Following his side’s impressive bonus point victory over Newport Gwent Dragons in the Guinness PRO12 on Saturday evening, Leinster head coach Leo Cullen was quick to focus minds on Friday’s crunch Champions Cup encounter with Northampton.
After moving up to second place in the table, the Blues face a short turnaround for their trip to Franklin’s Garden - and Cullen is eager for his players to make amends for last season’s disappointing European campaign.
“It’s a challenge, because it is a short week. We play on Friday, so we only get really two decent sessions with the team. There is a big onus on the players this week in terms of getting up to speed. It is a big challenge but an exciting one. This next block of seven games is significant. It’s fair to say we were disappointed with how Europe went last season, so it is a huge focus for us.”
A superb break by scrum-half Luke McGrath placed Dragons on the back-foot in the 12th minute at the RDS and Birr native Peter Dooley eventually powered over the whitewash.
Isa Nacewa’s conversion was successful, and the Blues skipper also added the bonuses to a Ross Molony five-pointer. Like Dooley before him, this was a maiden try at this level for the towering lock, and a third converted score courtesy of man-of-the-match Jack Conan helped Leinster to establish a commanding 21-3 interval lead.
The hosts ensured that they would claim the maximum points on offer just two minutes after the restart - as a lung-bursting break by Rory O’Loughlin left returning Irish star Joey Carbery with a simple touchdown underneath the posts.
Dragons responded with a try from winger Pat Howard, and although Charlie Rock and Max Deegan were introduced for their debuts as part of wholesale changes to the Leinster side, Sarel Pretorius dotted down with ten minutes remaining to add a more respectable look to the final scoreline for the visitors.
The return of several players from international duty will lead to a much-changed starting line-up against Northampton, but because of England’s weekend Test with Australia in Twickenham, Cullen pointed out that their Aviva Premiership opponents will be in the same boat.
“It’s just about trying to get the right balance. There are always challenges right across the season. Northampton will have something similar. They had guys who were playing for England on Saturday. Other teams have similar changes. We had a chunk of guys away, and it was good to get some of them back this week. We’re getting to assess guys and seeing how they are. You are constantly assessing players based on their form, but also what they have done and how fresh they are. Trying to get a gauge at what is best, the combinations that work best for them and putting the best personalities in there too. There are lots of things for us to look at.
Scorers for Leinster:
P Dooley, R Molony, J Conan, J Carbery try each, I Nacewa 4 cons.
Scorers for Newport Gwent Dragons:
P Howard, S Pretorius try each, A O’Brien pen, con.
Z Kirchner; A Byrne, R O’Loughlin, N Reid, I Nacewa; J Carbery, L McGrath; P Dooley, J Tracy, J Loughman; R Molony, H Triggs; R Ruddock, D Leavy, J Conan.
T Daly for Reid (19), R Byrne for Carbery (46), R Strauss for Tracy, A Porter for Dooley, O Heffernan for Loughman (all 53), M McCarthy for Triggs, C Rock for McGrath (both 63), M Deegan for Ruddock (76).
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS:
C Meyer; P Howard, T Morgan, J Dixon, A Warren; A O’Brien, T Knoyle; P Price, E Dee, B Harris; N Crosswell, R Landman; L Evans, N Cudd, H Keddie.
T Prydie for Meyer (21), J Thomas for Cudd (39-40, blood), Thomas for Keddie, T Davies for Price (both 48), C Hill for Crosswell (51), GR Jones for Dixon (53), R Buckley for Dee, S Pretorius for Knoyle (both 55), L Fairbrother for Harris (76).
M Mitrea (FIR).
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