'There's a lot of ambitious players in the group that want to win trophies'

Leinster may be without captain Isa Nacewa in the Pro12 final next weekend.

LEO CULLEN SAYS Leinster’s desire for silverware brought about the most intense and aggressive performance of their season as they beat Ulster 30-18 to move into the Guinness Pro12 final.

The northern province were competitive at the RDS but ultimately could not hold Leinster’s intelligent and ferocious efforts at bay.

Ian Madigan after the game Leinster's hunger for silverware remains. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Cullen’s men had a hugely disappointing European campaign this season and have faced criticism despite finishing top of the Pro12 regular season table, but delivered an utterly convincing performance against Ulster.

“I think it was important for us just to go back to what we can do, which is navigate our way through 22 rounds of the Pro12 to get ourselves into the semis, ideally a home semi,” said Cullen after Leinster’s three-try victory.

“We had to use a lot of players to get to this point, 56 to be exact, and even in the course of that there’s a lot of ups and downs when you’re trying to stay the course. Everyone’s worked incredibly hard to get us to this point, and it’s not just the players – everyone in the back room making sure players are able to peak at the right stage of the season.

It’s been a challenging season coming off the World Cup and having the guts of 20 players away for a large period. It was hard to get that foundation you would normally have through the pre-season, but they’re all reasons/excuses.

“We are now where we are. Guys acquitted themselves well over the last couple of weeks and they have been able to produce a performance of really good intensity. As a result, we were able to get a very positive outcome.”

Cullen didn’t go so far as to state himself that it was Leinster’s best performance of the season, but he did point out that it was driven by the sheer ambition of Johnny Sexton, Jamie Heaslip and the rest of his playing group.

“It’s good because it’s a semi-final,” said Cullen of the display. “You just want to do enough to win the game really, get yourselves in good shape. We need to recover up now and focus on the next challenge because there’s no point in winning a semi and losing a final.

Leo Cullen before the match Cullen is on the brink of a trophy in his first season as head coach. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“There’s a lot of really ambitious players in the group that want to win trophies. We’ve one more game to go.

“It’s a semi-final, guys know they need to bring that level of intensity. We have a group of very experienced, very driven players who want to be successful. So they know the stakes. There was no second chance out there today, and the intensity was pleasing.”

Looking towards that next challenge, Cullen will be an interested observer tomorrow as Connacht host Glasgow in what he expects will be a “pretty tight contest” in the other Pro12 semi-final.

As for his own side, he is waiting on the results of an x-ray on the arm of captain Isa Nacewa, who was forced off injured against Ulster early in the second half. Ben Te’o and Sexton also sustained injuries.

“Isa got a bang on his arm so he’s going to get checked out now,” said Cullen. “We’ll have to wait and see. He’s getting an x-ray at the moment.

“Ben was carrying a bit of tightness in his calf, but he should be ok. Johnny got a bang in the hip, so he has an ice pack on. I’m not sure exactly how bad that is.”

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