James Lowe scored a superb solo try. Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Lowe provides the 'cutting edge' as Cullen left frustrated by Leinster's inaccuracy

The province made hard work of beating the Ospreys at the RDS on Saturday.

ON PAPER, IT sounds like a good evening’s work for Leinster – a bonus-point win in dirty conditions and some key men returning from injury across a contest in which they never really looked troubled.

Yet that’s not how head coach Leo Cullen saw things. With bigger tests coming down the line, he knows his team need to be far more ruthless and clinical than they were in beating the Ospreys 29-7 at a wet RDS on Saturday.

The home side dominated possession and territory – particularly in the first 40 minutes – but struggled to take full advantage, crossing for two first-half tries to take a 15-0 lead at the break; the first a lovely attacking move which saw Jordan Larmour race in to dot down Ross Byrne’s grubber, the second a forward’s score by the impressive Cian Healy.

The loosehead’s try came in the 28th minute. They would go the same amount of time before James Lowe added a brilliant third, with Scott Penny crossing in the final 10 minutes to finally deliver a bonus-point score which should have arrived much earlier.

After the game, it was put to Cullen that his team’s struggle to convert opportunities into points must have made for uncomfortable viewing in the coaches’ box – during the build-up the Leinster boss had been keen to remind everyone how the Welsh side turned a 19-3 deficit into an unlikely win in the same fixture last season.

“Yes! I was very frustrated,” Cullen said, the bonus-point win allowing him afford a broad smile as he delivered the verdict.

“I thought we made very, very hard work of it at times. Getting held up a couple of times in both halves, which is a killer now with the goal-line dropout as well. 

There were a lot of errors and that’s the thing, we need to be realistic about the level of performance. It was great with the outcome, but in terms of the overall performance I think we were miles off where we should be, or certainly where we can be, and that’s the bit for us to focus on now in a short window, how we can be a little bit more accurate in the game.”

Accuracy and execution were not the only issues. While Ospreys struggled to keep their discipline under control in the first period – eventually losing Morgan Morris to a yellow card – Leinster actually finished the game with the same number of penalties conceded (12).

“We were very frustrated. It was frustrated watching overall.

“After James (Lowe) scored we still have what, 20-odd minutes but in fairness to fellas they did battle away and held our composure even though we had some turnovers amongst that as well. It’s very much a mixed bag.”

While veterans Rhys Ruddock and Seán Cronin also made a notable impact off the bench, it was Lowe’s second-half introduction which provided the headline moment of the evening, the wing returning for his first minutes since missing out on Andy Farrell’s Ireland squad for the opening two rounds of the Six Nations due to a muscle injury.

He entered the action in the 52nd minute. Four minutes later, he had the crowd on their feet as he ran in a wonderful solo score following excellent work by Ross Byrne and Jimmy O’Brien as Leinster turned a pressure situation into a brilliant end-to-end effort.

“He had a really good impact on the game, James,” Cullen continued.

It’s been a frustrating few weeks for him since he picked up the injury, but he worked hard off the back of that and you could see him, he’s hungry and looking for work, looking for action, and he had a big impact on the game.

“I think it was an important introduction, because we were working away but just lacking that little bit of cutting edge, and to be fair to James he came on and gave us that.”

Another positive aspect of the evening was how easily Harry Byrne slotted into the unfamiliar surroundings of inside centre. 

Having covered the position for 60 minutes off the bench against Edinburgh a week previously, Byrne made his first senior start at 12 against Ospreys as Ciarán Frawley’s injury absence allowed Leinster test some new combinations.

jamie-osborne-with-mike-collins-and-morgan-morris Jamie Osborne in action against Ospreys. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Byrne added extra invention to Leinster’s backline alongside older brother Ross at 10 and the equally impressive Jamie Osborne outside him, with the 22-year-old heavily involved throughout.

Cullen admitted the province could revisit that new-look combination down the line, but the youngest Byrne brother appears less keen on the idea.

“I don’t know, I probably am a 10!” Harry said. “I was probably forced into playing 12 this time, but to be honest I was just delighted to be back playing, that’s the main thing.”

It helped that a disappointing Ospreys team allowed Byrne enjoy time and space on the ball, but he explained the job description isn’t overly different to his usual role at 10.

In terms of playing 12, you’re not around the ball the whole time. You’re actually able to see the rest of the pitch a lot and then it’s probably the communication aspect of it that is the most important thing, talking to Ross who is playing at 10 or vice versa. 

“There are some different things (defensively) that I had to get used to, but I thought myself, Ross and Jamie felt pretty comfortable out there today. We were kind of chatting our way through everything. Even breaks in play, constantly talking to each other. Which makes it a lot easier to be honest.”

Farrell will have been watching on with interest, too, the Ireland boss opting to leave Byrne out of his initial squad due to the player’s struggle for minutes this season – Saturday’s win was Byrne’s first 80-minute performance of the campaign.

“He (Farrell) was just kind of ‘get back fit, get playing.’ See where we go from there.

“It has been very frustrating (this season). Just stop-starty, to be honest. Just random little niggly things that have been very frustrating and I haven’t been able to get a full crack at it. I’m happy now just to be playing.

“You do get very frustrated and you can get down on yourself at times, but you can’t (allow yourself to) really. Off the pitch you just have to do what you’ve got to do to get back.

“When you get back, you’ve got to take your chance, try to string as many games together as you can.” 

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