Ben Brady/INPHO Leinster head coach Leo Cullen.

Leinster turn attention to Ulster as Cullen set to welcome international stars back

The eastern province consolidated their position as URC pace-setters in clinical style against Glasgow Warriors on Saturday

HAVING SEEN HIS side consolidate their position as United Rugby Championship pace-setters in clinical style against Glasgow Warriors on Saturday, Leinster head coach Leo Cullen is hoping for similar joy when Ulster pay a visit to the RDS this coming weekend.

Thanks to a 40-5 bonus point win over the Scottish outfit in the Ballsbridge venue, the Blues moved eight points clear of their interprovincial rivals at the URC summit – albeit with a game more played.

When the two sides met amidst monsoon-like conditions at Kingspan Stadium on 30 September, tries from Ryan Baird and Dan Sheehan helped Leinster to secure a 20-13 victory. This narrow defeat is the only one Ulster have suffered to date this season and Cullen is expecting another tightly-contested affair.

“There’s a real edge to the games. When you think back to the game up in Belfast, we started the game well that day. Ulster came back into it. The conditions made life very difficult for both teams. Again, hopefully we get a decent night here next Saturday. We’ll hopefully have a big crowd. It’s winter rugby, it’s different,” Cullen stated in the aftermath of the Glasgow game.

“You have to be realistic in terms of the game on any given weekend. They’ll pose plenty of problems for us, the good, physical team that they have. Strong around the breakdown and the contact area. Their line-out is going particularly well. It’s going to be a good challenge.”

After resting the vast majority of his international contingent for Leinster’s return to the URC, it is anticipated Cullen will welcome several key players back into his match day squad for the Ulster game.

Jonathan Sexton might be included amongst this group, with Cullen revealing he is making steady progress from the calf injury that ruled him out of Ireland’s Test encounter with Australia last Saturday week.

While a number of the side that faced Glasgow have international experience under their belts, just two of them featured for Ireland in that 13-10 triumph at the expense of the Wallabies.

Fresh from kicking the winning penalty against Australia, Ross Byrne started at out-half and kicked four conversions in an accomplished display. Joe McCarthy lined up alongside Ross Molony in the second-row after making his Irish debut off the bench on the previous weekend and Cullen was impressed with how they immediately switched focus to their provincial duties.

“The two of them were literally straight in Monday morning, ready to go. Which is great to see. Hopefully the lads just go from strength to strength. The experience of being in camp I think is good. Even Ross just for a short while. Joe, he picked up that head knock, if you remember, in that New Zealand ‘A’ game.

“He got 20 minutes off the bench last week. Good to see him starting out there today. We’ll need that level of competition. You’ve 10 games in-a-row now, one down. We’re not going to be picking the same team week on week. That freshness is going to be so important.”

One man who certainly did his future prospects no harm on Saturday was Leinster’s 23-year-old winger Rob Russell. A member of the Ireland U20s squad for their Grand Slam success of 2019, Russell bagged a hat-trick of tries as the hosts put Glasgow to the sword.

The Dublin University club man had previously crossed the whitewash this season in victories over Cell C Sharks, Munster and Scarlets, and Cullen is pleased with his current rate of development.

“Rob, he’s improving all the time. It’s just getting him to understand that he can back himself, but a hat-trick, it was fantastic. Hopefully there’s a lot more to come from Rob as well,” Cullen added.

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