Leinster leave only good headaches for contented Leo Cullen

Leinster 38 Ulster 7: The numbers look good for Leinster, regardless of how you add them up.

Seven games unbeaten in a run stretching back two months, the province’s Guinness PRO14 rout of Ulster at the RDS on Saturday evening brought to 12 the number of tries scored during their three recent interpros.

In all, they managed to put 93 points on the scoreboards in that spell. This whilst making 13 changes to their line-ups in the last two outings and bringing to 37 the number of players used in the whole productive and highly entertaining process.

Not all figures are straightforward.

Ulster, for instance, gave game time to 38 men over the course of their duties against Connacht, Munster and Leinster and, if it wasn’t for a miraculous second-half in the second of those games, they would have had nothing to cheer about over the holidays.

Leo Cullen? He got pretty much everything he would have wanted over the Christmas. With so many players putting their hands up this last two weeks, the Leinster head coach has some lovely selection posers to decide on as the focus returns to Europe.

He knows from experience that getting it right isn’t guaranteed.

“Coming off the two European games (against Exeter in December), we weren’t really sure if we got selection right for that second game.

“But I thought we looked a bit flat in the first-half. We dug ourselves out of a pretty considerable hole that day.”

There was no scrambling to be done two days ago, mostly because Ulster were awful. Two tries down after a dozen minutes, they battened down the hatches from there to half-time in the face of a biting wind but then gifted the game to Leinster with the concession of another pair of five-pointers inside three minutes. By the end, Jordan Larmour and Fergus McFadden had both claimed doubles, Barry Daly had signed for one more and Jonathan Sexton the last after coming on as a replacement. A 73rd-minute Jacob Stockdale effort was the sum of Ulster’s rewards. Leinster were good but they left points behind them.

As against Connacht five days earlier, they had less ball but seemed to punish every opposition knock-on or turnover, of which there were far too many. Ulster were careless with the ball in contact and with the boot and their defending was terrible at times.

All too easy for the home side then. The final whistle was still some time away when talk turned to the increasingly exciting Larmour and whether he had done enough to step his way into Cullen’s XV for the Glasgow and/or Montpellier ties to come.

“If they go out and score a couple of tries every time you play, it definitely makes it harder not to pick him,” was the response when Cullen was asked if players light on big occasion experience could make themselves undroppable.

Cullen will have had his head turned by more newbies than Larmour.

Barry Daly’s emergence has been less heralded out on the wing but he impressed again here while Josh Murphy was outstanding at blindside on his third senior appearance and Andrew Porter was forceful and dynamic off the bench.

Glasgow come to Dublin on Sunday with nothing to play for.

It may be that Cullen continues to mix the young guys with the older heads with that in mind and no player’s displays speak more for the benefit of experience than Fergus McFadden’s.

The veteran back has been superb lately, his usual dependability being buttressed by some fancy footwork and the decisiveness shown in claiming his touch down here.

“It was a very frustrating year for him last year, he’s been really good for us,” said Cullen.

“He’s come in, had a huge game against Exeter away, then in the Aviva was excellent again … It was a great shift from Ferg (on Saturday).”

The reality is that injury to others still seems to be the quickest way for younger players to stake a claim in a Champions Cup starting side. Cullen’s selection for the back-to-backs against the Chiefs tells us as much.

Garry Ringrose was the most callow of the starters in rounds three and four last month and he approached those games with the benefit of 11 appearances for Ireland and ten European games already tucked under his belt.

Ringrose, however, was one of three players to emerge as injury doubts for the Warriors’ visit when he turned an ankle in the second-half. Furlong failed a head injury assessment while James Tracy came off with an elbow problem.

LEINSTER:

J Larmour; F McFadden, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, B Daly; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; J McGrath, J Tract, T Furlong; D Toner, S Fardy; Josh Murphy, Jordi Murphy, J Conan.

Replacements:

S Cronin for Tracy (27, inj); A Porter for Furlong (HT, inj); J Sexton for R Byrne and E Byrne for McGrath (both 58); N Reid for Ringrose (59, inj); M Deegan for Conan (62); M Kearney for Toner and N McCarthy for Gibson-Park (both 67).

ULSTER:

C Piutau; A Trimble, D Cave, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; C Leali’ifano, J Stewart; C Black, R Best, R Ah You; P Browne, I Henderson; M Rea, S Reidy, J Deysel.

Replacements:

W Herbst for Ah You (50); A O’Connor for Browne and J Cooney for Stewart (both 55): J McPhillips for Lealifano and T Bowe for Piutau (both 56); N Timoney for Reidy (57); K McCall for Black (62); R Herring for Best (65); C Piutau for Bowe; R Ah You for Herbst (both 74, inj).

Referee:

G Clancy (IRFU).


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