Leinster must reduce penalty count; Benitez takes veiled swipe at Mourinho

Morning Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the game with ‘The Irish Times’ sports team

Hugo Lloris and Kieran Trippier foil Sean Morrison during Spurs’ 3-0 Premier League win yesterday. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Hugo Lloris and Kieran Trippier foil Sean Morrison during Spurs’ 3-0 Premier League win yesterday. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

New year, new Leinster? Well, perhaps not quite – the Pro14 and European champions don’t exactly have to change much of what is evidently a winning formula but, as Seán Cronin and Felipe Contepomi both admitted, they do need to look at reducing their penalty count and learn from the nature of their defeat to Munster which saw their ill-discipline go somewhat over the line. James Lowe was shown a red card while there were a number of other unsavoury incidents in the derby loss at Thomond Park and Cronin himself, who will likely be back in the team to face Ulster this Saturday, admits it did get “a bit out of hand”. “The message was the penalty count was too high. We needed to bring our discipline in to where it has been. We have only had one yellow card this year or something like that so our discipline has been pretty exemplary and that is why we were doing well,” the Leinster man said. Meanwhile, backs coach Contepomi echoed those sentiments and defended the captaincy of Johnny Sexton who, on numerous occasions, was to be seen arguing with the referee. “It’s his (Sexton’s) first year as captain here in Leinster. He knows he’s a leader inside the team, he’s a key player; maybe he’s learning also his way of being a captain and how to deal with different situations, but I wouldn’t (put) it (all) on Johnny,” Contempomi explained. As mentioned Leinster take on Ulster this weekend in the final round of interpros and the northern province will be hoping to overturn a dreadful record at the home of the current European champions where they have beaten just once since 1999. It’s a big game for both sides as the Pro14 edges closer to the crunch with Champions Cup spots – in which all four of the Irish provinces currently sit – up for grabs. You can find up-to-date tables, fixtures and results here.

On to soccer and Spurs kept themselves firmly in the Premier League title race yesterday with a comprehensive 3-0 victory away to Cardiff which leaves them six points behind leaders Liverpool who have a game in hand – against Manchester City – on Thursday evening. In the day’s other games Arsenal ran out 4-1 victors against Fulham while Leicester got off and running for 2019 with a 1-0 win away at Everton. Tonight Manchester United go in search of a fourth win in a row under Ole Gunnar Solksjaer when they take on Newcastle at St James’s Park and the Norweigan is hoping that his side can tighten up at the back and keep a first clean sheet of his reign. “This is the way we want to see ourselves attacking. We’ve conceded three goals from three set pieces. (Bournemouth’s goal) came from the one chance they had,” he said. Meanwhile, Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez believes brutal honesty is the best policy for him as he made a veiled swipe at former foe and United manager José Mourinho. “Do you think the players that they have after spending the money they did are bad players?” said Benítez, whose club made a £20 million transfer market profit last summer. “They are good players, they performed in the last three games [under Solskjær] – it is a very good team,” the Spaniard said.

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