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Cullen praises young guns Leavy and Ryan as Leinster win the big moments

The Leinster head coach knows how big a test Scarlets will provide in the semi-finals.

Ryan Bailey reports from the Aviva Stadium

BIG MOMENTS WIN big matches, and Leinster can look back on two in particular which definitively swung this Champions Cup quarter-final in their favour, the common thread throughout being the contributions of two of their young tyros.

Cian Healy, Joey Carbery, Nick McCarthy, Max Deegan, James Tracy, Isa Nacewa, James Ryan, Andrew Porter, Devin Toner and Rory O'Loughlin celebrates after the game Leinster celebrate their emphatic win over Saracens. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Marcelo Bosch’s penalty from halfway left a fiercely-contested tie in the balance at 13-12 heading towards the break, but Leinster — having defended for large periods of the half — ensured it was they who had the momentum heading into the third quarter.

Saracens boldly kicked for the corner on the stroke of half-time, scenting blood after showing control through their excellent kicking game, but James Ryan and Scott Fardy combined to steal the line out and get Leinster out of jail.

“It was positive to have our noses in front even though we rode our luck a bit before half-time, that was a big moment managing to hold them out, with a turnover,” Leo Cullen said afterwards. ”That gave us momentum.”

Leinster came flying out of the traps after the interval, Johnny Sexton extending the lead to four points with a long-range penalty and then Garry Ringrose’s gorgeous grubber in behind turned Saracens’ defence.

From there, the hosts struck through a move we’ve all seen before, with Ryan linking with Dan Leavy to devastating effect, the latter scampering through a gap in the Saracens defence to create daylight between the sides.

“We started the second half well, we generally played in the right areas, we carried well, we were accurate at the ruck, we scored a nice try, James Ryan did well,” Cullen continued.

“We created a bit of separation on the scoreboard which made it little bit more comfortable in the box.”

Leavy shows no sign of slowing down after his immense performances during the Six Nations, the flanker producing another colossal shift here, embellished with that try which set Leinster on their way.

Man of the match, the former St Michael’s man was a menace at the breakdown, getting through trojan work, and offered an option at the line out.

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Dan Leavy runs in a try despite the efforts from Owen Farrell Leavy was again outstanding. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Statistics don’t often tell the whole story, but in this case Leavy’s numbers pretty much encapsulate the level of his performance; 16 carries, 82 metres, three line breaks, four defenders beaten, two offloads, two passes and 14 tackles.

“I thought Dan was outstanding, very strong in the carry, he was in the thick of everything, a number of guys were as well but Dan was very good,” the Leinster head coach enthused.

Ryan played his part, too, this new wave of Leinster stars enhancing their reputation every time they step out onto the field.

“James has been great since came in. He was one we’d earmarked for quite a while, he’s such a big physical specimen.

“He’s looking to improve but he’s very competitive on the field as well. I thought he put in a very positive performance. He is an unbelievable young man who is going to get better and better.”

Cullen described this game as the ‘ultimate test’ for his side, and if it was a true sense-check of where they are currently, the province sent out a serious statement of intent as they progress through to the semi-finals to meet Scarlets.

“The players worked incredibly hard. They looked pretty rusty, the guys who played against Ospreys, it was a good physical contest against them.

“The guys who started more games in the Six Nations, it was important they rested up, they took some information away the Ospreys week, they all trained well this week, I thought our preparation was good, as was the communication between the national managers.

“And ourselves, it’s important we manage the group well. We’ll assess and see how everyone is, we’ve a big game on Saturday against Zebre.

“For us, we need to focus on the things that are important into the lead-up of game. Scarlets, we played them twice during the Six Nations and they were very close games.

“We know both teams were missing a lot of players but they’re a team which can cause you a hell of a lot of trouble so we’ve full respect for them.”

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Ryan Bailey

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