THE LEVEL OF opposition provides a caveat, but there was a lot to like about this performance from a youthful Leinster outfit, as Leo Cullen’s side returned to action with a seven-try hammering of English Championship side Coventry.
After a summer of hard work, Cullen was keen to test the health of his squad ahead of the new season and while it may be hard to gain a truly accurate gauge from this first work-out, a number of players stood out at Donnybrook.
Harry Byrne scored 17 points for Leinster. Source: James Crombie/INPHO
In his first senior appearance for the province, Harry Byrne produced an assured and impressive performance at out-half as he scored 17 points and pulled the strings during his 52 minutes on the pitch.
Leinster ran in five tries during a dominant first-half display with Barry Daly and Conor O’Brien a constant threat with ball in hand, while Josh Murphy was abrasive in contact and stole a number of Coventry lineouts.
Rónan Kelleher showed why he is so highly-rated with an all-action display at hooker, Vakh Abdaladze notched a brace of tries, and Will Connors continued his comeback from a serious knee injury sustained during pre-season 12 months ago.
Cullen used the opportunity to give all of his extended matchday squad pre-season minutes and while Leinster’s rhythm and momentum was disrupted after the break as a result, it was a very useful exercise at this juncture of the summer.
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Michael Milne, Jack Aungier, Ryan Baird, Liam Turner, Roman Salanoa and Rob Russell were among those who came off the bench at various stages during the second half, while sevens international Adam La Grue was a lively prospect on the wing.
Sterner tests lie ahead for Leinster as they travel to Ontario on Tuesday ahead of their friendly against Canada this day week, with Cullen expected to bring a more senior group on that trip, many of whom were in the stands here.
In perfect conditions on Donnybrook’s new surface, Leinster didn’t take long to hit their straps. The eastern province dominated the first half and, playing with cohesion and fluency, ran in five tries before the break, albeit against a poor Coventry outfit.
Daly was an impressive performer for Leinster. Source: James Crombie/INPHO
Scrum-half Rowan Osborne thought he had marked his first senior appearance for the province with the breakthrough score, but referee Chris Busby correctly chalked it off after a number of purple jerseys had inadvertently blocked the Coventry defensive line.
It wasn’t long before Leinster’s possession and territory was rewarded, though. Tighthead Abdaladze set Cullen’s side on their way with a powerful close-range finish, before Murphy — who looks to have beefed up considerably during the off-season — followed suit on 20 minutes.
With Daly regularly coming off his wing to provide a constant threat from deep, Leinster were cutting holes in the Coventry rearguard at will, and quick ball from Osborne to Harry Byrne created the space for Adam Byrne to dot down.
Gareth Denman was then sent to the bin for a reckless and dangerous shoulder charge on Byrne, and the out-half’s booming penalty down the touchline provided the platform for Leinster’s fourth try of the opening 40.
From the lineout, Leinster worked it through the phases and after showing patience and precision around the fringes, Byrne embarked on a solo run to beat three Coventry defenders to embellish his fine performance with a first senior try.
Clontarf man Abdaladze, who looks primed for a big season, added his second of the afternoon, again demonstrating his raw power and dynamism to finish from 10 yards out, with Byrne again unerringly accurate from the tee.
Byrne is back after a quad injury. Source: James Crombie/INPHO
Coventry did end the half with their brightest moment as James Stokes took advantage of a gaping hole in Leinster’s defence to streak through and finish under the posts, although the one-way traffic continued after the interval.
Cullen used the half-time break to make eight changes in personnel and Max Deegan wasted little time in making his mark, as he added Leinster’s sixth try of the contest after more excellent handling from the forwards.
The flurry of substitutions on both sides made the second period a stop-start affair and Coventry enjoyed a purple patch of their own as they scored a couple of tries in quick succession through Junior Bulumakau and Dan Lewis, the soft concession of which will have disappointed Cullen and Stuart Lancaster.
The result had already been settled at that stage but Leinster finished strongly and tacked on a seventh through Ronan Watters.
Plenty of positives, and plenty to work on, as Cullen’s men build steadily for their Pro14 opener against Benetton on 28 September.
Tries: Vakh Abdaladze , Josh Murphy, Adam Byrne, Harry Byrne, Max Deegan, Ronan Watters.
Conversions: Harry Byrne [6 from 6], Jimmy O’Brien [0 from 1].
Tries: James Stokes, Junior Bulumakau, Dan Lewis.
Conversions: Will Maisey [1 from 3].
LEINSTER: 15. Cian Kelleher, 14. Adam Byrne, 13. Gavin Mullin, 12. Conor O’Brien, 11. Barry Daly, 10. Harry Byrne, 9. Rowan Osborne; 1. Peter Dooley, 2. Rónan Kelleher, 3. Vakh Abdaladze, 4. Ross Molony (captain), 5. Josh Murphy, 6. Martin Moloney, 7. Will Connors, 8. Ronan Foley.
Replacements: 16. James Tracy, 17. Michael Milne, 18. Jack Aungier, 19. Ryan Baird, 20. Max Deegan, 21. Patrick Patterson, 22. Jimmy O’Brien, 23. Liam Turner, 24. Roman Salanoa, 25. Ronan Watters, 26. Rory O’Loughlin, 27. Jack Kelly, 28. Adam La Grue, 29. Rob Russell.
COVENTRY: 15. James Stokes, 14. Andy Bulumakau, 13. Heath Stevens (captain), 12. Will Owen, 11. Max Trimble, 10. Will Maisey, 9. Will Flinn; 1. James Gibbons, 2. Darren Dawidiuk, 3. Gareth Denman, 4. Scott Russell, 5. Alex Woolford, 6. Ben Adams, 7. Ben Nutley, 8. Senitiki Nayalo.
Replacements: Scott Tolmie, Toby Trinder, Phil Boulton, Luc Jeannot, James Voss, George Oram, Adam Peters, Luke Wallace, Jack Ram, Ryan Burrows, Tom Kessell, Pete White, Dan Lewis, Rory Jennings, Junior Bulumakau, Louis Beer.
Referee: David Busby [IRFU].
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Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud