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Dublin: 5°C Friday 14 May 2021

Leinster poising to bounce back against 'the best team in the Pro14'

Leinster are in the unfamiliar position of looking up at Ulster in the standings ahead of Friday’s showdown.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

IT’S NOT QUITE as simple as pulling the lever that rolls the heavy artillery back into place, but Leinster will have a few big guns locked and loaded for Friday’s Pro14 encounter at home to Ulster.

Saturday’s inter-pro results mean the northern province are now the owners of the tournament’s only unblemished record. 10 wins out of 10 that sees them go into this showdown with a 10-point lead over Leo Cullen’s side in Conference A – albeit having played two games more. And with the truncated Pro14 season now allowing only the Conference winners to progress to the final, Friday’s fixture has the feel of a decider.

Tadhg Furlong was among the bigger names who togged out for on-field training at UCD yesterday. The prop is still progressing back to fitness and won’t make the clash with Ulster, but being on the field is always a positive step.

The squad that was stretched so thin ahead of the loss to Connacht will be bolstered by a returning crop of internationals. Though a few Covid concerns in key positions remain, yesterday’s injury update from the province signalled a potential return for Jordan Larmour and Rhys Ruddock ahead, while James Ryan was presented for media duties yesterday afternoon to signal his availability.

“The intensity has to go up,” said Felipe Contepomi expectantly. The Argentine was reacting to the defeat to Connacht, but also looking ahead to their European pool encounters with Northampton and Montpellier.

It is not only because we have lost. It is the games we are heading into, three crucial games for us defining our season. It’s great, the intensity is up and everyone in the camp is buzzing.”

While there was the usual notional lesson-learning after an inter-pro loss from Leinster yesterday and there is a course correction promised by whatever XV is selected, the eastern province go into the weekend in an unusual position. They have grown accustomed to being front-runners in this league, but even with games in hand that 10-point gap requires urgent maintenance.

For starters, the reigning champion’s backs coach labels Ulster “the best team in the Pro14″. It’s a moniker that may be deserved given the form-guide, but Ulster themselves wouldn’t dare claim it until they have a trophy to prove it.

If having that label on the line wasn’t motivation enough for Leinster, then the sting of being out-muscled by Connacht remains.

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“I know they out-played us in the back three as well, but up front where we were beaten on the physicality we weren’t that young,” says Contepomi.

“All over the park we were surprised by the intensity they brought back in. There’s nothing to get shy about: they were much more physical, had more intensity and beat us in every aspect of the game.”

Looking at the table and the gap between provinces east and north, he adds:

“I hope that brings an extra edge for the players, but I think after the last game it is more focusing on performance…

“We tried to set the highest standards we can and we have been under those standards in the last game.

“It’s getting back to where we think we should be.”

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Sean Farrell

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