Leinster's Ryan Baird dejected. Bryan Keane/INPHO
Room to improve

'We need to be able to execute better' - Leinster rue inaccuracy after Ulster defeat

Leo Cullen cut a frustrated figure after Monday’s loss at the RDS.

NOT FOR THE first time this season, Leo Cullen sat in the RDS media room reflecting on Leinster’s lack of clinical edge in the opposition 22 after Ulster left Dublin with a 22-21 URC win on Monday night.

Leinster saw a nine-game unbeaten run in all competitions ended as they paid the price for a slow start at the RDS, Ulster racing 12-0 ahead in the opening 10 minutes and leading 19-14 at the half-time break.

The home side pulled the deficit back to one-point in second half but couldn’t capitalise on their possession and territory across an error-strewn final quarter. That lack of accuracy is an issue Cullen has discussed across Leinster’s winning run this season. Previously they’ve still had enough to see off their opponents but this time, his team came out on the wrong side of the result.

“It’s this time of year, it’s hard to construct play,” Cullen said.

“We start, get our noses in front in the other two games in similar conditions – away in La Rochelle and away in Munster.

“Ulster came with a plan, got their noses in front and the penalty at the start of the second-half just puts them three points in front and we’re chasing the game. As the conditions deteriorate, it just gets harder and harder.

leo-cullen-during-the-warm-up Leinster head coach Leo Cullen. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

“When we won those (tight) games, we’ve been the beneficiaries of that. Ulster, you could see they’re motivated and you’ve got to give them a lot of credit. We were not able to reel them in unfortunately. A bit of that’s execution; individually and collectively we need to be able to execute better.”

After conceding those two early tries Leinster recovered well to claw their way back into the contest, with scores from Cian Healy and Rob Russell edging them 14-12 ahead after 25 minutes before Nick Timoney’s second try of the evening pushed Ulster back into the lead just before the interval.

All three tries came from Ulster 10 Billy Burns finding space with his kicking game.

“They did create some space for sure, but I thought we had a lot of pressure on in different stages,” Cullen continued.

“It’s disappointing the way we started the game, that’s probably the thing. Again, we just need to be a little bit sharper in terms of seeing some of those pictures as well.

We’ve plenty to work on. We’ve chopped and changed our team a bit as well, you’re trying to build that cohesion part and listen, I have to take responsibility for that.

“Unfortunately we weren’t quite good enough today. I thought we would be good enough, I thought we had chances to win the game, but unfortunately we just weren’t quite good enough. 

“A little bit of a slow start. Ulster, you could see that kick-play coming. They executed well and finished well, then there’s a breakout try, we miss a tackle and they get away and execute again.

“I thought then we were well on top, going well in the contact area, getting in for a couple of tries ourselves and suddenly then it’s 14-12. Again, Ulster do well, a nice crossfield kick, the ball sits up and it’s a well-taken score.

“The way the conditions were, it was always going to be helpful if you were in the lead because it was going to be harder, particularly as the game went on, because the pitch was churning up and it just became a bit harder to play.

“Having said that, we still have chances, get in for a maul try and we need to be better there in managing that period of play, 10 minutes to go and we’re down on their try line and get a little bit impatient. It was going to be hard to get down there again so it was just that patience piece.

“So hugely frustrating but give a lot of credit to Ulster. They were more clinical in terms of the chances. We had more chances than they did but we couldn’t execute unfortunately.” 

Leinster lost both James Ryan and Jimmy O’Brien from their starting team before kick-off to injury, but Cullen described their issues as “pretty minor.” James Lowe is back running and could feature in the upcoming Champions Cup games, although Ross Byrne’s return to action may not come until next month – Ireland kick-off their Six Nations campaign away to France on 2 February.

Both provinces now head into a break weekend before the return of the Champions Cup – with Leinster hosting Stade Francais on 13 January before Ulster welcome Toulouse to Belfast later that evening. 

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