‘Frustrated’ Leo Cullen says Leinster must improve

Pro14 champions defeated by Scarlets after failing to capitalise on first-half lead

Scarlets’s Jake Ball is tackled by Devin Toner of Leinster during Saturday’s Pro14 match at Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli, Wales. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Scarlets’s Jake Ball is tackled by Devin Toner of Leinster during Saturday’s Pro14 match at Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli, Wales. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Scarlets 23 Leinster 21

As defending European and Guinness Pro14 champions, Leinster know what’s needed to achieve success at the highest level.

But two games into the new season, Leo Cullen’s team are yet to deliver an 80-minute performance and they’ve been urged to quickly find some consistency.

As they had done in their last-gasp opening-day win at Cardiff Blues, Leinster played in fits and starts at the Scarlets, but this time they came up short against a team they got the better of in crucial moments last season.

Cullen was forced to settle for a losing bonus point despite seeing his team score three tries to the Scarlets’ two via Fergus McFadden, James Lowe and Rhys Ruddock.

Now he’s demanding an improvement.

“I’m a bit frustrated,” Cullen said. “We didn’t manage the game or execute well enough when we had Scarlets on the ropes and they are a good team, so we let them back into it.

“We managed to get over a slow start where I thought the Scarlets had a lot of pressure on us and there were a few early questionable decisions on the try line.

“The Scarlets had a man in the bin at the start of the second half, but we didn’t manage that period particularly well.”

Cullen’s captain in Llanelli, Ruddock, added: “We won from behind in Cardiff and we left it late again here, but didn’t manage to get over the line. We need to dust ourselves down for the Dragons.

“It was a shame we couldn’t play for 80 minutes. We can’t just expect things to happen for us.”

Leinster were slow out of the blocks in both halfs and in the end, it proved costly.

Dominated

Scarlets totally dominated the opening 10 minutes and Josh Murphy was sent to the sin bin early on.

The hosts finally broke through with man of the match Ken Owens crossing for a try Leigh Halfpenny improved. At that stage, Leinster simply hadn’t got started, but they did manage to recover.

They went to the break 14-10 ahead. First, Ross Byrne pushed a penalty wide and then Rory O’Loughlin had a try ruled out for a forward pass by Jordan Larmour.

Then, following a powerful Leinster driving maul which splintered the Scarlets’ pack, the ball was spread right where O’Loughlin’s wonderful floating pass allowed McFadden to dive over.

Byrne’s inch-perfect touchline conversion levelled the scores.

Scarlets retook the lead via a Halfpenny penalty following Ruddock’s high tackle on Blade Thomson, but Leinster weren’t behind for long.

They finished the second period like an express train. Persistent pressure saw Scarlets tighthead Samson Lee sin binned for killing the ball and Leinster finally broke through.

Byrne’s pass sent Lowe over and the outhalf nailed the kick.

This is where Cullen’s frustration comes. A man up and with momentum behind them, Leinster were again lacklustre when the game resumed. It must not be allowed to happen.

Ultimately, it meant Scarlets gained revenge for their defeats to Leinster in both last season’s Champions Cup semi-final and Pro14 final.

Halfpenny kicked two penalties and Byrne pushed a kick wide.

Cullen unloaded his bench, but little errors at key moments held his team back and there is much more to come from this Leinster team just two games into the season.

Crucial try

Hadleigh Parkes’ stunning break sent scrumhalf Gareth Davies over for the crucial try which Halfpenny improved.

Ruddock set up a grandstand finish by crossing late on, Byrne kicking the goal, but Leinster couldn’t repeat the late drama they produced in Cardiff.

Now the focus turns to the Dragons, who will arrive at the RDS on Saturday. It should represent a comfortable home win, with Cullen revealing he is set to recall some more big names.

Johnny Sexton could feature for the first time this season.

“How we managed the game in the 25 minutes or so at the start of the second half is what cost us,” said Cullen. “We just had a bit of a mental lapse after going into the break with the ascendancy. There is lots to work on and we know we can get a lot better.

“We’ve used a good few players already and we have some more guys to come back into the equation for next week as well.

“We’ve had two very difficult fixtures away in Wales and we’ve got six points. We’re disappointed, but now the focus is on the Dragons which will be a totally different challenge back at the RDS.”

SCARLETS: Halfpenny, McNicholl, Fonotia, Parkes, Prydie, D. Jones, G. Davies, R. Evans, Owens, Lee, Ball, Cummins, Thomson, J. Davies, Macleod. Replacements: Asquith for Fonotia (64), Elias for Owens (71), Kruger for Lee (71), Rawlins for Ball (64). Not Used: P. Price, Kennedy, Hidalgo-Clyne, Nicholas. Sin Bin: Lee (40).

LEINSTER: Larmour, McFadden, O’Loughlin, Henshaw, Lowe, R. Byrne, Gibson-Park, Healy, Cronin, Furlong, Toner, Nagle, Murphy, Ruddock, Conan. Replacements: Tomane for O’Loughlin (66), L. McGrath for Gibson-Park (61), Dooley for Healy (54), Tracy for Cronin (54), Porter for Furlong (54), M. Kearney for Nagle (64), Deegan for Murphy (61). Not Used: Reid. Sin Bin: Murphy (5).

Referee: Mike Adamson (SRFU).

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