Leo Cullen and Johnny Sexton reflect on win over Zebre

‘We’re happy to come away with a little bit of a better performance than last week’

Leinster’s Johnny Sexton was excellent after coming on against Zebre. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Leinster’s Johnny Sexton was excellent after coming on against Zebre. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

Leo Cullen was unable to shed any light on the extent of the hip injury which the unlucky Harry Byrne suffered barely a quarter into Leinster’s win over Zebre and curtailed another opportunity for the 22-year-old out-half.

“Unfortunately for Harry he took a bang to his hip, so we’ll see how that settles down. It’s frustrating for Harry in the circumstances and we’ll see how he is.

“He’s pretty down there now, as you can imagine. He’s frustrated, he just needs to get himself right. He takes a heavy bang in the hip and that just sometimes happens, these things happen. It stiffened up quite quickly. He was struggling for mobility, so we’ll see how he recovers over the next couple of days.”

On the flip side, a sharp-looking Johnny Sexton did make such an impact in his hour on the pitch than he was named man of the match.

“Johnny was excellent when he came on,” said Cullen. “He’s been with the group for the pre-season and I think it’s given him a real good understanding of some of the young guys, and for them to understand him a little bit as well.

Sexton himself admitted: “It’s always tough to come off bench and get up to the speed of the game, so I was gasping for air for the first few minutes and had half-time to regather.

“Look, we did some really good things today. Zebre made it tough for us with their line speed and they’re a good team when they have the ball at times.

“We’re happy to come away with a little bit of a better performance than last week. There is still a lot of errors in there that we need to get out of our game. It can be tough because there are so many guys that are playing their first games today.

“We don’t have the same team every week and that’s how you build a bit of cohesion. That’s you how you build that and we don’t have it yet, so hopefully we’ll get a little bit more next week.”

Cullen’s take on Leinster’s win was similar: “I think we started the first half in similar fashion, got in for a couple of tries as well, missed a couple of opportunities, then it gets a bit disjointed.

“Some of that is Zebre coming aggressively, shooting out of the line, putting guys under pressure. And maybe we’re also trying to force things a little bit too much, maybe trying to make things happen rather than just being patient, particularly when we’re in possession.

“We saw that a little bit last week as well, so we had a number of turnovers in the second half of the second half, which means we don’t build any consistent pressure.

“The start of the second half was good and we’re just a lot more accurate in everything we were doing.

“It’s a bit of a mixed feeling in the dressing room there, some good stuff, Adam Byrne coming back is great, scoring a couple of tries, a few of the guys playing for their first competitive outing of the season.

“It was always going to be a little bit of a challenge for us, that cohesion bit, but it’s round three, it’s a short block, so in terms of round four now next week Scarlets will pose a much more stern test you would imagine.

“We’ll have a couple of guys probably back in the mix, and again that’s the challenge, trying to build this team cohesion.

“It’s not straightforward, but it’s another win, we’re three games in and we just want to keep battling for every single point in this block which is quite short.”

Adam Byrne marked his return with an industrious display and a brace of tries, and Cullen said: “He’s delighted now, it means so much to him.

“It was really challenging for him the last period because he didn’t play rugby at all during the lockdown basically. He got very, very close and picked up another injury and was out for another chunk of time, but he’s shown great resilience and dedication throughout the process and the backroom team look after the players so well.

“It’s been a frustrating one for him, but that’s part and parcel of the game, so he’s trying to stay the course and it’s great to see Adam because he’s had to be so patient over a long period of time.”

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