Leinster celebrate the final whistle. Tommy Dickson/INPHO
High Standards

Leinster 'feel like they lost' close shave with Scarlets

Leo Cullen will demand a sharp upturn in performance for the last third of the season.

Sean Farrell reports from the RDS

LEINSTER HEAD COACH Leo Cullen admitted his men were fortunate to come away with a win from a fractured meeting with Scarlets.

Though the reigning champions ended up 22-17 winners, they were the benefactors of some glaring missed opportunities from the visitors, each one crucial in a game where scores were at a premium.

There were mitigating factors, of course, with Ireland in pre-Six Nations training, Leinster carried seven academy players in their squad. And the senior figures book-ending their XV showed definite signs of rust around the edges of their performance.

“It’s part of the growth curve that these guys need to go on and they’ll hopefully be better for the experience,” Cullen said of the younger cohort of his team.

“They feel like they lost the game without having lost it. They need to understand why they’re feeling the way they are.

Nobody’s getting carried away by that (performance). If we deliver that later in the season in the play-off games, we’ll come unstuck.

“So, we need to understand what’s going on in the games and try to be better.”

Ultimately, Leinster won out thanks to tries from Rory O’Loughlin, James Lowe and Barry Daly. Clinical finishes at times when the home side gritted their teeth and found a level of fluidity in their play. But it could have easily been a different outcome had Scarlets not spurned glorious chances while Leinster were just 10-0 up.

“An open goal, really,” said Cullen of Paul Asquith’s loss of control when sliding towards the try-line after picking off a Ciaran Frawley pass.

“We started the second-half and, for whatever reason, it was almost like we went down a gear in all of our actions. We allow Scarlets into the game, we give up an intercept pass. We had a strong breeze behind our backs and we didn’t particularly manage where we were trying to play the game and then we got fortunate…”

“Eventually we did get punished, the score is now 10-all. And I thought we managed the next 10 minutes well, playing with attacking intent. Some of the guys that came off the bench provided impact for us. 

James Lowe celebrates scoring a try Lowe celebrates his try, which gave Leinster the lead for a second time. Ben Whitley / INPHO Ben Whitley / INPHO / INPHO

“We looked OK at 22-10 and then we shifted down a gear, lost a bit of intensity, and we bounce off another tackle in midfield and Scarlets score again. Suddenly we’re in a very tense affair again — if that’s another player on the inside we lose the game.

“We feel fortunate to win the game.”

From an Ireland perspective, the performance of Rob Kearney in particular will have raised eyebrows eight days out from the crucial Championship opener against England.

The fullback was caught flat-footed too often, with the breakaway by openside flanker Dan Davis for Kieran Hardy’s first try a lowlight. And yet there is no more proven winner in Irish rugby than Kearney, and nobody better equipped to flick the switch into big-game mode.

“I think it was good for those guys (Kearney and Jack McGrath) to get some more minutes under their belt,” said Cullen.

Barry Daly with Paul Asquith Barry Daly was the best of the Leinster back-line at the RDS. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

“Jack coming back from injury, Rob’s been out for a bit as well. It’s been a very disjointed period of the two of them. Delighted they got through 50 and 60 minutes. The two of them will be certainly better for it as well.

“The experience the two of them have. I think just getting through those minutes will be of value to them.”

Important experience was gained all across last night’s Leinster side then, whether the goals be short-term or long.

Just over a week out from the 2019 Six Nations openers, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey are joined by Bernard Jackman to look at Ireland’s bid for another Grand Slam:

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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