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'The attitude they showed coming back in was the most pleasing of all' - Cullen hails Leinster's Ireland crew

Leinster’s returning international quintet played their part in securing another win for the province at the RDS on Saturday.

Leinster’s Ronan Kelleher celebrates his try with Peter Dooley and Will Connors.
Leinster’s Ronan Kelleher celebrates his try with Peter Dooley and Will Connors.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

IT MAY NOT have been where they wanted to be with a trip to Twickenham just eight days away, but Leinster’s returning international quintet played their part in securing another win for the province at the RDS on Saturday.

Player of the Match Will Connors grabbed a brace of tries as Leinster recorded a resounding 36-12 bonus-point triumph over the Toyota Cheetahs in the PRO14, while Ronan Kelleher, Max Deegan, Luke McGrath and Dave Kearney all saw significant game time during a wind and rain-swept affair in Ballsbridge.

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen was thrilled with the way each player integrated back into the squad, but hopes they can remain in the frame for round three of the Six Nations.

“You think of the guys coming back in, Ronan got in for a try [his eighth of the season]. Max was on the ball a bit, which was good. Luke McGrath was good. It was maybe a bit harder for Dave Kearney on the wing. He looked a bit frozen there at times!” Cullen acknowledged at Saturday’s post-match press conference.

“Then Will as Man of the Match, so the five of them were good. I think the attitude that they showed coming back in this week was the most pleasing of all. Most of them will go back into [Ireland] camp and we will see where they sit next week then.”

It was an eye-catching performance from Kildare native Connors, who got the ball rolling for Leinster with a 21st-minute try. Yet the openside flanker also showcased the less glamorous side of his game as he aims to nail down a regular spot in the Leinster back-row.

leo-cullen Leinster boss Leo Cullen. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“His ability to hit through the contact is unbelievable. He does a huge amount of work with Hugh Hogan [contact skills coach]. You can see how that pays off in the games. Some of the back-rowers, the work that they do in that contact area, it’s important. Even Caelan [Doris], Max, guys who have been involved in Irish camp.

“He [Connors] has benefitted from that. Josh van der Flier is another one. It’s a competitive spot. I think they can see that Jack [Conan] and Dan Leavy are making decent progress as well in the background. That window is getting tighter for the challenges that lie ahead.”

With a dozen of his players still in the Ireland set-up, Cullen’s hand was significantly strengthened by the presence of Connors and company for the visit of their South African counterparts. While next week’s schedule leaves things up in the air for the time being, the Wicklow man expects to have an altered selection for a Friday night trip to the Ospreys.

“With the [international] game on Sunday and we are playing on Friday, I’m not 100 per cent what way they will map out the week. For us there are some guys that we are keen on seeing playing. There will clearly be some changes to our guys for next week,” Cullen said.

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