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Dublin: 13 °C Thursday 2 July, 2020

Leinster 'far from perfect' but rebound strongly from Newcastle disappointment

The province will bid for back-to-back Pro14 titles against Glasgow next weekend.

Ryan Bailey reports from the RDS

AFTER BEING DETHRONED in Newcastle, Leinster were not prepared to surrender their Pro14 crown here, and in producing a clinical and emotionally-charged performance, are now one win away from back-to-back league titles.

Munster, as they did 12 months ago, brought huge intensity and physicality to the occasion as they threw everything at Leo Cullen’s side, but again it was Leinster who emerged on the right side of the ledger after an absorbing inter-pro battle.

James Lowe celebrates his try with James Ryan, Andrew Porter, Ed Byrne and Garry Ringrose Leinster celebrate James Lowe's late try. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

While it was far from perfect from a Leinster perspective, there was no sign of a fatal European hangover from the hosts here as they upped their game at critical junctures and through second-half tries from Sean Cronin and James Lowe, pulled clear with something to spare. 

Leinster won the crucial breakdown contest, and despite coming up against the bulk of Munster’s back row unit, consistently shut the door on Johann van Graan’s side, with the returning and outstanding Josh van der Flier leading the charge alongside Jack Conan and James Ryan.

Relentless in defence, another point of difference was Leinster’s lethal edge in attack. While Munster enjoyed substantial tracts of possession and territory, they again were devoid of any spark, with the red shirts running straight into contact all too often. 

The contrast between the two provinces in this regard was highlighted in the way Leinster struck for Cronin’s breakthrough try in the second period, with Cullen’s front row all displaying their excellent skillsets to allow Cronin finish off a sweeping team move. 

Lowe, who had earlier been sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on, added the coup de grace in the closing stages to set Leinster on their way to Glasgow and a Celtic Park showdown with the Warriors next Saturday. 

“We are pleased. It was far from a perfect performance but the lads go the job done,” Cullen said afterwards. “Off the back of the week that we had, and the disappointment, we were delighted to be back here at the RDS.

“It was always going to be a tough challenge getting up from that final regardless of the result.”

Three Ross Byrne penalties, including one on the stroke of the interval, had given Leinster a slender half-time advantage and then their willingness to offload in the tackle and ability to wear Munster down eventually told. 

Jack Conan put in another huge shift, Ryan was typically peerless and van der Flier — in his first game back after groin surgery — was simply remarkable, the flanker receiving a standing ovation from a capacity RDS for his efforts. 

“I think it was important to freshen things up because it was such a physical toll last week,” Cullen continued. “The emotional part of it as well.

“We invested so much into that game so it was a really tricky few days to try and turn the guys around but the attitude and application has been fantastic. The group worked incredibly hard this week so credit to the players because you can’t underestimate the physical and emotional toll of losing a final against a good team. 

Johnny Sexton celebrates after the game Johnny Sexton made a good impact off the bench for his side. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“For us, we just need to try and do it again. It will be an unbelievably tough challenge against Glasgow.”

Leinster have now won their last four semi-final ties against their southern rivals, while the eastern province extend their record at this stage of the Pro14 to eight wins in nine knockout games. 

As was the case with the Champions Cup final at St James’ Park, next week’s league decider will pit the two best teams in the competition against each other as Leinster bid to go back-to-back. 

Dave Rennie’s Glasgow, who finished as Conference A winners, were utterly emphatic in their seven-try dismissal of Ulster last night and, with home city advantage, will fancy their chances of denying Leinster a sixth Pro14 title. 

“We’ve got a lot of respect for what Glasgow do,” Cullen added. “Dave Rennie, when I was still playing, I went over the Chiefs and he’d so much time for me as a coach, I could see first hand how good a coach he was.

It’s going to be a good challenge for us, they beat us here a few weeks ago. It’s great, another final, it’s a testament to all the work that goes on behind the scenes, making sure everyone’s in good shape at this time of the season, so it’s one more final push.

“It will be a great atmosphere at Celtic Park. I am sure all the Celtic fans will be out supporting Leinster because I believe Glasgow Warriors [players] are all Rangers supporters.

“Hopefully we will have a big crowd over there.”

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Ryan Bailey

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