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Cullen's Leinster look towards 'tricky' Ulster side with many familiar faces

The Leinster head coach was pleased with a ‘controlled’ performance from his team in Coventry.

Murray Kinsella reports from the Ricoh Arena

LEINSTER WILL GO in as firm favourites at the Aviva Stadium at the end of March, of that there is no doubt, but Ulster will enjoy the challenge of trying to knock the top dogs of Irish rugby off their perch.

Leo Cullen’s side, having topped Pool 1 of the Heineken Champions Cup, will welcome the Ulstermen to the Aviva Stadium on the weekend of 29/30/31 March – EPCR will confirm exact dates at the end of next week – and a full house will be expected.

Cian Healy celebrates winning Leinster's Cian Healy thanks the province's fans after their win over Wasps. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Progress for Munster into the knock-out stages – they will travel to Edinburgh – means plenty of interest for Irish rugby in the Heineken Cup that weekend, but the inter-provincial quarter-final is a particularly exciting prospect.

Ulster will have nothing to lose, having already exceeded expectations by emerging from their pool with five wins in six games, losing only to Racing 92 away.

With head coach Dan McFarland having made an impressive impact since his arrival at the start of the season, the northern province will relish having a shot at the reigning champions, even if their record in Dublin is very poor.

For openside flanker Jordi Murphy, it means a return to face the province he helped to European glory last season, starting the final against Racing at number eight.

And with a host of other ex-Leinster players such as John Cooney, Marty Moore, Eric O’Sullivan, Alan O’Connor, Dave Shanahan and Nick Timoney in the Ulster ranks, there will be an even stronger sense of familiarity than is always the case in inter-pro ties.

“They’ve looked good, defensively they’ve looked strong,” said Cullen of Ulster after his side had beaten Wasps in Coventry.

“Obviously, it was hard for us to get a gauge on them from our [Pro14] game against them in the RDS a couple of weeks ago because they sent down a very young team.

“They’re progressing well and I thought they looked particularly strong in the two back-to-back games against Scarlets, which we looked at quite a bit in the lead-in to our game.

John Cooney celebrates at the final whistle Ulster and John Cooney will relish a shot at Leinster. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

“They’re making steady improvement with a lot of players we know pretty well, which makes it tricky. It always makes it tricky when players know us well, know what we try to do.

“We need to make sure we have a proper plan for that, but it’s a long way down the track now. We’ll look forward to it.”

Leinster confirmed their home quarter-final by scoring fives tries against Wasps in a 37-19 victory at the Ricoh Arena.

Cullen was pleased with a “controlled” performance from Leinster, highlighting the effort from halfbacks Jamison Gibson-Park and Ross Byrne, as well as the influence of the returning Devin Toner at set-piece time.

“We played the game in the right areas. Between Jamison and Ross, they managed the game well,” said Cullen.

“Jamison with some of his kicks and Adam [Byrne], in particular, regathering as well. It meant we were playing in the right areas of the field and we were able to build some pressure and eventually turn some of that pressure into points.

“It’s a reasonably simple formula, but I thought the guys stayed patient with the plan, which was good. We took some of the chances when they came along, some of the forwards delivered some decent set-piece platform with Dev coming back in there. I thought he controlled things well.

“Just applying enough pressure, making it difficult for Wasps to get out of their end. To have that 20-point lead at half-time was very, very pleasing.

“We just need to look forward now, which is a quarter-final against Ulster, a team that we know well. A lot of the players that we know well, they know us well, so we need to prepare accordingly for that now.”

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Murray Kinsella

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