Deegan stands out in rout
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