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Frawley impresses as Cullen highlights AIL’s importance

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Leinster head coach Leo Cullen is not overly concerned about the lack of game time some of his senior players will experience in November. Photo: Sportsfile

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen is not overly concerned about the lack of game time some of his senior players will experience in November. Photo: Sportsfile

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen is not overly concerned about the lack of game time some of his senior players will experience in November. Photo: Sportsfile

For a team with four wins from four, 19 out of a possible 20 points and 19 tries scored, it seems ridiculous to suggest Leinster still haven't hit their stride, yet such are the standards the champions demand of themselves.

After starting the season well against the Bulls, Leinster got out of jail in a narrow win over the Dragons, then easily dispatched a hapless Zebre outfit, before they enjoyed another routine home win on Saturday, Scarlets the latest victims.

Leo Cullen's men were much-improved in their seven-try stroll against a poor Scarlets side, but were sloppy at times, as they seek that complete 80-minute performance.

That is ominous for the chasing pack, and as Leinster look to finish this first block of five games with another win in Glasgow on Friday night, they will travel to Scotland full of confidence.

They will then have to wait five weeks before returning to action, and while every United Rugby Championship team is in the same boat, such an extended break throws up issues for a squad as big and as competitive as Leinster's.

Year-on-year, one of the most difficult aspects of Cullen's job is to keep all of his players happy with sufficient game-time, yet with no matches during the November international window, Leinster will not be able to take advantage of what is normally an important time in terms of squad rotation.

As it is, they will play at least one 'A' game, but for the many senior players who are set to miss out on Ireland selection this week, a meaningless friendly won't exactly set the pulses racing.

After watching his side ease to a 35-point win over the Scarlets, in which the front row of Andrew Porter, Rónan Kelleher and Tadhg Furlong showcased their powerful potential, Cullen was asked if he was concerned about the upcoming down time. So, it was interesting to hear the Leinster head coach bring up the importance of the Energia All-Ireland League (AIL).

It is still early days, yet it has been noticeable how there is more joined-up thinking in terms of getting players valuable minutes.

Certainly, from Cullen's point of view, the AIL is set to become even more vital over the coming weeks.

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“The AIL is going to be important,” Cullen said. “A couple of guys went back and played this week. It's really, really important. Watching some of those games when I get them sent through, it's really positive, I have to say. The standard has been good, I have been pretty impressed.

“Hopefully there is a good chunk of guys in the national squad, so they will be gone anyway. Then it's an opportunity for certain guys to refresh, recharge, like a mini pre-season, because it is a long season. Guys will get opportunities at different stages.

“It's slightly different to what we have had in the past, but it is what it is. There will be other positives.”

If that is the extent of Cullen's headaches, then life isn't too bad, yet he believes his side have a couple of more gears to move through before they hit anything like their best form.

Johnny Sexton came off with a hip-flexor issue after 51 minutes at the RDS, but the Ireland captain is expected to be included in Andy Farrell’s squad this week. So, too, is James Ryan, although the lock will follow the return-to-play protocols after a blow to the head. Given Ryan's history of head knocks, that is a concern.

Ciarán Frawley delivered another excellent man-of-the-match performance and having passed his Head Injury Assessment (HIA), the versatile Leinster back will hope to have done enough to earn his first international call-up.

“Ciaran is improving all the time, he is building up his experience,” Cullen added. “Hopefully he is not a million miles away from it (the squad). He was a little bit unlucky with a few of the injuries he had last year, which probably held him back. It's good to see guys progressing, and he's in that bracket of younger guys.”

Leinster – H Keenan; J Larmour, G Ringrose, C Frawley (T O’Brien 48-60; 66), J Lowe; J Sexton (capt) (R Byrne 51), J Gibson-Park (L McGrath 57); A Porter (C Healy 57), R Kelleher (D Sheehan 57), T Furlong (M Ala’alatoa 57); R Molony (R Baird 61), J Ryan (R Molony 69), C Doris (R Ruddock 71), J van der Flier, J Conan.

Scarlets – I Nicholas; J McNicholl (T Rogers 21-30), J Davies (capt) (T Rogers 63), J Williams, R Conbeer; S Costelow (D Jones 48), G Davies (K Hardy 57); W Jones (R Evans 57), K Owens (R Elias 48), WG John (S Lee ht); S Lousi, L Ashley (M Jones 74); A Shingler (S Evans 63), T Lezana, B Thomson.

Ref: M van der Westhuizen (South Africa)


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