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Leinster the clear top dogs after entertaining Pro14 inter-pro series

With three wins from three games in the last fortnight, Leo Cullen’s men impressed.
Jan 8th 2018, 7:57 AM 20,922 42

ATTENTION WILL TURN quickly towards the Champions Cup in the coming days but last weekend allowed us to enjoy the final two ties of an entertaining series of Guinness Pro14 inter-provincial derbies.

Leinster’s Devin Toner, Andrew Porter, Scott Fardy, Jack McGrath and Sean Cronin celebrate Fergus McFadden's try Leinster were hugely impressive over the inter-pro series. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

There remain critics of the conference system that was introduced along with the two South African franchises for the start of this season but one of the positives is that we witnessed three consecutive match days of inter-pro contests.

The talking points thrown up by these fixtures were many.

Jordan Larmour’s reputation continues to grow after three tries in his two outings against Munster and Ulster – the score in Thomond Park will be hard to beat as Pro14 try of the season – while other promising young players like Josh Murphy, Conor Oliver, Rob Lyttle, Bill Johnston, Andrew Porter and Cillian Gallagher gained valuable game time for the provinces.

Ulster were as down and up and back down as they have been all season – blown away by Connacht before a rousing comeback win over Munster and then ending the series with a dire hammering at the hands of Leinster.

Connacht continued their growth with the win over Les Kiss’ side before they ran Leinster thrillingly close at the RDS, although they finished in disappointing fashion against Munster as basic errors frustrated them.

Johann van Graan’s Munster will be pleased with the bonus-point victory over Connacht – their first inter-pro win of the season – but the second-half collapse against Ulster and the unfocused first-half suffering at Leinster’s hands leave them with plenty of room for improvement in the coming fortnight.

All in all, this was an absorbing series of inter-provincial ties and the feeling of a mini-league proved to be a very welcome addition to the calendar.

Leinster emerge from the festive period as the clear top dogs in Ireland, even if Connacht did force them to defend for their lives in the dying minutes of that clash at Dublin.

Quinn Roux, Matt Healy and Tom McCartney dejected after the match Connacht left Thomond Park empty handed. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

But defend they did and impressively so, with Josh van der Flier breaking a tackling record and others following his lead. Against Munster, Leo Cullen’s side had shown their attacking edge and that was even more obvious as they ran six tries past Ulster on Saturday.

Surely there are few who would disagree with the assertion that Leinster are the best team in Ireland right now and one could even argue that their squad could also provide the second best team in Ireland.

The depth in Leinster’s set-up is certainly enviable, although form can always change rapidly, particularly if it is taken for granted.

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There isn’t any sense of great complacency around Leinster though, rather a feeling that the spirit within their squad is returning to a high it hasn’t hit in some years. With young talent continuing to filter up from the schools game and their academy, the future looks exciting too.

Cullen and Stuart Lancaster will now be targeting the number one seed spot for the Champions Cup quarter-finals, with Glasgow at home and then Montpellier away to come in the next two weekends.

Heading into those ties, their inter-pro dominance and the fine form of a host of their internationals – Fergus McFadden has been immense recently – and emerging stars will provide major confidence.

The thought of an inter-provincial trophy has often been in our thoughts in recent seasons and this run of Irish derbies brings the concept back to mind.

In New Zealand’s provincial game, the Ranfurly Shield is a historic and coveted piece of silverware.

Jordie Barrett and Scott Barrett celebrate winning with their father Kevin Jordie [left] and Scott [right] Barrett with their father, Kevin, after Canterbury won the Ranfurly Shield last year. Source: Photosport/John Cowpland/INPHO

The ‘Log o’ Wood’ is defended by its holders in specified challenge matches and in all home games in the Mitre 10 Cup or Heartland Championship. While its prestige was greater in the amateur era, the Ranfurly Shield always adds some spice to provincial clashes.

The format of the holders defending their trophy each time they play at home [or even each time they play another province] would mean that more tallying up of points for an Irish inter-provincial league wouldn’t be required.

While the recent inter-pro ties here didn’t really need an extra kick, it would be intriguing to see the IRFU introduce something similar to the Ranfurly Shield in the future – even if just for the bragging rights.

Leinster own those for now and if their form continues to grow under Cullen and Lancaster this season, they may well have their hands on silverware of some sort in May.

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Murray Kinsella


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