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Dublin: 13°C Saturday 19 September 2020

Far from perfect, but Cullen pleased as Leinster maintain winning momentum

The eastern province cruised to victory over Zebre this afternoon.

Leinster celebrate their 41-6 win.
Leinster celebrate their 41-6 win.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Ryan Bailey reports from the RDS 

IN THE END, another satisfying day for Leinster in front of their own fans — that’s now 13 home wins from as many games this term — as they took an important step towards a Guinness Pro14 semi-final, while maintaining the momentum behind their two-pronged trophy tilt.

A bonus-point victory over Michael Bradley’s limited Zebre outfit was never going to be anything more than a foregone conclusion, and so it proved despite Leinster’s slow and disjointed start at the RDS.

Leo Cullen’s side eventually clicked into gear and without ever needing to get out of second gear, ran in seven tries to cement their position at the top of Conference B, which is significant in the sense that it will not only give them home advantage in the playoffs, but would secure a ticket straight through to the last four.

Equally satisfying was the way Leinster — with the game already won — were again able to delve further into their stocks and hand Gavin Mullin, the 21-year-old centre, a senior debut, while Conor O’Brien, Max Deegan, Vakh Abdaladze, Peader Timmins and Bryan Byrne all impressed at various stages.

“We looked a little bit disjointed, I thought in the first half, which is probably understandable,” Cullen said afterwards.

“If you think we had one group getting ready to play against Munster last weekend in the British and Irish Cup quarter-final, and another group obviously playing at the Aviva [against Saracens].

“It’s almost like a merging of those two groups together. Our cohesion was a little bit off, I thought.”

Leinster were slow out of the blocks and Zebre, to their credit, enjoyed periods of possession and territory and they recycled furiously as they looked to take advantage of any European hangover from the hosts.

As it was, Leinster huffed and puffed through large periods of the first half but took control of the contest through tries from the ever-impressive and lively James Lowe and Rory O’Loughlin.

Max Deegan with Leonard Krumov and George Biagi Max Deegan was one of the players to impress. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The eastern province were much sharper and clinical in the second half, with Deegan running in two tries — taking his personal tally to five for the season — to secure the bonus point, and then Abdaladze and Byrne rounded off the scoring.

“I thought Zebre managed the ball pretty well and caused us a few problems. We were a little bit off and we just lacked a bit of intensity in our play,” Cullen continued.

“We were much better in the second half. We were all pretty relieved to see Max go over early in the second half because it almost settled us down.

“I thought the bench gave us good impact as well. Overall, listen, we’re pleased. We got a win. There a lot of things we can do better but ultimately we have won the game and got five points. We can move onto the next challenge now.”

That next challenge is the visit of Benetton Treviso to the RDS this day next week when Leinster will have the opportunity to cement their place at the summit and assure themselves of that all-important home semi.

“We’ll see how it all washes out over the weekend and then we can refocus on what we need to do next week,” the head coach added.

“We’ll have some fresh faces coming into the group next week which will be good, it gives us fresh energy because that’s important as you go hard at these games to try and get as much as you possibly can.

“Treviso are a very, very difficult team to play against and they’ll be pushing to try and play in Europe. We’ll make sure we prepare this week.”

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Leinster make hard work of Zebre but eventually cruise to Pro14 playoff berth

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Ryan Bailey

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