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Dublin: 11°C Tuesday 19 January 2021

Analysis: James Lowe's try showcases Cullen's Leinster at their best

Over the course of nine phases, 13 of the 15 players touched the ball.

13 OF THE 15 Leinster players on the pitch touched the ball during a nine-phase passage of attack against Toulouse that unfolded over the course of 1 minute and five seconds, concluding with James Lowe scoring.

It was a strong finish from the Kiwi wing for his sixth try in eight Heineken Champions Cup games for Leinster, but the build-up play was impressive across the board.

James Lowe scores a try despite Rynhardt Elstadt and Thomas Ramos Lowe finished a brilliant team try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Leinster have many strengths and their ability to grind down defences over longer passages is well-established. 

With this try against Toulouse, Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster’s team simply swept the French side out of their way in showcasing their skill at a high tempo.

Saracens’ defensive quality and ability to control games means there are likely to be fewer chances like this one in the European final on 11 May but this thrilling passage suggests that Leinster will be primed to grab any such opportunity.


After Thomas Ramos has kicked a restart dead, Leinster get the opportunity to launch their attack from a midfield scrum – always a fine opportunity to make gains given how much space the defence has to cover.


As we can see above, Leinster split their backline on either side of the scrum, forcing Toulouse to do the same.

The key moving part is fullback Rob Kearney [15], who can break to either side in a bid to overload the frontline defence – Toulouse fullback Thomas Ramos [out of shot above] having to hold in the backfield to cover a possible kick.

While Robbie Henshaw makes a dummy run on the left of the scrum, Kearney moves to the right of the Leinster set-piece and scrum-half Luke McGrath launches the play from the excellent platform provided by his pack.


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Leinster use a loop play around Sexton as they attack off the scrum, the out-half doing an excellent job of running straight up the pitch in order to fix opposite number Antoine Dupont.

Sexton’s run [red below] gets him outside flanker Rynhardt Elstadt coming from the scrum and also sits down Dupont.


Meanwhile, outside centre Garry Ringrose is running a hard line [yellow] just outside Sexton in a bid to sit down Toulouse’s Pita Ahki [12 in the original screenshot].

McGrath, having passed to Sexton, is working hard to loop around the back of him [green], while Kearney has worked across wider again [white].

Ahki does a fine job of reading off Ringrose here and Sexton might reflect that he could have passed short to his centre rather than adhering to the pre-called loop play.


Ahki’s defensive work is excellent as he doesn’t bite down on Ringrose and allows himself scope to drift onto McGrath [indicated in red above] as the scrum-half receives the ball back from Sexton.

Ringrose might have slipped through on Ahki’s inside shoulder with a short pass from Sexton but it’s worth remembering that the Leinster out-half is moving at high speed here and decision-making in that state is very demanding.

As it is, McGrath receives the ball and passes it onto Kearney, who opts to step back in against the grain with Toulouse drifting towards the touchline – Jordan Larmour holding the width.


Kearney is grounded but Leinster are well over the gainline and, with Scott Fardy [yellow above] coming from the scrum to be the first arriving player at the breakdown, Leinster recycle rapidly, Larmour and Jack Conan providing security as ‘guards’ over the ball. 

The next phase sees Leinster displaying some lovely shape and organisation.

Devin Toner is at the centre of a three-man pod off the ruck [highlighted in yellow below], with James Ryan on his inside and Cian Healy just outside.


We can see above how congested the Toulouse defence is after having to retreat from the scrum and Leinster are keen to get width in their attack.

Sexton [white above] is in behind Toner, ready to accept a link pass out the back.

Ringrose [green] is working hard to get across the pitch to Sexton’s outside, while Tadhg Furlong [red] is ready to run a line off the out-half.


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There is nice fluidity in this second phase as McGrath delivers a crisp pass to Toner, whose link to Sexton sees the out-half having to readjust slightly before he and Ringrose deliver accurate passes from right to left.

There’s a little more shape outside Ringrose just before he passes, with Sean O’Brien looking set up to run another hard front-door option [red below], as Henshaw [white] and hooker Sean Cronin [yellow] shift out behind him.


O’Brien doesn’t quite commit to that front-door line, however, one that could force Toulouse’s Sofiane Guitoune [13] to hesitate on him.

Ringrose passes to Henshaw and Guitoune can race forward to apply pressure [red below], ignoring O’Brien.


Cronin is outside Henshaw and calls for him to pass immediately but the Leinster centre instead opts to tuck the ball and carry himself as Guitoune shoots up.

Henshaw does, however, get the ball away to Cronin once he’s in behind Guitoune.

