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Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 5°C
Evan Treacy/INPHO Leinster boss Leo Cullen.
Cullen content as Leinster's attention turns to Champions Cup matters
The Blues travel to Le Havre this Saturday to face Racing 92 after a URC victory over interprovincial rivals Ulster.

GIVEN THE EXACT circumstances of the game that had just unfolded, it was little surprise Leinster head coach Leo Cullen was such a content figure in the aftermath of his side’s 38-29 victory against interprovincial rivals Ulster in the United Rugby Championship on Saturday.

Having lost Cian Healy to a red card just past the first-quarter mark at the RDS, Leinster subsequently leaked three tries in the space of 13 minutes and found themselves 22-3 adrift.

However, Rónan Kelleher touched down at the end of the opening period to breathe fresh life into their challenge and the hosts kicked on after the resumption.

They were helped to an extent by the sin-binning of Ulster duo James Hume and Nick Timoney, but the URC pace-setters ultimately turned on the style in the second half to record their ninth successive triumph of the campaign.

“It’s a pleasing win, with all that was going on in the game. Some good character and all the rest, and that’s the game, isn’t it? The way the game is now, you have to be able to deal with that at some point, a red card. Then there’s a few decisions you’ve to make, do you go with seven forwards or eight forwards?” Cullen acknowledged in his post-match press conference.

“We take Jimmy [O’Brien] off when Andrew [Porter] comes on, and it leaves us a bit vulnerable in the backfield clearly. Credit to Hugo [Keenan] and to James Lowe, in terms of dealing with that aerial threat that comes from them.

“Ulster are on top during that period, we get a little bit of go-forward, we turn the ball over and they score up the far edge. It’s pretty clinical and it’s not looking great for us at that stage. Down 22-3, so credit to the lads.

“They dig in at that stage, big score just before half time. We go through a period where we’re probably looking after the ball a bit better, we were a little bit loose before that. That’s probably the big piece going into next week. You give a team like a Racing those opportunities, they’re pretty clinical in terms of punishing you.”

While it seems likely he will be without the services of Healy, Cullen is confident of having a strong hand to pick from for their European Champions Cup clash with Racing 92 in Le Havre on Saturday.

Tadhg Furlong was replaced three minutes from the end – despite only having come on as a replacement early in the second half – but Cullen doesn’t envisage the tighthead prop being a major injury concern.

“He just felt a bit of tightness there, somewhere in his leg. I don’t think it’s too bad, he didn’t think it was too bad,” Cullen added.

His Ulster counterpart Dan McFarland didn’t have any update on the wellbeing of John Cooney and Iain Henderson when he addressed the media in the aftermath of a difficult loss for his side, although both players look to be doubts for their own Champions Cup showdown with Sale Sharks at AJ Bell Stadium on Sunday.

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Facing Premiership Rugby’s second-placed team so soon after a morale-sapping loss could pose a significant mental challenge for Ulster, but McFarland and his troops are ready to embrace the challenge that lies ahead.

“We’ll go about our business. I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’re going over to play the second best team in England. They’re extremely physical, they’ve had a rest week this week,” McFarland said.

“We’ve obviously had a brutal battle here. That makes it extra tough, but we’ll really look forward to the challenge. It’s another week, we’ll go through the same process we’d normally go through.”

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