Sunday 26 January 2020

Cullen's men should be able to make Ulster faithful sit back in awe of them

Jamie Heaslip in training this week (SPORTSFILE)
Jamie Heaslip in training this week (SPORTSFILE)

Victor Costello

The glaring gaps of the Champions Cup weekends are a constant reminder of Leinster's flaws this season, and the club's new coaching staff will not be experienced enough just yet to have their poker faces on and prove that they only look forward and not backwards.

As proven winners themselves, the coaches will have found themselves in uncharted territory watching the knockout stages in European instead of playing in them.

The ability to turn negatives into positives is a skill that they should be able to show in the last few games of this season.

Taking a broader view, all of us Leinster and Ireland fans are willing our team back into the top echelons of European rugby without noticing that it is in fact not what it used to be.

Two years into the European Champions Cup and we are still seeing empty stadia and a multitude of watching options on the exhausted TV rights battle.

When Leinster and Munster were to the fore, the ticket office was stretched beyond belief and many fans were reduced to watching it on TV, lamenting the scarcity of tickets.

Theses days, the fans can take the lazy option by watching the game from afar and celebrating the decision to do so due to the lack of atmosphere created in the current format.

As the power brokers make a mess of what was a great European sporting institution, Irish provinces can get themselves back up to speed and prove that pride and passion still has a major role to play in the modern game.

As a Leinster man, I would have given anything to be a part of that one European match, Munster versus Biarritz in Cardiff in 2006, ahead of all of Toulon's three European victories. The same goes for Leinster's victory against Northampton in the same stadium.

By the Irish provinces' high standards, there is trouble within but Leinster are best positioned out of all.

Munster have a coaching transition and the knives are clearly out for Anthony Foley, and understandably so due to results. If Foley slips back in to a lesser coaching role, he is sure to outlast his South African colleagues and come good again for his province.

Connacht have been the most consistent this season and their style of play has been celebrated by their fans. The Champions Cup should serve them well next year but unfortunately the end of the season is providing them with untimely injuries.

The winning of the Pro12 is clearly within Leinster's grasp and the squad development over the past season will see them through over the next few seasons.

If Leinster were to take a hit with injuries, it wouldn't impact the end result like Connacht or Munster.

This summer's priority should be keeping the players happy and maintaining their interest in the province in the medium to long term because some will not end up in the starting XV in the next few weeks, as they did consistently during the earlier part of the season.

In any competition, Ulster away would warrant sufficient attention but Leinster have an older brother attitude towards them and playing up there is no problem, particularly this time of year.


If Leinster are serious about winning the league, this test should be less intense than a final.

Ulster have good players but they are not the force they were three years ago. There will be interesting match-ups but the Ulster vulnerabilities up front in the set pieces will ensure a lack of possession for their potent backs.

The Ulster crowd respect Leinster and if Cullen's men can suffocate the home side's charismatic arrival on to the pitch tomorrow, the natives will sit back in awe of what Leinster can do.

For Leinster, it is now time to show what they can do and what they've learned this season because keeping a squad together is easy when you're winning.

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