LEINSTER IMPRESS IN ITALIAN OUTING
By Daire Walsh
KILL natives Adam Byrne and James Tracy were to the fore in Leinster’s comprehensive 31-3 triumph over Benetton Treviso in the Guinness PRO14 on Saturday at Stadio Monigo.
While there was a greater level of drama in Munster’s 25-24 success at the expense of Glasgow Warriors later on the same day, the defending champions produced a thoroughly accomplished display in northern Italy to remain in pole position at the summit of the Conference B table.
The Blues were aiming to bounce back from their narrow reversal (28-27) away to Toulouse in the Heineken Champions Cup six days earlier. They also had reason to be wary of the Benetton challenge, after Kieran Crowley’s men recorded a shock victory against Leo Cullen’s side in the closing weeks of the 2017/18 campaign.
Given that defeat occurred on their home turf of the RDS, Cullen would have recognised this round seven encounter as a potential banana skin. Nevertheless, with Ireland’s autumn internationals on the horizon, it was a much-changed Leinster side on the day.
Following successive cameos in Europe against Wasps and Toulouse, Tracy was restored to the Leinster front-row alongside Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong. Byrne had found himself on the fringes of the first-team squad in recent months – his sole appearance in the present campaign was the opening round victory over Cardiff Blues.
He subsequently re-discovered his attacking mojo for the ‘A’ squad in their successful Celtic Cup odyssey – contributing five tries in six games over the course of the inaugural competition.
His last five-pointer at senior level was in last November’s league defeat to Glasgow, but he finally ended this scoring drought with a fourth-minute touchdown in Treviso. Following Antonio Rizzi’s 24th-minute penalty, Tracy also grabbed a try for an impressive Leinster.
This was the hooker’s second of the term, and with Ross Byrne on hand to supply the bonuses, the Blues brought a 12-3 lead into the interval. The return to fitness of Sean O’Brien comes as a significant boost for Leinster coaches Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster.
On the day that he captained the side in the absence of Jonathan Sexton and Rhys Ruddock, his namesake – Conor O’Brien – added Leinster’s third try on 49 minutes.
This was the Westmeath man’s fourth cap for the Blues and he was later joined on the scoresheet by replacement tighthead Andrew Porter.
Though they were already assured of maximum points, summer recruit Joe Tomane completed a dominant performance with a concluding effort in the 75th-minute.
The aforementioned Byrne and Tracy featured for Ireland in the Guinness Series last November, when Joe Schmidt’s Green Army recorded wins over South Africa, Fiji and Argentina. They have missed out on selection for the upcoming quartet of games, but Joey Carbery (Athy) and Tadhg Beirne (Eadestown) were named in the 42-man selection last Wednesday.
They have already established themselves as key figures for Munster under the stewardship of Johann van Graan and will hope to make a similar impact when they transfer back to the international set-up.