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Leinster top province but facing scrap to win Pro12

Johnny Sexton
Johnny Sexton
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

They don't hand out a trophy for the inter-provincials any more, but if they did it would be Leinster captain Isa Nacewa who would be lifting it.

The eastern province have earned 17 points from their five games against their Irish rivals this season, five more than Ulster and are unlikely to be caught regardless of what happens in their game against Ulster in the penultimate round.

The league leaders are now primed to secure a home semi-final and are 5/4 favourites to win the league, yet they will need to improve their attack.

Kurt McQuilkin has turned the Leinster defence into a formidable outfit since he returned from New Zealand and they have the best record in the league, but Leo Cullen's pledge to restore the so-called Leinster way has yet to materialise. Six other Pro12 teams have scored more tries than the three-time European champions this season who have crossed the line 39 times compared to Cardiff Blues' 54.

"We need to be a lot better if we want to challenge for the title," Johnny Sexton said after Saturday's win over Munster.

"Teams like Glasgow now are bubbling. They've got all their players back and they seem to have a huge squad, they have quality in each position.

"I think they're going to be in the top four and to challenge a team like that we are going to have to be much better than we are at the moment.

"That's the challenge, but we're all back together now for two months and hopefully we can build something, get that semi-final first and then worry about it when we get there."

Saturday's win over Munster saw Leinster show both sides of their season, the defensive grit and the attacking bluntness.

"I thought we created. It was pretty clear we had a game-plan to get back to the edge," Sexton said.

"I don't think we did it as well as we could have, at times, when we had those overlaps. We probably needed to flatten up and, at times, we shifted the ball too early.

"We have plenty to work on. We probably went across the pitch too much. We need to straighten things in those outside channels. But, at times, we did it really well and we looked dangerous.

"With the amount of back-three guys we have, and Luke (Fitzgerald) and Rob (Kearney) to come back, I think it's pretty exciting."

Meanwhile, Connacht have announced that the province's all-time top try-scorer Fionn Carr is among a group of players whose contracts will not be renewed next season.

Aly Muldowney is off to join the Westerners' Challenge Cup opponents Grenoble, while AJ MacGinty will sign for Sale Sharks with Jason Harris-Wright, George Naoupu, Api Pewhairangi and Ian Porter all on the look-out for new clubs.

Grenoble's Irish scrum-half James Hart is a doubt for the clash, as is Bernard Jackman's hooker Arnaud Heguey after their win over Oyonnax last weekend.

Irish Independent

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