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Tuesday 24 April 2018

Cullen's men handed a 'reality check' ahead of Saracens test

Ospreys 32 Leinster 18

Rory O'Loughlin of Leinster is tackled by Rob McCusker, left, and Ashley Beck of Ospreys. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Rory O'Loughlin of Leinster is tackled by Rob McCusker, left, and Ashley Beck of Ospreys. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Independent.ie newsdesk

Leinster were given a "reality check" by Alun Wyn Jones' Ospreys - and head coach Leo Cullen believes it may have been a good thing ahead of next Sunday's Champions Cup quarter-final clash with Saracens.

Saturday's defeat at the Liberty Stadium was only the fourth defeat of the season in all competitions for Cullen's men and will have reinforced the physical challenge they can expect when Maro Itoje, Jamie George and Owen Farrell - who is facing a battle to be fit - come to Dublin.

"It was a bit of a reality check for some of our guys because it was a tough, physical contest. We came off second best in too many of those contact areas," said Cullen.

"It definitely gave us a good grounding ahead of next week and showed us the level we need to get to. We saw Ospreys play against Saracens in the Champions Cup at the Liberty and we know Saracens are going to be another physical team.

"We watched a little bit of their game against Quins and it is going to be a great challenge for our players to get back to that level. There is a hell of a lot at stake next week."

After the highs of winning the Grand Slam at Twickenham, Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter, Jordi Murphy, Sean Cronin and Joey Carbery all got the chance to get back to domestic issues. There will be more to follow this weekend and Cullen knows he will need them all.

Barry Daly of Leinster is tackled by Hanno Dirksen of Ospreys. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Barry Daly of Leinster is tackled by Hanno Dirksen of Ospreys. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

"Any thoughts of a league and cup double are miles away. Where we are at the moment is that this week we are taking on the two-time champions of Europe," added Cullen.

"It is hard to look past that at the moment. At least we have an eight-day lead-in to that game and it is important for the guys to recover well and prepare well for next week because it is an unbelievable challenge for us.

"It sounds as though it will be a great crowd at the Aviva and we will certainly need every little bit we can get out of them against a team like Saracens. There is a real focus in the group and the players will reset their goals this week and assess what they want to get out of the season - it is a big week for us."

The first part of the week will be taken up assessing the head injuries that forced Fergus McFadden and Noel Reid to leave the field in the opening 23 minutes, and the left shoulder knock that ruled out Dave Kearney 10 minutes later. It was an unbelievably physical match, but just what Leinster needed before facing Saracens.

Noel Reid of Leinster leaves the pitch following an injury. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Noel Reid of Leinster leaves the pitch following an injury. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

"We knew it was going to be tough coming over here. Ospreys had a reasonably well-loaded team, they were quite dominant in the contact area and that paved the way for them to win," said Cullen.

The Ospreys made the most of the disruption caused by the injuries in the Leinster backline as they plundered three tries to move into a 19-3 lead. Adam Byrne then threw his side a lifeline in the last play of the first-half as he outjumped Alun Wyn Jones at the restart to regain possession and pave the way for a corner try by Barry Daly.

There may have been brief thoughts of a revival in the dressing room at half-time, but the irrepressible Justin Tipuric picked up the bonus-point try nine minutes after the restart. Dan Biggar added the extras to stretch the lead to 18 points.

Leinster needed to score next and a neat kick by Luke McGrath allowed Rory O'Loughlin to score a try that Carbery converted.

Carbery then added a penalty to give his side a sniff of a comeback with 20 minutes to go, but it proved a forlorn hope as Biggar added two penalties.

Ospreys - D Evans; J Hassler, K Fonotia, A Beck (O Watkin 58), H Dirksen; D Biggar, T Habberfield (M Aubrey 64); N Smith (R Jones 61), S Otten, D Arhip (M Fia 61), B Davies, AW Jones (capt), O Cracknell (R McCusker 11, A Beard 67), J Tipuric, S Cross

Leinster - J Carbery; F McFadden (A Byrne 16), R O'Loughlin, N Reid (D Kearney 23, J Gibson-Park 34), B Daly; R Byrne, L McGrath (captain); J McGrath (E Byrne 46), S Cronin (J Tracy 50), A Porter (M Bent 50), R Molony, S Fardy, J Murphy (M Deegan 54), J Murphy, J Conan (I Nagle 64)

Ref - J Lacey (Ireland)

Irish Independent

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