Cullen hails Keenan as Leinster eye Munster revenge

Leo Cullen sang the praises of Hugo Keenan after the Ireland international delivered a player of the match performance on his return to provincial action against Scarlets in the United Rugby Championship at the RDS on Saturday. Although he didn’t get on the scoresheet in a bonus point triumph that moved Leinster to the summit of the URC, Keenan – one of 13 players from Ireland’s World Cup squad to feature in the game – provided the spadework for a 50th-minute try from Garry Ringrose. Moments earlier, he produced an excellent tackle to force Scarlets scrum-half Kieran Hardy into touch with the whitewash in sight.

“Hugo, I thought he was exceptional. For the international guys coming back in, it’s definitely a bit of a mixed bag. Some of them played a good few minutes at the World Cup, some of them haven’t played a huge amount,” the Leinster head coach remarked.

“I thought it was a good shout for man of the match for him, because I thought he was excellent all the way through the game. Lots of different positive moments in attack, but again you highlight that piece in defence in terms of that scramble and the impact he makes on the tackle. I thought he was excellent.”

Following the opening minute sin-binning of Scarlets centre Johnny Williams for a dangerous tackle on Ringrose, Leinster laid out their stall with tries from Sam Prendergast (his first in professional club rugby), Jimmy O’Brien and Max Deegan. However, Scarlets subsequently enjoyed an extended spell of possession in the second quarter and the returning Williams eventually got through for an unconverted five-pointer.

Despite this, Leinster maintained a dominant 19–5 lead at the half, and Keenan, who had saved his team at one end, set up Ringrose’s five-pointer at the conclusion of the half. Even though this resulted in a fourth straight bonus point, the hosts kept hurting the Welsh area, as Jamie Osborne added his name to the scoreboard at the hour mark.

Fintan Gunne, the winner of the Ireland U20 Grand Slam, made his Leinster debut by coming off the bench in the last quarter. He then set up scores for Jack Boyle and Osborne, his second, in the last moments of play. After successfully converting the later try, Deegan doubled his own score in an eventually one-sided game. This put Leinster’s replacement fly-half Ross Byrne over 1,000 points for the team.

This coming Saturday at the Aviva Stadium, Leinster will face a tougher test as they take on Munster; however, given that their bitter rivals defeated them in their previous meeting there, a URC semifinal in May of this year, Keenan and his teammates are excited for the match.

“I’m excited to be returning to the Aviva. Everyone in the group is eager to play in that game, and they are all hungry. Although I wasn’t on the field for our defeat at the Aviva, I really wish I could have been there. I’m hoping to make it out there in the Aviva this week. There should be strong Leinster support there, Keenan hoped.

Scorers for Leinster: Tries – J Osborne (2), M Deegan (2), S Prendergast, J O’Brien, G Ringrose, J Boyle. Cons – S Prendergast (3), R Byrne (4).

Scorers for Scarlets: Tries – J Williams.

LEINSTER: H Keenan; J Larmour, G Ringrose, J Osborne, J O’Brien; S Prendergast, J Gibson-Park; A Porter, R Kelleher, T Clarkson; J McCarthy, J Ryan; M Deegan, J van der Flier, C Doris.

Replacements: D Sheehan for Kelleher, T Furlong for Clarkson, R Byrne for Prendergast (all 51), J Boyle for Porter, R Molony for Ryan, F Gunne for Gibson-Park (all 61), C Frawley for Ringrose (67), S Penny for McCarthy (71).

SCARLETS: T Rogers; T Lewis, J Davies, J Williams, R Conbeer; C Titcombe, K Hardy; S Thomas, S Evans, H O’Connor; A Craig, J Price; B Williams, T Leatherbarrow, C Tuipulotu.

Replacements: W Jones for Thomas (46), M Jones for Craig (51), I Shenton for B Williams, I Nicholas for Rogers (both 57), R Elias for S Evans, S Williams for J Williams (both 61), S O’Connor for H O’Connor, A Hughes for Hardy (both 65).

Referee: H Davidson (SRU).

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