Leinster boss Leo Cullen was full of pride after his team made it a record 16 consecutive wins in all competitions with an 18-0 Champions Cup victory over battling Benetton.
The 18-point shutout away win – courtesy of second-half Caelan Doris and James Tracy tries – also confirms Leinster as number one seeds with a home quarter-final for the knockout stages of the competition.
It breaks the previous record for successive wins by a European side, set by Leinster in 2001/2002, as they look to win a record fifth European crown. “We’re delighted to get a win but we had to dig it out,” said Cullen.
“We talked before the game about how it was a relatively simple equation for us: we needed to win. After digging in, we weathered the storm and we started to have a lot more control in the game, especially in the second half.
“As the match went on, we played in the right areas of the field, put pressure on them and then got the penalty and a couple of tries. We got what we needed, so I’m delighted with that.”
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After remaining perfect in European competition this season with last weekend’s thumping of Lyon, Leinster knew a win in north-west Italy would mean a valuable home quarter-final come April.
It was far from plain sailing in damp and difficult conditions against Benetton, who made life hard for the Irish province in the first half. But they failed to make their early possession and the brief man advantage – after Doris’ sin-bin – count.
Ross Byrne eased any Leinster jitters with a comfortable penalty in front of the posts just before the break. And with Irne Herbst carded for a deliberate knock-on soon after the restart, Leinster put their foot down.
Byrne kicked a second penalty before Doris scored the first try after captain Luke McGrath’s clever reverse pass. Replacement front row Tracy then followed up with a second after completing a neat rolling maul, with Byrne adding the conversion from out wide, which proved enough for Leinster to make it 16 from 16 this campaign.
Cullen reiterated the importance of claiming a home quarter-final in the Champions Cup as they aim to go one better than last season’s final defeat to Saracens, who will be looking to advance themselves to the last eight when they play on Sunday.
“You try and control as much as you can and there is a statistical advantage of playing at home. It’s important we make it count, get a big crowd, which presumably will be at the Aviva Stadium. It’s very positive overall and now we’ll sit back and watch with interest who we’re going to play over the next day.”
– Press Association
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