‘Miles off where we can be’: Performance albeit not result fails to impress Leo Cullen

Scott Penny comes in for praise despite an inaccurate display from the table toppers

Leinster 29 Ospreys 7

The most pleasing aspect for the Leinster team, management and supporters is contained in the outcome, a bonus point victory, achieved rather belatedly, but for large tranches of this United Rugby Championship match the home side suffered the frustration of being the better team without fully translating that dominance into points on the scoreboard.

The Ospreys were gritty, dogged and scrambled hard in defence but they were also very limited in possession. Apart from a moment’s individual virtuosity by scrumhalf Rhys Webb, arguably the game’s outstanding player, the Welsh side were pedestrian and predictable, content to kick away possession in search of respite territorially.

On another evening, Leinster would not have spurned a handful of gilt-edged try scoring chances by being linear and blinkered in sight of the visitors’ line. Two passes and they would have walked in the majority of those opportunities without a hand being laid on the try scorer.


Instead they worked the fringes of rucks from close range but were met with doughty resistance and even when a Leinster player or two - Scott Penny and replacement prop Peter Dooley offering a couple of examples - did get over the line, the Ospreys managed to hold them up to earn goal-line dropouts.

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen was understandably "frustrated." He explained: "I thought we made very, very hard work of it at times. Getting held up a couple of times in both halves, which is a killer now with the goal-line dropout as well.

“There were a lot of errors and that’s the thing, we need to be realistic about the level of performance. It was great with the outcome, but in terms of the overall performance I think we were miles off where we should be, or certainly where we can be, and that’s the bit for us to focus on now in a short window.”

He spoke about a lack of accuracy at times and that while the team did many good things in the first half an hour to establish a 15-0 lead, they didn’t improve upon it either side of half-time, a period of half an hour without a score until replacement James Lowe scooted down the wing for his team’s third try.

It wasn’t until seven minutes before the final whistle that Penny burrowed over for a fourth try; the collective sigh was shared in the stands and on the pitch. There was some mitigation in deteriorating weather conditions post interval with the arrival of rain, whipped by a freshening wind but no one wanted to shelter in excuses.

Mixed Bag

Cullen continued: “It’s very much a mixed bag (in performance terms). I think we have a good bit to go in terms of where we need to be, so that’s what we need to try and chase this week and the couple of weeks after that as well.”

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, Cian Healy a try scorer, was excellent, Ross Molony provided leadership, Ryan Baird energy and athleticism, while the remaining members of the pack chipped in with some positive moments. And then there was Scott Penny, the openside flanker producing another superb performance, his team’s best player once again.

Cullen said: “Defensively he’s (Penny) more aggressive getting off the line, putting in some good hits. That close quarter stuff, he’s very, very effective as well, (getting) in for a try again. He gives us good variation off some of our lineout plays because he has good distribution, a very skilful passer of both hands. He’s a good footballer and is progressing all the time.”

Luke McGrath was a sharp and lively presence. Ross Byrne brought a calm authority and vision in managing the game to complement pivotal touches including a delightfully judged grubber kick for the Jordan Larmour try and a pinpoint cross-kick to Jimmy O’Brien in the preamble to Lowe’s try.

His younger brother Harry got the official player of the match honour in capably discharging an unfamiliar role of inside centre. He worked well with Jamie Osborne who continues to progress in his development at this level. Dave Kearney and Larmour both made some eye-catching sallies in possession, while O’Brien added value every time he touched the ball.

Leading 3-0, the highlights of Leinster’s first try were a bullocking run from Healy into the Ospreys 22 and a slide rule grubber that allowed Larmour to beat the defenders and the dead ball line to dot down. If Healy had a role as an instigator in the first he was on hand to rumble over for his team’s second try at a time when Osprey’s number eight Morgan Morris was in the sin bin.

Lowe got to test the hamstring injury that has kept him sidelined of late in galloping down the touchline for a third try and Penny’s late effort from close range was a reward for the home side’s perseverance. Webb’s try, converted by Gareth Anscombe, was the only response that the Ospreys could muster.

Scoring sequence:

3 mins: R Byrne penalty, 3-0; 20: Larmour try, 8-0; 28: Healy try, R Byrne conversion, 15-0. Half-time: 15-0. 58: Lowe try, R Byrne conversion, 22-0; 60 Webb try, Anscombe conversion, 22-7; 73: Penny try, R Byrne conversion, 29-7.

Leinster: J O'Brien; J Larmour, J Osborne, H Byrne, D Kearney; R Byrne, L McGrath (capt); C Healy, J Tracy, M Ala'alatoa; R Molony, R Baird; M Moloney, S Penny, M Deegan.

Replacements: T Clarkson for Ala'alatoa (blood) (9-18 and 67 mins), J Lowe for Kearney (53 mins), P Dooley for Healy (53 mins), R Ruddock for Moloney (53 mins), S Cronin for Tracy (54 mins), N McCarthy for McGrath (61 mins), J Dunne for (68 mins), A Byrne for O'Brien (73 mins).

Ospreys: D Evans; K Giles, M Collins, K Williams, L Morgan; S Myler, R Webb; N Smith, S Parry, T Botha; B Davies, W Griffiths; E Roots, H Deaves, M Morris.

Replacements: E Taoine for Parry (54 mins), R Jones for Smith (54 mins), R Henry for Botha (54 mins), D Lydiate for Deaves (53 mins), G Anscombe for Myler (58 mins), L Ashley for Davies (65 mins), T Thomas Wheeler for Williams (65 mins), R Morgan-Williams for Webb (75 mins).

Referee: A Brace (Ireland)

Yellow card: M Morris (Ospreys) 28 mins.