Latest win leaves Leinster one Italian job away from top seeding

Leinster 42 - 14 Lyon

Another runaway success, but some signs of vulnerability too.

You could opt to look at that in two ways: as a chink of light or as just another reason to fret if you’re a coach or player due a meeting with Leinster. After all, if they can win like this on a day when they aren’t quite at their best then what is in their locker when they really hit their straps?

That’s 15 games unbeaten this season. It’s a record that equals the club’s previous best, set almost 20 years ago. See off Benetton in Italy next Saturday and they will stand apart in the province’s annals while sowing up the top seed spot for the knockout stages of this Heineken Champions Cup.

Easier said than done.

Latest win leaves Leinster one Italian job away from top seeding

The Italians have been awkward opponents for Leinster in the past, and for Northampton and Lyon in recent weeks, but Cullen has already intimated his intention to rotate his gargantuan squad again as they face into a long journey and a six-day turnaround to boot.

“We will be going full at it,” said the head coach after this latest victory in front of over 18,000 at the RDS. “That may require a couple of changes within the group, just to freshen things up. It’s full steam ahead and try and make sure we finish the job now.

“We’d all have a pretty sick feeling if we don’t manage to do that. We want to go after that top seed.”

Leinster have now hit the 40-point mark on nine occasions this term. They had over two-thirds possession and territory here against a second-string Lyon side that had three men sinbinned through the afternoon. Six tries they scored. Another four were disallowed.

Pick a stat and chances are it will take the breath away: 48 defenders beaten, 15 clean line breaks and over 500 metres made. All this against a side that missed almost 50 tackles and conceded 14 penalties. Lyon made their hosts look super at times but human at others.

Latest win leaves Leinster one Italian job away from top seeding

Leinster were only 21-14 up at the break despite an overwhelming dominance. Two tries from Dave Kearney and another from Josh van der Flier were diluted by an intercept score from Virgile Bruni and another five-pointer from Hendrik Roodt.

It didn’t take much to alter the mood. If Leinster were guilty of anything in that spell then it was in their eagerness to spread the ball wide without laying down the foundations up front.

What all that probably proves is the suspicion that the greatest danger to Leinster right now is Leinster themselves.

Cullen spoke later of an edginess in the home dressing-room during the interval and you could understand why. Another score for the French side at that point and the day could have turned sour.

“It was a tricky game,” said the head coach. “We had a try disallowed in the first minute, then we get in for two, give up an intercept (try), score again and it’s 21-7. They had a man in the bin at the time and we struggled most then.

Latest win leaves Leinster one Italian job away from top seeding

“At 21-14 we were edgy in but the start of the second-half we did well. Lyon gave away a lot of penalties, but there were a lot of stoppages. We never got real rhythm but at the start of the second half we were better, got the job done and scored a few tries.”

It was man-of-the-match Max Deegan who finally secured the four-try bonus point in the 54th minute with Sean Cronin and Andrew Porter adding further to the haul. The question now is how many of those Irish internationals we see again in Italy next week.

Odds are that we have seen the last of many of them in blue until the European quarter-finals in early April. Leinster showed during the World Cup that they have the depth to prosper in their absence during the Six Nations and Cullen isn’t losing any sleep over the exodus.

“It’s one of those facts of life that you have to get used to... We get excited when we see them go on to represent Ireland because it is a great day for the club,” he said, echoing words offered on this subject time and again down the years. You want the guys to progress.

“For the guys that don’t get picked then it is about making sure they deliver for when selection comes around again they are in a good position. Like Dev Toner. He missed out on World Cup selection, turns it around and gets some positive performances at this level and is close to selection again.”

LEINSTER: J Larmour; D Kearney, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Lowe; R Byrne, L McGrath; C Healy, J Tracy, T Furlong; D Toner, S Fardy; R Ruddock, J van der Flier, M Deegan.

Replacements: P Dooley for Healy, S Cronin for Tracy, A Porter for Furlong, C Doris for Ruddock and J Gibson-Park for McGrath (all 54); R Kearney for Larmour (54); R Molony for Toner (66); C Frawley for Byrne (68).

LYON: T Arnold; X Mignot, E Dumortier, Tregard, N Nakataici; JM Buttin, J Pelissie; H Kaabeche, B Alkhazashvili, F Gomez Kodela; M Rolland, H Rot; K Geraci, E Oosthuizen, V Bruni.

Replacements: F Lambey for Geraci (2); R Chaume for Kaabeche and K Yameogo for Gomez Kodela, S Hidalgo-Clyne for Pelissie (all 54); J Maurouard for Alhazashvili (61); J Tuisova for Regard (63); T Halaifonua for Roodt (67); J Moura for Arnold (73).

Referee: B Whitehouse (Wales).

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