Thursday 20 June 2019

Jack and Josh shine

Champions Cup at the RDS: Wicklow pair to the fore for Leinster

Bray’s Jack Conan of Leinster dives over to score his side’s first try during the Heineken Champions Cup Pool 1 Round 5 match between Leinster and Toulouse at the RDS Arena in Dublin
Bray’s Jack Conan of Leinster dives over to score his side’s first try during the Heineken Champions Cup Pool 1 Round 5 match between Leinster and Toulouse at the RDS Arena in Dublin
Adam Byrne, left, celebrates after scoring his side’s fourth try with his Leinster team-mates, Jordan Larmour, centre, and Wicklow’s Josh van der Flier

Wicklow pair Jack Conan and Josh van der Flier helped Leinster bring an abrupt end to Toulouse's unbeaten run in this season's Heineken Champions Cup with a stunning 29-13 bonus point victory at the RDS Arena, securing their quarter-final place with one round remaining.

Jack Conan's performance was very impressive, and the Bray man's 34th-minute try gave the defending champions a 10-6 lead after playing into a strong wind in the first half. There's absolutely no doubt that the former Kilmac GAA player got the better of his opposite number Jerome Kaino in what was an all-action performance topped off with that excellent first half try.

Former Wicklow RFC player Josh van der Flier put in a massive shift for the province alongside Rhys Ruddock and Conan.

The Wicklow pair impressed hugely alongside their 'depleted' Leinster squad who took to the field without nine of their internationals.

Conan made 39 metres during the 72 minutes he was dominating on the field. He accrued 10 carries, made three passes, put in 14 crunching tackles including one man-and-ball thumper on Kaino, and produced one turover.

His neighbour, van der Flier, made 12 metres, carried 10, passed three, put in a dozen tackles and turned over Toulouse ball once in a very decent display.

Leinster dominated the final 40 minutes to move to the top of Pool 1 thanks to further tries from Dave Kearney (50 minutes), Sean Cronin (59) - the Ireland hooker's ninth in 12 appearances - and Adam Byrne (75).

Cheslin Kolbe wriggled free to run in a last-minute consolation try for the French side whose quarter-final hopes rest on next Sunday's final round clash at home to Bath. Sealing a home quarter-final will be Leinster's aim when they visit Wasps at the same time.

Leinster head coach and Wicklow native Leo Cullen was delighted with the victory.

'To get the win and bonus point is doubly pleasing. Conditions were difficult out there, but we managed possession quite well in the first half. Toulouse had this big wall of defenders the whole time and our guys showed good patience to keep hold of the ball even though we didn't have many scores. I think it was wearing on them," he said after the game.

'It was much better at the start of the second half where we played in their half of the field and picked off a few scores when they came along.

'I'm delighted for the guys, we had a lot of young guys out there today and it was a huge step up for them. We're delighted to get that win.

'It was a very positive step for a lot of our younger guys.

'For us, it's about looking forward now because there is a lot of work to do to top the group.

'Tough challenge for us going to the Ricoh, it's a place we had a tough day out in a few years ago. It's a good challenge for us.

'You get to this point and you try and make things as easy as you possibly can for yourself in the tournament.

'We have eight days now and we'll see what guys pull through. It was a pretty physical game out there."

Luke McGrath will be assessed after he left the field in distress.

'Lukey has done something to his knee, we'll get that assessed. Other guys are not too bad, the usual bangs and bumps,' he added.

James Lowe will return from suspension last week and Cullen expects some of big names to recover in time for the trip to Coventry.

'I think one or two guys will come back into contention.'

Wicklow People