire squad,” said Cullen.

“We still have a couple of more guys who are yet to appear but overall we’re pleased. We knew it wasn’t going to be perfect. It was far from perfect but it’s a win, we’ve got the job done in many respects. It allows us now to turn our attention to Lyon, try to recover well. We’ll get a chance to see them in action against Northampton (on Sunday).

“We went away to France in round two last season and got beaten by Toulouse. We go away to Lyon and the question is can we be better? Can we be better than we were this time last year? The challenge is the fact that we’re not really up and running with this group yet so I think everyone thinks the group is going well but the Pro14, as we know, is very different to the challenge of Europe. 

“Lyon haven’t been as affected by the World Cup as we have been, so they have a much more cohesive group and they’re sitting pretty at the top of the Top14. We know the quality of the teams that are in that league.” 

While the overall performance left plenty to be desired, there were flashes of quality from Leinster. Hooker Ronan Kelleher was a calm presence on the occasion of his European debut, while Garry Ringrose was at his scintillating best with ball in hand as he struck for a hat-trick.

“He brings that bit of class,” Cullen said of Ringrose.

“I thought he went well at the World Cup, looked dangerous the whole time. He’s carried that form into the game so it’s a good boost of confidence for him.”

While Benetton made it more a difficult evening for Leinster than many would have anticipated, they left with a sense of frustration after coughing up a series of penalties and failing to take full advantage as Leinster struggled for momentum in the second half.

“It was a pity about the result but it was great being back,” said Benetton out-half Ian Keatley, who came through the system at Leinster before stints with Connacht and Munster.  

“You are coming against one of the top teams in Europe. Kieran (Crowley, Benetton head coach), said we were coming with a positive attitude and that’s why we went for the corner early on and that gave us confidence when we scored.

“Our discipline killed us. If you give Leinster access to your 22 they are quite clinical, as they showed. We got into their 22 and we weren’t clinical. That was the difference.”

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