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Dublin: 2°C Sunday 7 March 2021

Leinster's fully-changed XV happy to give Cullen a 'headache for selection'

There were some impressive individual performances in the 28-10 win over Ulster.

BEING ABLE TO rest up their front-liners last night as they still beat Ulster on a 28-10 scoreline was a real luxury for Leinster bosses Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster.

They might have considered giving the rustier performers from last weekend’s win against Munster – the likes of Scott Fardy and James Lowe – another run out yesterday but, in the end, they opted to stick with plans to name a completely new starting XV.

They were rewarded with an efficient performance that once again underlined the remarkable depth of this Leinster squad. Up against an Ulster side that was far closer to full-strength, the eastern province had too much quality.

scott-penny-scores-a-try-despite-louis-ludik Scott Penny scores for Leinster. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Even a ‘second-string’ Leinster match day 23 included six players who have more than 100 caps for the province, with another few nearing that mark. 

Man of the match Ciarán Frawley – making his first start at inside centre – loosehead prop and captain Ed Byrne, back row trio Will Connors, Max Deegan, and Josh Murphy, locks Ross Molony and Devin Toner, and several others had strong performances that helped Leinster to continue their unbeaten season.

“We’re absolutely delighted,” said Frawley post-match. “Ulster brought down a strong outfit and we were delighted to get another win, 20 from 20, and just to keep the supporters at home happy.

“We’re into knock-out rugby now so it’s important we keep pushing each other and keep competition through the roof, keep giving Leo and Stu a headache for selection. That will drive us all on.”

The reality is that last night won’t drastically change whatever selection plans Cullen and Lancaster had for their semi-final, with so many high-quality internationals to return to the starting XV next time out.

But that relentless competition and pressure from the rest of the squad is enviable for virtually every other province or club side in the game. 

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Cullen was pleased with what he saw as Leinster marched on into their semi-final with a 23rd consecutive win in all competitions.

rob-kearney-is-tackled-matt-faddes Rob Kearney was back for Leinster. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“‘I thought that was a nice dogged performance,” said the Leinster head coach. “Guys put in good shifts physically and fronted up, particularly with some of the ball-carriers that Ulster have, with [Marcel] Coetzee in the forwards and [Stuart] McCloskey in the backs, so they are a handful and you’ve got to be able to deal with them. That was pleasing.

“I thought we were clinical in terms of taking some opportunities in the game as well and we played quite smart considering we have a number of young guys out in the 23 there, so I thought overall we were quite smart.

“We probably had a 20- or 25-minute period in the second half which was a bit sticky for us. Sometimes when you have a lead… you’ve got to give Ulster credit because they came back quite strongly at us with those waves of attack which are pretty direct.

“It was a big moment with the John Cooney try being disallowed, then we go down the other end and score, so it’s a pretty big shift in the game. There’s a period in that second half when it’s a bit sticky for us but it’s probably to be expected at this stage of the season.

“It’s not going to be perfect, is it? There were 15 changes off the back of last week, but credit to the group, the way they fronted up was good.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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