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'You can see how physical they are... a lot of battered bodies when you walk up the corridor'

Tries from Dave Kearney, Michael Ala’alatoa and Scott Penny gave Leinster a 21-13 win against the Emirates Lions.

Max O'Reilly tries to get free from Stean Pienaar.
Max O'Reilly tries to get free from Stean Pienaar.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

DESPITE NOT COMING away with the same return as the previous week’s bonus-point win over Ospreys, Leinster head coach Leo Cullen cut a much more satisfied figure in the aftermath of his side’s 21-13 victory against Emirates Lions in the United Rugby Championship at the RDS last night.

Thanks to converted tries from Dave Kearney, Michael Ala’alatoa and Scott Penny, the eastern province had built up a healthy lead in advance of Jaco Kriel’s late try for the Lions. After feeling the performance levels fell below the required standard against the Ospreys six days earlier, Cullen was pleased with the way the league leaders handled their unfamiliar South African opponents.

“For us, playing the Lions for the very first time, it’s understandable you’re going into the game where you don’t really know what to expect. We showed the guys lots of images. All the other teams, we have some level of understanding of what they’re like. Slightly unusual, but you can see how physical they are as a team,” Cullen acknowledged in his post-match press conference.

“Very strong around set-piece and you could see how physically committed they were. A lot of battered bodies when you walk up the corridor there to the dressing room. We’re pleased to get a win. It’s important for us we get ourselves ready for the next one, which is away in Treviso.”

It could have been a much more interesting conclusion to the action in Ballsbridge, had it not been for a magnificent try-saving tackle from Tommy O’Brien on Lions winger Stean Pienaar around the third-quarter mark. Captain of the Ireland U20s in 2018, O’Brien also made a strong impact in attack and was a popular choice as man of the match.

Yesterday’s game was just O’Brien’s second start of the season after five previous appearances off the bench. A versatile operator who is as comfortable in midfield as he is in the back-three, Cullen is hopeful his fellow Blackrock College alum can push on from here.

“He has been a little bit unlucky, Tommy. He is definitely one who has always been recognised. He’s been on the radar and he’s come through the system. He has been a bit unfortunate. He’s had lots of little things. He had a hamstring injury as well. It’s just trying to get that run of consistency.

“He’s very diligent, very, very driven in terms of what he does. It was a great reward for him, to see him go well. The try-saving tackle was amazing really. Lots of big moments in the game and hopefully he just gets a decent run in the team now.”

While much of the pre-match focus was on Rhys Ruddock – captaining the side on his 200th provincial appearance – it was also an important evening for Leinster’s openside flanker Dan Leavy.

Due to a succession of injuries, the Grand Slam winner had been restricted to just 13 outings with Leinster since March 2019. He showed no ill-effects from a wrist problem that had kept him sidelined for five successive matches, however, and he got through a lot of hard graft prior to making way for Penny in the 48th-minute.

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“It was great to get Dan out there. He’d been unlucky with that hand-wrist injury that he had and he even had a head knock in that Ulster game as well.

“He would have featured in some of those Christmas games that never happened, but it’s great to have someone like him, the presence he brings to the group. Hopefully he can kick on as well from here.

“Scott [Penny] has been going well over this block with the consistency of playing as well. Again, the competition is good and it’s important because as we know it’s a reasonably attritional part of the field as well,” Cullen added.

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