South Africa trip key for Leinster as Cullen’s young side in seventh heaven

Ryan Bailey reports from the RDS

LEO CULLEN POINTED to the importance of Leinster’s recent trip to South Africa after he watched his young side produce a consummate performance to get a key block of fixtures up and running in emphatic fashion.

A much-changed Leinster team, including three senior debutants, scored seven tries in a 52-7 rout of the Ospreys in this round nine encounter, as the eastern province strengthened their grip on Conference B of the Pro14. 

Man of the match Ciaran Frawley celebrates with Bryan Byrne. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

While admitting his side showed signs of nerves before the game, Cullen said the time spent away in South Africa earlier this month, as well as a good training week in the build-up, provided the platform for an impressive bonus-point victory.

19-year-old Scott Penny marked his senior debut with a first-half try, while Conor O’Brien and Nick McCarthy also crossed before the break to establish a 24-0 half-time lead for the hosts.

Cullen’s side maintained their energy and intensity throughout the 80 minutes, as they added further scores through captain Scott Fardy, Max Deegan, Ed Byrne and Bryan Byrne.

Out-half Ciaran Frawley was superb in pulling the strings, kicking 17 points from the tee and showed his playmaking ability throughout, as he was named man of the match.

“The trip to South Africa was actually really good for us, we had a lot of guys away and we actually brought additional players and it was great for them to spend time together away as a group,” Cullen said afterwards.

“They know this is the window for a lot of players and what we encourage them is not to give it up now. This is their window and I thought some guys did really well so it adds to the [selection] dilemma.”

There were also debuts for Jimmy O’Brien and Jack Kelly off the bench, while Hugo Keenan impressed on his first start at fullback and very nearly scored his first Leinster try only to be hauled down inches from the line.

While the performances of the seven academy players involved will grab the headlines, the influence of Fardy — as well as James Tracy, Michael Bent and Noel Reid — was pivotal in guiding Leinster through an opening period when Ospreys looked dangerous.

“Scott Fardy is very, very important for the team, he’s a very experienced player and adds a lot of energy to the younger guys,” Cullen added.

Max Deegan came off the bench to score. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“Ross Molony has played a lot of games in the second row as well and brings good presence to the group. Michael Bent is invaluable during these periods when we’re missing players. The front five laid the platform and I thought guys were clinical and it was a nice and controlled performance for us for the most part.

“Ciaran, with Noel outside him, he gives him a lot of voice. I thought they combined well. The guys have worked hard, the trip to South Africa was good.

“They worked hard during the course of last week and that set them up well. You could see they were very nervy, it was good they got over [for a try] early as it gave them confidence. It was a very, very pleasing performance.” 

Ulster’s defeat to Scarlets means Leinster’s lead at the summit is now 10 points, ahead of next week’s trip to Dragons, with this performance giving Cullen further selection headaches as players begin to return from international duty.

“As long as guys are displaying the right behaviour and they’re working hard, they’re going to get opportunities and then it’s up to them and what they do with them,” he added.

“It’s going to be a competitive group, we’ve a tough game against Dragons now next week away and we’re in a massive block of fixtures. Today is the first game of 10-in-a-row with Bath back-to-back, the three Christmas inter-pros, Toulouse and then Wasps.” 

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