Dee­gan stands out in rout

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - RUGBY - (Wales) CIAN TRACEY

AT the end of an ut­terly pre­dictable rou­tine vic­tory, Leo Cullen must have been scratch­ing his head at what ex­actly he learned from his Le­in­ster side thump­ing a hap­less Ze­bre out­fit. Apart from se­cur­ing the bonus-point win that is a big step to­wards en­sur­ing that their in­evitable Guin­ness PRO14 semi-fi­nal will be played at the RDS, Cullen will have been re­lieved to have seen all of his play­ers come through the game un­scathed.

Le­in­ster again dipped into their seem­ingly never-end­ing ta­lent pool as Gavin Mullin, son of for­mer Ire­land and Lions cen­tre Bren­dan, was handed his pro­fes­sional de­but and in the process be­came the 53rd player that the prov­ince have used this sea­son.

Tougher tasks un­ques­tion­ably lie ahead and de­spite the fact that at times Le­in­ster were scrappy, in some atro­cious con­di­tions, they were never in any real dan­ger.

Michael Bradley has a huge task on his hands at Ze­bre; the lack of am­bi­tion that his side played with was con­cern­ing, and that’s not to men­tion that they named four props and a hooker among their re­place­ments.

But that was of no con­cern to Le­in­ster who ruth­lessly ex­posed the Ital­ians’ flaws. The home side scored seven tries, with a brace each from James Lowe, who took his tally to nine for the sea­son, and Max Dee­gan, who con­tin­ues to im­press from No 8.

“We’ll have some fresh faces com­ing into the group next week which will be good, it gives us fresh en­ergy be­cause that’s im­por­tant as you go hard at th­ese games to try and get as much as you pos­si­bly can,” Cullen said af­ter­wards.

“Tre­viso are a very, very dif­fi­cult team to play against and they’ll be push­ing to try and play in Europe. We’ll make sure we pre­pare this week.

“We looked a lit­tle bit dis­jointed in the first half, which is prob­a­bly un­der­stand­able, if you think we had one group get­ting ready to play against Mun­ster last week­end in the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Cup quar­ter-fi­nal, and an­other group play­ing at the Aviva.

“It’s al­most like a merg­ing of those two groups to­gether. Our co­he­sion was a lit­tle bit off. Ze­bre man­aged the ball pretty well and caused us a few prob­lems. We were a lit­tle bit off and we just lacked a bit of in­ten­sity in our play.

“We were much bet­ter in the sec­ond half. We were all pretty re­lieved to see Max go over early in the sec­ond half be­cause it al­most set­tled us down.

“I thought the bench gave us good im­pact as well. Over­all, lis­ten, we’re pleased. We got a win. There a lot of things we can do bet­ter but ul­ti­mately we have won the game and got five points. We can move onto the next chal­lenge now.”

A 12-3 half-time lead came on the back of Lowe’s 12th-minute try, con­verted by Ross Byrne, and Rory O’Lough­lin’s ef­fort five min­utes be­fore the break.

In be­tween that, Carlo Canna put Ze­bre on the board with a penalty but the sec­ond half was barely a minute old when Dee­gan’s op­por­tunis­tic try opened the flood­gates.

Dee­gan got over for his sec­ond on the hour mark be­fore Lowe did the same. Re­place­ments Bryan Byrne and Vakh Ab­dal­adze, scor­ing his first try for Le­in­ster, also got in on the act late on.

Canna added a sec­ond penalty early in the half but with his side trail­ing 17-3 at the time, it beg­gared be­lief that Ze­bre didn’t show more am­bi­tion by stick­ing the ball in the cor­ner.

Dee­gan’s rep­u­ta­tion is con­tin­u­ing to grow and the 21-year-old is giv­ing Cullen a real se­lec­tion headache, which the head coach is grate­ful for.

“Max is get­ting bet­ter all the time and he’s still very, very young,” Cullen added. “He’s been in­volved in a lot of games this sea­son so just that con­stant ex­po­sure is what we’re try­ing to do to im­prove the play­ers and the play­ers are work­ing hard at that them­selves.

“A num­ber of guys did rea­son­ably well. For what­ever rea­son we were a lit­tle bit flat in the first half but the con­di­tions were dif­fi­cult as well.”

Not dif­fi­cult enough, how­ever, to stop Le­in­ster en­joy­ing a Satur­day af­ter­noon stroll in the park.

Scor­ers — Le­in­ster: Lowe, Dee­gan 2 tries each, O’Lough­lin, Ab­dal­adze, Bryan Byrne 1 try; Ross Byrne 3 cons. Ze­bre: Canna 2 pens.

Le­in­ster: B Daly (C Frawley 44-49); A Byrne, R O’Lough­lin (G Mullin 66), C O’Brien (C Frawley 66), J Lowe; R Byrne, J Gib­son-Park (N McCarthy 61); C Healy (P Doo­ley 54), J Tracy (B Byrne 54), T Fur­long (V Ab­dal­adze 54); D Toner (capt) (R Molony 62), M Kear­ney; Josh Mur­phy, D Leavy (P Tim­mins 62), M Dee­gan.

Ze­bre: M Mi­nozzi; G Di Guilio, G Bisegni, F Afamasaga, M Bellini; C Canna (S Bor­doli 64), M Vi­oli (G Palaz­zani 62); A Lo votti (C Ah-Nau 64), O Fabi­ani (L Luus 27), D Chis­tolini (R Tenga 54); L Kru­mov, G Bi­agi (capt) (E Bello 59); V Bern­abo, J Sarto, D Sisi.

Ref­eree: I Davies

Barry Daly fends off Ze­bre’s Gabriele Di Gi­ulio in Le­in­ster’s crush­ing vic­tory at the RDS yes­ter­day Photo: Sam Barnes

Max Dee­gan scored two tries

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