Cronin is tackled by Ahki – who has worked hard to swing across behind the frontline – but there is good work on the ground from Cronin here wriggling forward as Ringrose, Henshaw and O’Brien resource the breakdown.

Next up is a characteristic gainline-busting carry from James Ryan short off McGrath, followed by a clever snipe from the scrum-half.


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Ryan’s ability to consistently break the gainline is something we’ve discussed before, noting how his ability to time his runs perfectly in order to accelerate onto the ball is so crucial.

Ryan does the same here again and, with Tadhg Furlong arriving to hammer a shoulder into tackler Richie Gray at the breakdown, McGrath senses his sniping opportunity.

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Toulouse scrum-half Sébastien Bézy calls for prop pair Charlie Faumuina and Clément Castets to fold around the corner [indicated in white above], but hooker Paeto Mauvaka [yellow] is slow to close into the fringe of the ruck on the other side.

McGrath is scanning [red] as he approaches the breakdown and doesn’t hesitate to pick and accelerate into the space.

Bézy moves to tackle him before Ringrose plays scrum-half and Toulouse finally win back some inches in the tackle.


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Castets and Richie Arnold get a good hit in on Furlong but Leinster are soon back over the gainline as number eight Conan makes an excellent carry on the next phase.

Like many of his fellow Leinster forwards, the 26-year-old has good footwork and uses it to fine effect here to beat Joe Tekori.


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Lowe is the first arrival to the breakdown and clears tackler Faumuina away for a quick recycle.

With Sexton having approached the breakdown, Ringrose is at first receiver on the next phase and, with Toulouse in decent defensive shape on the outside, he tucks for another carry.


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Kearney and Toner play guards over the ball as Leinster now bounce back to their left, again using a three-man pod just off the ruck to link to Sexton.

This time, it’s Ryan who is at the centre of the pod, with O’Brien on his inside and Conan outside.

Leinster are less organised on this occasion than on their second phase but they adapt comfortably and make good decisions to get the ball wide to the left again.


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Ryan links out the back to Sexton and the out-half, as always, does a good job of straightening up.

He runs at Ahki before passing to Healy on his outside, leaving the loosehead prop one-on-one against Guitoune and therefore in position to use his power to get his hands beyond the tackle, offloading deftly to Cronin, who has held width.

Cheslin Kolbe tackles Cronin before Furlong arrives in to aggressively clear the Toulouse wing away from the ball, which is clean and quick once again.

Finally, Toulouse are at breaking point as Leinster’s work-rate around the corner comes up trumps.


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We can see above that Lowe, Ryan, O’Brien, Conan and Toner all work around the corner after Cronin has carried.

In contrast, Richie Gray is the only Toulouse player who genuinely gets around the corner, with Bézy hovering slightly behind the ruck and fullback Thomas Ramos seemingly unconcerned in his position behind the frontline.

Leinster’s work-rate makes life very difficult for the out-numbered Gray and Ahki.


As we can see above, Gray is briefly worried about Conan [highlighted in red] and stalls on him for a split second.

Meanwhile, Ahki reads the pass as going to Ryan and shoots up hard on the second row [as indicated in white].

Instead, McGrath’s pass picks out O’Brien, who can burst to the outside of Gray with his hands free to offload to Lowe on the touchline.


As O’Brien makes his dart, Bézy realises the urgent danger and sweeps across [blue above], having briefly hesitated behind the ruck.

Toulouse fullback Thomas Ramos [white] is virtually at standstill at this point, seemingly unaware of the imminent threat.

The skill level from O’Brien, following on from Healy’s offload, is pleasing for Leinster as he finds Lowe.

The left wing then finishes with his usual levels of class and power.


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Lowe is excellent at maintaining his balance through tackle attempts, as we see clearly in this case. 

Having received the ball from O’Brien and anticipating the tackle from Bézy, Lowe gets the pill into his left hand – away from the tackle.

He tucks his right arm to the right side of his body, using it as a shield, and leans heavily towards Bézy as he enters the tackle.


Lowe’s right arm helps to ensure Bézy can’t wrap in the tackle, while the lean of his body means he’s not knocked towards the touchline – in fact, the lean means that Bézy’s tackle attempt leaves Lowe back in an upright position to drive forward.

We also see Lowe’s power in how he braces his entire body for the contact and then hitches his right leg out of the final vestiges of Bézy’s tackle attempt.

Lowe is still five metres out as the Elstadt dives into a despairing tackle, but the Leinster wing has the skill to finish, getting the ball back into two hands and rotating his upper body as he reaches out to seal an enthralling passing of Leinster attack.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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