Monday 27 January 2020

'Their attacking shape causes us problems' - Leo Cullen under no illusions on Leinster's task against Connacht

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen is pictured during a press conference at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen is pictured during a press conference at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Leinster coach Leo Cullen has stressed that his seemingly invincible side will not take a weakened Connacht lightly as they bid to complete a clean sweep of festive interprovincial wins in the RDS tomorrow night.

In this fixture last season, a similarly under-strength Connacht came to Dublin and stunned Cullen's men by storming into a convincing lead which had them 17 points up with 17 minutes to go.

However, while Andrew Porter's last-gasp try after 41 phases secured a famous victory in the RDS, Cullen insists that his still unbeaten side cannot afford to slip into the complacent habits which marred that day in his eyes.

"Their attacking shape causes us problems and it did that day," said unbeaten Leinster coach Cullen, who is also still seething at how his side coughed up a late attack bonus point in a sloppy second-half against Ulster a fortnight ago.

"You see the game last year, we had to score at the death after they had led by 17 points. They pulled us apart in several different ways, they like to attack and they have a dangerous back three.

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Leinster players celebrate Andrew Porter’s match-winning try. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

"Caolin Blade has done well, he has scored a few tries, Conor Fitzgerald has come through this season and is a very tidy player. In midfield Kyle Godwin has Super Rugby experience.

"Our systems need to be good on both sides of the ball. For 50 minutes against Ulster, we acquitted ourselves well but then we had mental lapses, an intercept try, dropping the ball.

"We need to tighten up and impose ourselves on the opposition and it will be challenging with a new team."

The Australian star, whose time at Leinster has been dogged by injury and indifferent form, returns as Cullen again makes wholesale changes – Will Connors the only survivor from the Munster win last time out.

"We've a number of guys coming back in fresh. It’s a tricky period and Joe is one of those coming back in from injury so we’re all looking forward to getting going with the last interprovincial of the festive period," he said.

"The management the players get from the backroom team is crucial and players have had time off which is important because with the World Cup build-up starting in June, and test matches still being played next July, the time off is important.

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Rhys Ruddock, right, and head coach Leo Cullen during a Leinster Rugby press conference at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

"It’s been a full-on block of games and a case of survival of the fittest and thankfully we still have a lot of fit guys. We got through Thomond Park with a clean bill of health but we need to bring in players who need games.

"We have Academy guys getting integrated. Ryan Baird had an ankle injury, Harry Byrne featured against Ulster and did well as did prop Romain Salanoa off the bench.

"Connacht will be motivated and some of their players came through the system here and they will have a drive to do well, particularly after losing their two games over Christmas."

Captain Rhys Ruddock has urged his side not to relent as they bid to keep up their unbeaten record.

"It’s not difficult to maintain the standards, It’s a nice position to be in but this is a new team and players need to maintain the high standards and try to push for selection in the next two weeks for Europe," he said.

"It’s a home game in the RDS and we know where the Connacht heads will be at after two defeats and they will be fighting tooth and nail ahead of their European games."

Leinster: J Larmour; F McFadden, G Ringrose, J Tomane, D Kearney; C Frawley, L McGrath; P Dooley, S Cronin, T Furlong, R Molony, J Ryan, R Ruddock capt, W Connors, M Deegan. Replacement: B Byrne, E Byrne, R Salanoa, R Baird, C Doris, J Gibson-Park, H Byrne, C Kelleher.

Connacht: S Fitzgerald; N Adeolokun, K Godwin, T Daly, J Porch; C Fitzgerald, C Blade capt; D Buckley, S Delahunt, D Robertson-McCoy, N Murray, G Thornbury, E Masterson, P Boyle, R Copeland. Replacements: T McCartney, P McAllister, C Kenny, J Maksymiw, S Masterson, S Kerins, D Horwitz, T O’Halloran.

Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU).

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