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'It was a pretty dark time': Healy and Leinster eye Galway revenge

Last season’s heavy defeat to Connacht will fuel Leinster fire this week as attention turns to the Pro14 inter-pros.

IT SEEMS A distant memory now, particularly when a few weeks later Leinster would go on to secure a fourth European crown in Bilbao, but the hammering they suffered at the hands of Connacht towards the end of last season stung.

Tiernan O'Halloran runs in an intercept try Leinster were well-beaten at the Sportsground in April. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It was undoubtedly the worst performance of an otherwise exceptional campaign from Leo Cullen’s side, as Connacht — on the occasion of John Muldoon’s last appearance — clinically tore their provincial rivals apart at the Sportsground.

A second-string Leinster side were hit for seven by the western province on the final day of the regular Pro14 season, suffering their heaviest defeat in two years, before Cullen’s side completed the double in stunning fashion in the weeks which followed.

But that painful and humbling day in Galway has not been forgotten, and the harrowing memories will come back into the minds of those involved this week as Leinster prepare for the first Pro14 inter-pro derby of the season.

“Any time you get beaten it’s never that enjoyable,” Cullen says, looking back on that afternoon. “We got heavily beaten down there and it wasn’t an enjoyable sensation at all.”

It was a reality check for some of Leinster’s fringe players having already been beaten by Ospreys and Benetton during a shaky end to the regular Pro14 season, albeit with the cushion of a home semi-final all but secured.

Cian Healy came off the bench in the second half, and admits it was ‘the lowest point’ of Leinster’s dream season.

“It probably did [motivate the team for the rest of the season]. You need a response from those sorts of things and a good team gives a response. We went well for the rest of the season.

“It’s a big blow to what you’re doing and what you’re working towards. If you don’t fight back from it, you’re not going to go too far.”

Asked if he could recall what was said in the away dressing room at the Sportsground in the aftermath of the 47-10 loss, Healy, still frustrated to this day, said: “I was in a bit of a red mist. I wouldn’t remember what was said now. It wasn’t great. It was a pretty dark time.”

And what about Muldoon’s conversion at the end? Healy was less than impressed.

“Leave it to the kickers,” the Ireland prop replied. “I suppose, on a personal note, that was nice for him to finish off his career. But, it is something you have to take a bit of offence to when you’re not taken seriously.”

Leinster have no shortage of motivation heading out west for Saturday’s clash with Connacht, then, as they look to build further momentum heading towards the start of the Champions Cup pool stages.

Cullen’s side are coming off the back of consecutive home bonus-point wins, with Saturday’s victory over Edinburgh moving them top of Conference B after four rounds.

Leinster were made to work hard for the points by the Scottish visitors but their intensity, work-ethic in defence and clinical edge in attack proved the difference as they recorded an emphatic 31-7 win at the RDS.

Cian Healy tackled by Magnus Bradbury Healy was MOTM against Edinburgh. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

First-half tries from Fergus McFadden and James Lowe set the province on their way before Jordan Larmour, Johnny Sexton and Garry Ringrose crossed in the second period to give Leinster a strong platform heading into the inter-pros.

Healy was man-of-the-match for an exceptional performance, which included 16 carries across 21 metres, three defenders beaten and 12 tackles, while Devin Toner, Josh van der Flier, Lowe and Larmour also produced standout displays.

“The things that we’re doing in training are starting to pull off on the pitch,” Healy continued.

“It was a good physical test. Last week [against Dragons], for the lads that played, was a bit more expansive, open game. So, we’re getting through a bit of everything in this couple of weeks.

“I’m sure Monday will be ramped up even more. We’re in a good place. The next four weeks will pose an awful lot of different threats and different opportunities.

“The competition within the squad is only going to make us better. It’s great to have such competition in pretty much every position. There’s people chomping at the bit, lads coming back from injury, lads slogging away.

“Everyone’s getting chances and the lads that put their hands up for those shots are going to reap rewards.”

Cullen knows Andy Friend’s Connacht will pose a stiff challenge on their home patch, particularly after the western province produced some sublime, free-flowing rugby in their defeat of Scarlets at the weekend.

“There’s lots of bits of our performance that we can get better at now, so we’ll try and pull that apart now,” the head coach added.

“We’re still a work in progress so we’ll just try and get better every week. Next week is going to be a step up again, particularly after what happened to us down there last year.

“We know Connacht and the intent that they come with. They’ve a lot of players that have come through the Leinster system at different stages, so we know that they’re always very, very motivated when they play against us.

“We understand what that’s like so it’s going to be a good challenge.”

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Ryan Bailey

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