in for a penny

Cullen praises Leinster's debutants as they make seamless transition into senior team

Five points and three new caps — it was an excellent night for the province at the RDS.

Ryan Bailey reports from the RDS

ON AN EVENING when it could have very easily been about the players who weren’t here, Leinster supporters left raving about the players who were, as the province’s next generation seized their opportunity in eye-catching fashion.

While Ospreys’ performance left a lot to be desired, full credit must go to Leo Cullen’s side, who defied their relative inexperience and tender years, to conjure a display brimming with exuberance, ambition and execution.  

Scott Penny walks back after scoring a try Tommy Dickson / INPHO Scott Penny marked his debut with a try. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

A seven-try rout was certainly more than Cullen could have expected at the start of the night, particularly when the head coach revealed afterwards some of the players were nervous in the build-up, but they transitioned into the senior team with seamless and consummate ease.

Three debutants in Scott Penny, Jimmy O’Brien and Jack Kelly made this another milestone night for the club, while the bonus-point win moves Leinster 10 points clear at the summit of Conference B at the start of a huge block of fixtures.

There was so much to like about Leinster’s performance, with all 23 players impressing in one area or another, but most encouraging was the way the hosts withstood an early Ospreys onslaught to take control of the contest and streak clear on the scoreboard.

Ciaran Frawley was outstanding on his first start of the campaign and his decision-making, ability to take the ball to the line, defensive prowess and excellent kicking game made him the obvious choice for the man of the match award.

But, in truth, it could have gone to any number of Leinster players, including 19-year-old Penny who enjoyed a fine debut performance, embellishing his breakthrough moment with a first senior try in the first half.

Just as he had done for the Leinster ‘A’ team throughout their Celtic Cup campaign, Penny was on hand to punch his way over at the back of a powerful maul, to add to Conor O’Brien’s opening score at the RDS.

Leinster would go on to cross five more tries as they cut loose, with Penny influential throughout against a far more experienced Ospreys back row unit.

The former St Michael’s College man topped the tackle charts with 12 and Cullen was pleased with how the openside fared.

“He just goes about his business, gets in for a try and he had a habit of doing that in the ‘A’ campaign as well,” the Leinster head coach said.

“At the back of the drive, some of that close quarter stuff, he’s very strong and low to the ground and he’s developing well now. He just goes about his business, nothing too flashy so we’ve been pleased with him.”

Penny was one of seven academy players involved last night for Leinster, and Cullen admitted he’s not surprised by the way the province’s young talent manage to make the step up to senior level when given their chance.

“I think the way they applied themselves of the course of last week and this week, just guys are going about their business well,” he continued.

Scott Penny celebrates after the game Tommy Dickson / INPHO Scott Penny after the game. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

“They understand it’s not about the individuals, they’ll shine in the team and it’s understanding what we want from the unit parts. That we respect the fundamentals of the game first and foremost and we’re not trying to pull rabbits out of hats.

“We’re just trying to do the basics of the game so when they respect the fundamentals they understand good things will happen in the game, they’ll be able to build scoreboard pressure and pressure on the other team. I thought they did that well.

“The Celtic Cup campaign is important as a lot of guys have become familiar with some of the systems and they’ve got used to playing the Leinster way. That’s hugely important in terms of that transition into the senior team. Three guys making their debut today is fantastic for the club and for the competition in the group.”

Overall, Cullen was pleased with the way his side showed a clinical edge in attack having shrugged off a lethargic start, much of which was probably down to the initial nerves some of the younger players had.

O’Brien, Penny and Nick McCarthy gave the hosts a commanding 24-0 half-time lead, and Leinster — driven by the excellent Scott Fardy — ensured there was no let-up as they maintained their intensity, work-rate and endeavour throughout the course of the 80 minutes.

Fardy scored the bonus-point clinching try before Max Deegan and the Byrne twins — Ed and Bryan — got in on the act to round off a very positive night for Leinster in front of 12,973 at the RDS.

“We’re delighted with that,” Cullen said. “The lads were quiet and a bit nervy beforehand so it was important they held Ospreys out at the very start. There was a lot of pressure on our try line and then they took the chances when they came along pretty well.

“It was a pleasing evening’s work. The trip to South Africa was a very good thing for us as we were able to bring an extended squad so a lot of young guys were able to spend time away with the group. That time together is really, really important.

“After a bit of time off, the guys came back, worked hard last week and I think that carried into the preparation this week and that allowed them to perform well.

“They deserve a good pat on the back. They were very, very good, you couldn’t fault them.”

Ciaran Frawley with Cory Allen and Sam Davies Tommy Dickson / INPHO Frawley was excellent for Leinster. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

Frawley, who kicked 17 points from the tee, added to Cullen’s sentiments, eluding to the work that had been done in training which allowed the players build a good understanding of their roles.

“We had a week off and came back into a rugby week for three days which I think was hugely important as a young side,” the out-half said.

“Just to get that telepathy between the players and it helped me with my composure and got me used to the connections with the other guys around the pitch and helped me manage the game.

Full credit to the whole squad, the 23 who played a huge role in that victory there.

Leinster will turn the page quickly ahead of next week’s trip to Dragons, before their attention reverts back to European action when they face Bath in a crucial back-to-back December double-header.

Cullen expects to have a couple more players at his disposal for the trip to Rodney Parade as the internationals filter back from duty, which will add further competition to the squad.

“It’s the start of a very hugely important block of games. It’s a massive block for us.”

On Nick McCarthy, Cullen said the scrum-half ‘jammed his foot’ in the act of scoring his first-half try and will be assessed over the course of the weekend after he was forced off at half-time. 

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