Leo Cullen excited at young gun prospects as Northampton looms

There were strong performances from number 8 Jack Conan and Rory O’Loughlin

Leinster 28 Newport 15

Leo Cullen is juggling at least two teams in Leinster these days. To that backdrop while Saturday night’s flawed win over Newport Dragons was welcome, Cullen must look at it in a certain way.

It was job done, move on and well done to the inexperienced group that did plenty in the first half to have the match won shortly after half-time.

While Cullen had his coach’s hat on for the loose play in the final third and will go through some phases with a red pen, he was proud that a young side with a few seasoned names was able to get Leinster over the line.


There were strong performances from man-of-the-match number eight Jack Conan and Rory O’Loughlin at outside centre. A few got senior rugby or first starts for the first time but with regard to Northampton next week in Franklin’s Gardens Cullen knows it will be a different side, although, he wasn’t really certain about how it would look.

“A bit mixed I’d say,” said Cullen of his thoughts with Irish players coming back, injuries and form. “You are watching as much as you possibly can. And it’s just about trying to get the right balance but there’s always challenges in the season.

“Northampton have something similar. They had guys playing for England as well today so other teams face similar challenges. Maybe because we had a big chunk of guys it was good to get some guys back this week. At least we are getting to assess guys and see how they are.”

Leinster had the match under their control until just after half-time with their fourth try of the evening. Peter Dooley had banged his way through on 12 minutes, Ross Molony three minutes later after a sweeping attack. Conan then picked a lovely line for Luke McGrath to pop him the ball at pace on 31-minutes for 21-3 at halftime.

Defence splitting

Two minutes into the half O’Loughlin made good ground opening up the Newport defence and when he was caught outhalf Joey Carbery was on his shoulder to finish off the move.

Totally dominant until that phase and leading 28-3 after 42 minutes, a combination of personnel changes including the entire frontrow as well as some inaccuracy and Newport upping the tempo, largely through replacement Sarel Pretorious, gave the visitors the better of the later play.

Both Pat Howard and Pretorious went in for tries but Dragons never got such a grip on the game that they looked as though they could threaten to win it.

Cullen was pleased with the performance. Just about.

“First 43 minutes probably,” said the coach. “After that it looked pretty disjointed but yeah overall we’re pleased with the outcome a win and a bonus point as well.

“We coughed up the ball too cheaply on occasions. Dragons, we know they go hard on the rucks. I thought we dealt with the threat pretty well in the first half. I just thought in the second half we were a little bit loose in some of our carrying as well.”

But Cullen also had to temper his view. As an exercise in blooding players, the entire match served a purpose.

“It’s a great day for the likes of Jeremy Loughman, his first start – Charlie Rock, Max Deegan coming off the bench,” said Cullen. “It’s very, very pleasing to see those guys in senior Leinster jerseys now. It does bode well for the future. It’s learning for those guys. It’s definitely a step up. I think the work in the academy is bearing fruit with those individuals.”

The injury to prop Michael Bent, who pulled out of the match with a calf problem, is not believed to be serious with Leinster likely to have two full training sessions before Friday's match against Northampton. Scoring sequence 12 mins: P Dooley, Nacewa con 7-0; 15: R Molony try, Nacewa con 14-0; 17: A O'Brien pen 14-3; 31:R Molony try, Nacewa con 21-3. Halftime. 42: J Carbery try, Nacewa con; 55: P Howard try 28-8; 70: S Pretorious try, O'Brien con 28-15. LEINSTER: Kirchner, A. Byrne, O'Loughlin, Reid, Nacewa, Carbery, L. McGrath, Dooley, Tracy, Bent, Molony, Triggs, Ruddock, Leavy, Conan. Replacements: R Byrne for Carbery (46 mins), Rock for L McGrath (63 mins), Porter for Dooley (53 mins), Strauss for Tracy (53 mins), M McCarthy for Triggs (63 mins), Deegan for Ruddock (75 mins). Not Used: Loughman, T. Daly. NEWPORT GWENT D'GONS: Meyer, Howard, Morgan, Dixon, Warren, O'Brien, Knoyle, Price, Dee, B. Harris, Crosswell, Landman, Evans, Cudd, Keddie. Replacements: G Jones for Dixon (62 mins), Pretorius for Knoyle (56 mins), T Davies for Price (47 mins), Buckley for Dee (56 mins), Fairbrother for B Harris (75 mins), Hill for Crosswell (51 mins), J Thomas for Keddie (47 mins). Not Used: Prydie. ~ Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy).

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times