Leo Cullen praises Rory O’Loughlin after improved Leinster showing
‘I thought the guys were very clinical in terms of taking some of the opportunities’
Rory O’Loughlin of Leinster celebrates after scoring their second try during the Champions Cup match against Bath at the Aviva stadium. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
A relatively satisfied Leo Cullen pinpointed Leinster’s improved work in the contact area as central to their much improved performance, and with it a handsome 42-15 win against Bath, a week on from the hard-earned 17-10 win at The Rec.
“Conditions last week were very different,” said Cullen of a game played in a comparative quagmire. “If you think about the pitch, it was very boggy. It was a little bit different, and the way the wind was cutting straight across The Rec made it difficult to play.
“For us, I thought we were better around the contact area and we knew about the threats they have in their team, but it’s one thing knowing about it but then it’s actually about how we deal with it. We didn’t deal with it particularly well at times last week.
“We were definitely better in the contact area, even though we gave away a penalty and three points at the start of the game for not being able to clear some of the threat.”
Leinster had registered an attacking bonus point by the 38th minute through four first-half tries – three of them by the trio of players recalled to the starting team, namely Jack Conan, Rory O’Loughlin and Adam Byrne, as well as James Lowe.
“Overall I thought we played with a lot more attacking intent and we were able to move Bath around a little bit more,” said Cullen. “I thought the guys were very clinical in terms of taking some of the opportunities, particularly in the first half.”
Cullen also hailed the performance of O’Loughlin in his first European start since two seasons ago and his first start at ‘12’ for Leinster.
“I thought Rory did very well. He took his try very well in the first half,” said Cullen. “I thought he was very strong in the carry, fights through the contact well. We talked yesterday about the relationship there from the end of last season when he stepped in at 12. He’s had the experience, even though he hasn’t started that many games. Thought he performed very well in that role at the tail end of last season, and it was a really positive step for Rory today so delighted for him.”
With three consecutive interpro derbies against Connacht (home), Munster (away) and Ulster (home) before Toulouse come to town, the Leinster head coach was also relieved that the double champions seemingly incurred no fresh injury concerns, and clarified why Tadhg Furlong was taken off early in the second half.
“We took Tadhg off quite early as he had been struggling a bit during the week, although he wouldn’t necessarily have noticed it in the first half. He was involved in everything. A lot of guys came back in last week and after a bit of time off, struggled to get to the level of the game, the physical part of the game. I think it was a bit of a shock to some of them so they were definitely in a much better place this week. It’s a good reminder for us.
“Tadhg and Josh [van der Flier] were just a little bit flat, Cian [Healy] as well. Those three, tried to get them off, but overall I think we’ve come out reasonably okay from what I’ve seen so far. There are always a few things that crop up later on.”
One of the few blemishes was the concession of two tries.
“We didn’t make a good read at the lineout and found ourselves defending a series of attacks from Bath. They’re very direct, I thought they came with a very direct focus in terms of the way they tried to attack us. Very strong in the carries, a lot of big ball carriers. They’re a big, physical team and have so much quality.
“For us, there were a few moments in the first half where we didn’t quite connect defensively. There are lots of things we get better at. It’s good we have everyone back together now and we’re able to build in this block. We’ve huge interpro games coming up now, so our attention changes back to a different competition. Park Europe, and we’ll see where everyone sits after the weekend. There is lots of exciting rugby coming up.”
Cullen admitted he had only seen “very small bits” of Toulouse’s bonus-point 42-27 win over Wasps which put it up to Leinster earlier in the day, and sets up the January 12th rendezvous at the RDS rather nicely.
“They seem to be travelling very well. The mix that they have of big ball carrying forwards who are able to manage contact on their terms and get the ball away, it’s very much classic Toulouse. Some of the backs they have, a lot of pace and very, very skilful as well. They’re going to be a handful and obviously still sitting pretty at the top of the pool so we know we have plenty of work to do.”
Todd Blackadder conceded that Leinster were “clinical”, adding: “We had opportunities and those passes went to ground, there was a couple of intercepts, just those little finishing things. Tips on the line under pressure when you’re trying to chase the game. We kicked the ball and then played a bit too tight, that’s pressure isn’t it?
“On any given day anyone can beat anyone, but if Leinster play as well as they did tonight – as clinical as they were in the conditions, pretty trying conditions out there, their game was superb and they’re certainly going to be a handful.”