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'There is a lot of hype about the team and we need to make sure we don't listen to any of that'

Leo Cullen plans to shake up his side for Friday’s derby against Connacht.

Leinster's dejection is evident.
Leinster's dejection is evident.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THE EASY THING for Leo Cullen would have been to warn about the perils of reading too much into one defeat.

Instead he took the harder option. Saturday hadn’t gone well, Ulster beating Cullen’s Leinster team 20-10, Nick Timoney bossing the breakdown.

Different people have different points of view when it comes to this area of the game, usually based on their allegiance. But what was Cullen’s perspective on referee Frank Murphy’s view of the laws?

“We will look to ourselves first,” the Leinster coach said. “I won’t look to blame anyone else bar ourselves.”

It’s hardly the Jose Mourinho way of looking at things. Yet you can see where he is coming from. On Saturday Leinster entered their first interpro of the season without Cian Healy, Ronan Kelleher, James Ryan, Ryan Baird, Jack Conan, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris, Jamison Gibson Park, Johnny Sexton, Garry Ringrose, James Lowe or Hugo Keenan.

And Ulster beat them in the RDS for the first time in eight years.

The implications for those who lost in Leinster colours are evident in Cullen’s words.

“When you chop and change the team, you run the risk around the cohesion piece,” he said. “But it does create competition amongst the group as well, which is positive. So, obviously when a group doesn’t deliver, then in many ways, sometimes that’s their chance gone. That’s the harsh reality that some guys need to face, for sure.

ulster-players-celebrate-at-the-end-of-the-game Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“We will have a good chunk of players who will return this week. We will see what sort of shape those guys are in.”

Connacht will provide the test, the same Connacht side who beat up a weakened Leinster team at the RDS last season, and who are playing with a togetherness and spirit these days, after back-to-back wins over Ulster and Ospreys.

Cullen watched that game and used words like cohesion and industrious to describe them. “It’s going to be a real challenge for us, so we need to make sure we are up for it, both mentally and physically in terms of trying to deliver a more accurate performance.”

They have little choice. Irish derbies have a different flavour to the meat-and-two-veg nature of regular URC games. They bridge the gap to European level, which is just as well, as Leinster face back-to-back weekends of Champions Cup rugby after this Friday. And after that it’s Munster at Thomond Park.

“Saturday night was a bit of a kick in the backside there for us. There is a lot of hype about the team and we need to make sure we don’t listen to any of that,” said Cullen.

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Ulster certainly ignored the noise. They were up for Saturday’s challenge. Can the same thing be said of Leinster?

“Everyone needs to ask that question of themselves,” said Cullen. “That’s not just the players, it is coaches, backroom staff, everybody. You need to bring that edge to your performances. You need to question that all the time, after you win or after you lose.

“It needs to be there. At the end of the day we’re involved in a contact sport and it is man against man in the contact area, so we need to make sure we’re up for that challenge and we certainly know Connacht will be up for it because you have to remember Connacht’s performance here last year.

“These derbies are about trying to get that balance between bringing intensity to the game but also the composure piece as well. We were probably a little bit off in terms of the intensity (in the first half which Ulster dominated possession) and then when we did bring a bit of intensity (in the second half) we just lacked composure.

“Derbies are a different type of game. A different type of game from internationals, definitely a different type of game from what we encountered in the first five rounds of the season.

“When you watch that Connacht-Ulster game and even the Munster-Connacht game there was definitely a better edge to those. And we learned a pretty harsh lesson about that on Saturday.”

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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