Forwards get the job done as Leinster continue to build towards bigger tests

Asia's Tech News Daily

© Ryan Byrne INPHO Leinster’s Caelan Doris and Raonan Kelleher.

FOUR ROUNDS PLAYED in the United Rugby Championship season, and already Leinster’s points difference is set at a healthy plus 100 – 25 points more than Ulster, who top the table as the only team to take bonus-point wins in all of their fixtures so far.

Only Munster (139 points) have scored more than Leo Cullen’s side (131), while no team has conceded less (31), with Saturday’s 50-15 victory over Scarlets the latest instalment in an ever-increasing list of high scoring wins at the RDS.

It briefly looked as though this game would resemble some sort of contest, the Scarlets starting brightly and taking an early lead though a Johnny McNicholl try following a neat move down the right wing.

Then Leinster shored up and took control, but interestingly it was the forwards who got the job done, a spread of five players providing six tries from the pack, with a further penalty try coming just before half-time.

At that point Leinster led by 14 points, a decent lead by any measure. Come the end of the second period, the gap had stretched to 35 points.

There were a couple of injury concerns thrown in too, but after the game Cullen didn’t appear to be too worried. Johnny Sexton was brought off with a hip problem. Ciarán Frawley passed a HIA following a heavy clash of heads, while James Ryan sat out the final 10 minutes as he went for his own HIA.

There was plenty to like across an entertaining evening at the RDS; Andrew Porter’s grunt, Frawley’s playmaking ability at centre, the calm control of Sexton, Rónan Kelleher mixing steady lineout work with soft hands in attack, but once again Cullen found himself answering a familiar question.

For a team with such lofty ambitions, just how much value do Leinster get from these one-sided run-outs?

“You just have to play what’s in front of you really,” Cullen replied.

“I thought Scarlets, they put us under a fair bit of pressure at different stages in the first half. We know how dangerous they are, particularly with some of the speed that they have, and plenty of Welsh internationals in their ranks.”

He had a point. In that opening period Scarlets did at times make life difficult for Leinster, and Cullen won’t be best pleased with some of his team’s defending.

However the next part of Cullen’s answer was more interesting.

“Our group are probably a little bit dissatisfied at how the first few weeks have gone,” he continued.

“We haven’t really hit our straps so to speak.

“I think what was more encouraging was that after conceding that early try, our forwards took control of the game, scored some tries, and a pretty good performance (overall).”

Strip back the 50-points on the scoreboard and there are some issues Cullen will want to see ironed out.

His team enjoyed 70% territory and threw 20 offloads, but surely a backline stacked with that much international talent should be contributing more to a win of this nature.

Instead it was the forwards who got the job done, providing the finishing touches to some efficient lineout work, powering over from close range and even getting on the end of booming crossfield kicks.

Even the most exhilarating running rugby of the day came from members of the pack, with Jack Conan beating a series of defenders with a brilliant first-half break – only Garry Ringrose (52) made more metres than Conan (46) – before Ryan Baird produced another trademark slalom in the second half.

The new-look front row of Porter, Kelleher and Tadhg Furlong also showed enough to suggest they can add a real edge to the Leinster pack, but other players looked like they are still working their way back into the rhythm of things.

It’s hard to argue with a 35-point win, but a team of Leinster’s standards will always look to pick holes in their performances. 

The province head to Glasgow on Friday before the league takes a breather for the international window.

They know that bigger tests lie ahead. For a team still finding their feet in this new season, there are worse places to be.

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey discuss depth in Munster, Nathan Doak’s Ireland prospects, and whether rugby is survival of the richest on The42 Rugby Weekly

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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