Cullen’s ‘young guys’ make mark as Leinster chalk up another maximum
Zebre 24 Leinster 40
Leo Cullen was full of praise for his young guns as Leinster eventually saw off Zebre to chalk up their 13th PRO14 win of the season – and a tenth try-bonus – in Viadana.
Leinster make light of missing their Irish stars to run in six tries and extend their lead at the top of Conference B to a whopping 22 points as Michael Bradley’s men slumped to a 12th defeat in 15 matches.
“Pleased to get the win, especially to get the bonus point away from home,” said Cullen.
“It was great to see a couple of young guys get game-time, Jack Dunne making his debut as well. A great day for him.
“We started very well, nice and controlled, built a strong lead at 21-0, but for whatever reason Zebre had a period of dominance after that with a man in the bin.
“A lot of credit to Zebre for that but we went away from what we are good at.
“That meant the game was in the balance for most of the second half before we got a couple of tries late on which wrapped it up.
“It was a far from perfect performance but we were just pleased to get the win and the bonus point away from home.”
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Max Deegan gave Leinster a perfect start with a try off a lineout drive after seven minutes and Dave Kearney got in for a second try six minutes later.
Ross Byrne converted both and then got in for his maiden PRO14 try despite Zebre’s strong claims for blocking, and his conversion pushed the lead out to 21-0, with the Italians losing flanker Jimmy Tuivaiti to a yellow card.
That should have been enough for Leinster to wrap up the bonus point and push on out of sight but the Zebre pack got on top and hit back for three tries in eight minutes, from full-back Francois Brummer and wingers Jamie Elliott and Gabriele di Giulio to cut the gap to 21-19 at the break.
Scott Fardy and Brummer exchanged tries to leave it 28-24 going into the final quarter.
Zebre turned down a couple of penalties at the posts but Leinster defended well and cleared their lines before Noel Reid put Conor O’Brien over to seal the issue five minutes from time and then Deegan got over for his second.
“The scores they got before half-time showed that all it takes is a momentary mental lapse and teams in this competition will put scores on you and get dominance in the game,” added Cullen.
“Full credit to Zebre, they stuck in the game, big crowd here in Viadana, great occasion, and they put it up to us.
“I thought our bench made a big difference when they came on and it’s a great step for a lot of our young guys.”