Tuesday 21 November 2017

Leo Cullen eyes 'tough' Ulster test as Leinster seek revenge

Leinster 50 Treviso 19

Leinster's Noel Reid escapes the tackle of Marco Fuser, Treviso, on his way to scoring his side's seventh try. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Leinster's Noel Reid escapes the tackle of Marco Fuser, Treviso, on his way to scoring his side's seventh try. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Isa Nacewa scores Leinster's fifth try of the game. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / Sportsfile
Leinster's Garry Ringrose is tackled by Treviso's Edoardo Gori. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / Sportsfile
Leinster's Rob Kearney is tackled by Treviso's Simone Ferrari. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Perhaps it was the utter inevitability of the end result, but even by scoring 50 points and eight tries, no one in Leinster will be getting carried away with Saturday's stroll against Treviso.

Leo Cullen was suitably modest in his assessment afterwards but deep down, his immediate concern will not be about how his side will go about beating Ulster in their semi-final clash but rather the fitness of two of his key players.

Rob Kearney will undergo a scan to determine the extent of the damage to an ankle problem that forced him off after just 26 minutes while Johnny Sexton shipped a heavy late hit that ended his involvement six minutes into the second half.

Sexton immediately hit the deck and looked in some discomfort. After receiving medical attention, he walked off the pitch and was visibly upset with the tackle. The lack of a TMO meant that the incident did not receive further examination. "He makes a pass and he gets hit after the pass. That's why I think he was a little grumpy coming off," Cullen explained.

"We discussed it at half-time. By that stage because he had a bang on his quad as well. We left him out there a bit longer and he gets hit but we got the fourth try."

By then, the bonus point was sealed as Jack McGrath's try added to two first-half efforts from Richardt Strauss and Sexton himself who finished off a quite brilliant pre-planned move that he orchestrated.

Mick Kearney (shoulder) also departed early while Devin Toner cried off at the last minute due to illness. It dampened the mood of what was an otherwise clinical display from Leinster, but conceding three late tries won't have gone down well for a side who - although finished the regular season having conceded the fewest tries - in the last couple of games have been opened up far too easily.

A dangerous Ulster side who have racked up four wins on the bounce, including last weekend's 30-6 thumping of Leinster, now lie in wait but Cullen believes that his players have handled the criticism that came on the back of that poor performance.

"The guys bounced back well from last week," he said. "The team came in for a lot of criticism, which is fine, but the players are their own harshest critics and they responded in a really professional way. They went about their business during the week.

"It (defeat) will be fresh. There are a lot of learnings for us from the last week that we can be better at, but Ulster are a very good team as well. It will be another very tough day.

"It is like that back-to-back dynamic in Europe, isn't it? It throws up some challenges. At least, ours is a home and away dynamic. It's unusual for Connacht to back up again in the same venue.

"It's great, even the four provinces all qualified for the Champions Cup next year. Irish rugby, in general, has had a tough 12 months. It feels like there's been a lot of pressure on.

"That is a good place to be for the IRFU. To have all four provinces in the Champions Cup is a positive thing."

Four further tries after McGrath had sealed the bonus point arrived courtesy of Isa Nacewa, Jordi Murphy, Noel Reid and Garry Ringrose whose lightning quick footwork bamboozled the Treviso defence.

"You are always looking for improvements," Cullen added, knowing that plenty will be needed to dismantle Ulster on May 20. "I don't think we'll ever be fully happy. But, we're in a situation where we are at home in the semi-final of the Pro12.

"We would love to be in the final in Europe next week. But, we're not. We weren't even close this year. That is an area we can focus on next year.

"For now, we will be fully focused on trying to progress through a semi-final. It will be tough. We will do everything in our power to make sure that we are as best prepared as possible."

Leinster - R Kearney (N Reid 24); I Nacewa (capt), G Ringrose, B Te'o, D Kearney; J Sexton (C Marsh 47), E Reddan (L McGrath 68); J McGrath (P Dooley 55), R Strauss (S Cronin 52), M Ross (T Furlong 52); R Molony, M Kearney (H Triggs 58); R Ruddock, J Murphy (D Ryan 54), J Heaslip.

Benetton Treviso - J Hayward; L Nitoglia, T Iannone (E Bacchin h-t), A Sgarbi, A Esposito; L McLean, E Gori (A Lucchese 42); M Zanusso (M Muccignat 67), O Gega (L Bigi 54), S Ferrari (S Manu 55); M Fuser, F Paulo; F Minto (A De March 67), A Zanni (capt), (M Lazzaroni h-t), A Steyn.

Ref - B Whitehouse (WRU).

Boss leaves Leinster

Isaac Boss will bring an end to his six-year stay with Leinster when he departs  at the end of the season.

The 36-year-old scrum-half, who has played 121 times for Leinster and won 23 Ireland caps, is believed to be returning to his native New Zealand after an 11-year spell in Ireland since he joined Ulster in 2005.

Boss has fallen down the pecking order with Luke McGrath making great strides, while Leinster are also on the look-out for a new scrum-half with Jamison Gibson-Park strongly linked with a move.

Irish Independent

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