The Leinster team form a huddle following their win in Lyon. Billy Stickland/INPHO
team effort

'When we really, really needed to dig in we have that gear'

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen was delighted to see his team hold firm against a determined Lyon side.

RELIEF WAS THE overriding feeling as Leo Cullen sat down to make sense of Leinster’s latest Heineken Champions Cup win.

A 13-6 defeat of Lyon leaves the province well placed to tackle the rest of the pool stages, starting with a December double-header against Northampton Saints, but Cullen acknowledged that his team were lucky to make it out of the Matmut Stade de Gerland with a hugely valuable four points.

Despite all their possession and territory, Lyon were masters of their own downfall as they made far too many errors in front of an impressive Leinster defensive effort, with Max Deegan’s first half try proving the crucial score.

Cullen’s team leave France with plenty of room for improvement themselves, and spurned attacks from both Robbie Henshaw and James Ryan will feature heavily in Monday’s video review. Against more ruthless opposition, Leinster need to make those chances count.

“We had chances a couple of times to kill the game off, but it was a pretty scrappy game. 10-0, could we have kicked on? We had a couple of chances, but we weren’t giving it to people on the edges, carrying into contact and just being a little bit inaccurate across the board,” said Cullen.

His team now turn their focus to a Guinness Pro14 clash against Glasgow before back-to-back games against a Northampton side who are also two from two in Europe after winning 35-32 at Benetton.

“We expected it [the inaccuracy] to a certain degree because it still feels like we’re only trying to get going again. It has this pre-season feel about it, with very, very big games at the weekend. It’s tricky. We’ll be better for it, hopefully.

“We’re back into the Guinness Pro14, Glasgow away and that’s a big challenge over there. Then we’re into Northampton back-to-back. It’s very unusual run of games, four European games in five weeks with a different competition sandwiched in between. It’s trying to flit between the two, understanding they’re very, very different.”

Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of this win will be the fact that after leaking three tries against Benetton last week, the province stayed switched on to bat away wave after wave of Lyon attack. Cullen had rued the fact his team may have eased off instead of going for the kill against the Italians, but there was no such fear here. 

Even when reduced to 14 men following Jordan Larmour’s first half yellow card, they didn’t leak a single point. Lyon had to wait until the 67th minute to register their first score of the game.

“When we really, really needed to dig in we have that gear which is pleasing. Particularly when Jordan gets sin-binned. We’re inaccurate at the scrum, the ball pops out and it’s hacked through. Suddenly we’re scrambling, is it in or out? Jordan has a gamble, you need to just check with the referee on those ones really.

“Unfortunately, we end up with a man in the bin, but it’s pleasing the way we dig in there. Some really good ‘D’ on the line; we deal with the scrum first and foremost with eight, only six backs.

“We dig in there, they make a mistake. We get a scrum, we clear our lines and have another chance down the other end and misfire another lineout.

“We end up back in our own ’22 again. It was a bit like that, but when we really needed to dig in we were able to. Defensively, we were OK. Breached a couple of times. Charlie Ngatai is exceptional, (Baptist) Couilloud is very dangerous. They’ve multiple threats and experience across the board, a few crafty operators up front.

“It’s good we were able to dig in when we needed to and got the job done. It’s just about getting the job done at the moment, isn’t it?

“On we got to the next one, it’s such a big block of games. It’s amazing block of games for all the teams. Glasgow away next week, then Northampton away. A couple of big weeks on the road for us.”

Job done is right. For now, that’s all that matters.

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