Tuesday 23 January 2018

Cullen: Sluggish display a timely reality check

Rory O'Loughlin of Leinster is tackled by Steven Shingler of Cardiff Blues. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Rory O'Loughlin of Leinster is tackled by Steven Shingler of Cardiff Blues. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Many of their leading lights were watching from the wings, but Saturday's 22-21 win over Cardiff Blues was in many ways the perfect dress rehearsal for Leinster.

For those who will be involved this week, it was a reminder that things don't always go your own way after a Six Nations period in which the boys in blue cut loose.

For the coaches, the Welsh side's commitment to counter-attacking showed them some chinks in the defensive armour that they can tighten up this week. Certainly, Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster have plenty of ammunition for this morning's video review.

Cullen admitted that he had already begun briefing his senior men for the visit of Wasps to the Aviva Stadium for Saturday's Champions Cup quarter-final clash and conceded that the glance forward may have contributed to a distracted performance.

But given the array of attacking talent available to Dai Young, whose Wasps side did the double over Leinster last season, it was perhaps no harm for the team to go through a bit of adversity.

Playing at No 8, Rhys Ruddock was one of those who helped weather the storm in a dominant pack effort but despite winning the man of the match award, he wasn't getting too carried away after Ross Molony's try from a dominant maul sealed the one-point win.

"To gift opportunities like that, to have a crack from their own half, to get players behind the ball and play off unstructured ball is probably not what we want to be doing (against Wasps)," the Ireland flanker said.

"Certainly, it wasn't what we wanted to do against Cardiff. It is just about how we manage the game, how we play on our terms. We weren't trying to be loose. It may have looked that way.

"We will have to look at how we could have taken more control and put more pressure on them, instead of gifting them those opportunities.

"It wasn't the way we were trying to play or the way we will try to play next week. We need to be tidier, certainly not turning over the ball."

Given the competition for back-row places, Ruddock's performance was a timely one.

Like captain Isa Nacewa, Josh van der Flier got a vital 80 minutes under his belt while Dan Leavy scored the opening try and made two key poaches that forced penalties - the second of which led to the winning score.

Having come off the bench against England last weekend, the 24-year-old is riding the crest of a wave, but his well-taken score failed to ignite Cullen's men who were pegged back twice by tries from scrum-half Tomos Williams who levelled and then cancelled out Luke McGrath's effort.

The Blues' capacity to counter caused the home side no end of havoc and replacement No 8 Sion Bennett's try and Gareth Anscombe's conversion edged them 21-17 in front in the final quarter.

But a well-organised maul helped Molony over and although they got a late scare, as the visitors squandered a good chance to score, the home side lived to continue atop the Pro12.

Their focus now turns to their return to the European knock-out stages after a season in the wilderness.


"We feel like we're a different team this year," Ruddock said.

"We are wary of what Wasps offer and how difficult a challenge it is going to be.

"I'm sure having a look back at that (last year's losses to Wasps) and reminding ourselves of it will be no harm."

Having missed out on the quarter-finals in Cullen's first season in charge, there was a lot of soul-searching done around Leinster's UCD base as they looked to get back to the levels of success that saw them dominate Europe from 2009 to 2012.

And Ruddock believes that the curve is now on an upward trajectory once again.

"I would have a lot of faith that we are in a good place as a group," he said. "We've been gearing up for this for a while. To have another crack at it is important.

"Last year was really tough to go down the way we did in the group stages. That has acted as an inspiration to make us realise where the level was in Europe.

"Everything we do is about making sure every day, every week we're setting our standard and making sure we live up to it because last year wasn't good enough."

Leinster - J Carbery; A Byrne, R O'Loughlin, N Reid (T Daly 59), I Nacewa (capt); R Byrne (F McFadden 68), L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 59); C Healy (P Dooley 51), R Strauss (J Tracy 51), M Bent (M Ross 51); R Molony, H Triggs (M Kearney 62); D Leavy, J van der Flier, R Ruddock.

Cardiff Blues - M Morgan; A Cuthbert, R Lee-lo, S Shingler, B Scully (capt) (T James 65); G Anscombe (W Halaholo 65), T Williams (L Williams 71); C Domachowski (G Jenkins 58), K Dacey (M Rees 56), A Peikrishvili (S Andrew 33); G Earle, J Hoeata (E Jenkins 74); M Cook, J Navidi, N Williams (S Bennett 56).

Referee - G Clancy (Ireland).


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