Wednesday 8 February 2023 Dublin: 4°C
Byran Keane/INPHO Nick McCarthy and Adam Byrne celebrate after the game.
# back to winning ways
'It's really positive for their development': Cullen and Lowe praise Leinster's young guns
The eastern province got back to winning ways with a 20-13 victory over Scarlets at the RDS earlier.

Ryan Bailey reports from the RDS

THIS WAS A significant victory for Leinster, not just because it gives them the edge at the top of Conference B but because circumstances demanded they delve further into their stockpile of young talent to see off their main Pro14 rivals.

Ciaran Frawley was handed an earlier-than-expected debut off the bench when Rory O’Loughlin was flattened by Scarlets centre Steff Hughes and trudged down the tunnel with a suspected concussion after just 13 minutes.

A reshuffle was required. Noel Reid shifted to outside centre with Frawley deputising inside him, before the versatile UCD back then moved to the pivot position during the second period. Thrown in at the deep end, but he showed he could swim.

Leinster adapted and coped admirably. James Lowe’s first-half double cancelled out a bright start from the Scarlets, during which Johnny McNicholl went over, only to wreck his shoulder in the process. And then Luke McGrath’s score 32 seconds into the second half strengthened the hosts’ grip on the contest.

The scrum-half didn’t last much longer, and the sight of McGrath hobbling off with a knee issue raises fresh concern over that position. Leinster are down to the bare bones as it is, and their backline suddenly had a very inexperienced look to it, with Reid now the senior member.

So, all things considered, it was a performance of immeasurable character and resilience at a crucial juncture of the season, even if there was disappointment at the death when Dan Jones was allowed snatch a losing bonus-point for the defending Pro12 champions with the last kick of the game.

“I thought it was a bit of a scrappy game as often is the case at this time of year because teams have a lot of changes,” Leo Cullen said afterwards. “For us, there were a number of young and academy players involved so that’s really positive for their development.

“You have to have a bit of understanding and empathy towards them coming into the team as well because it’s a big step up against a well-coached team who have been going very well in the last 18 months.”

Corey Baldwin and Ciarán Frawley Byran Keane / INPHO Ciaran Frawley was very impressive when he came on. Byran Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Cullen added that his side could have capitalised further and pulled clear of Scarlets in the final quarter, but Leinster weren’t their usual selves. It’s hard to blame them during this testing block of fixtures.

“We’re pleased to get the win but we’re 10 points ahead at one stage so you’d like to push on and score again and potentially get five points but it didn’t happen for us,” the head coach continued.

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“Scarlets dug in and caused us problems. We’re pleased to get a win and move on now towards the Kings [next Friday]. Delighted that we won the game and got four points.”

The result moves Leinster three points clear of Wayne Pivac’s side at the summit, with the return fixture only around the corner when they meet again at Parc y Scarlets in a fortnight.

Cullen will be hopeful of having his resources replenished slightly by the time that round 17 clash comes around, but can take huge heart from the performance of the likes of Ed Byrne, Frawley and Nick McCarthy when the heat was on.

An unused replacement in Edinburgh last week, Frawley showed huge composure to slot a touchline conversion after McGrath’s try and then a late penalty which gave Leinster some breathing space.

“I’m delighted for Ciaran, coming on for his debut and slotting that conversion from the touchline,” Cullen said.

“He’s rejigging, comes on at 12 and then to 10 later in the game. An amazing experience against a very good team as well.”

Lowe, whose outstanding two-try display was rewarded with the man-of-the-match award, has been impressed with how Leinster’s younger players continue to step up to the task with so many internationals away on Six Nations duty.

“We’ve got young fellas coming in, and if we get internationals back it’s awesome, but if not we’ve got boys who step up week in, week out,” the Kiwi said. “Frawley today, he played very well and he did everything he needed to do. Credit to him.

“We’ve still got a lot of experience without our internationals. The young guys just look towards the older boys for a little bit of guidance.

“I mean everyone has played a game of rugby before so what’s different? You’re on a different stage but doing what you’ve done a thousand times over so nothing changes for those guys.”

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