Tuesday 18 June 2019

Victor Costello: 'Leo Cullen's cut off the media was premature and risky - but gave a clear insight into his thinking'

If Jordan Larmour is selected to start the PRO14 final, Glasgow are likely to target him defensively. Photo: Sportsfile
If Jordan Larmour is selected to start the PRO14 final, Glasgow are likely to target him defensively. Photo: Sportsfile

Victor Costello

The manner in which Leinster were able to brush off Munster last weekend is once again testament to the forward planning and forward thinking of this management team.

Leo Cullen's ire at the media on his selection calls was somewhat premature and risky, but it gave a clear indication to the way he and his back-room team think.

There is no doubt Munster are some way off what they were and what they need to be, but Leinster were up for the game and a week after the defeat against Saracens, Cullen's men were physically and mentally sharp.

This is a hard state to be in as a player so far into the season and while some may feel hard done by the squad system, it is working as it aims to provide not only a strong present but also a strong future.

This fixture has stood the test of time through amateur and professional times and the latest derby did not disappoint.

It even had Felipe Contepomi pacing up and down the coaches' box throughout the game as he was probably reminiscing about his playing days and frustrated he was not on the field.

Both teams were up for the battle, knowing that not only team success in the PRO14 was at stake but also Irish World Cup places, which should not be as set in stone as they once were earlier in the year.

With Ulster limping out of the competition the night before, there was even more pressure on both teams to perform as longevity in this competition provides a great platform for World Cup training squads and warm-up camps.

Munster were outplayed in both the back-line and the back-row. With no attack apart from the Scannell brothers, the visitors were easily read and were nowhere to be seen at the breakdown.

This brings us back to the point of the growing back-row unit that is Jack Conan, Rhys Ruddock and Josh van der Flier.

If this trio remains fit, they will surely be the starting Irish back-row with some adaptability for the lesser games in the competition.

Peter O'Mahony and CJ Stander looked off the pace and have struggled with recent form.

Van der Flier's presence made us wonder what would have transpired should he have been available a week earlier, but one must try and focus on what he can bring to Leinster and Ireland over the coming weeks and months.

If Jordan Larmour is selected to start against Glasgow tomorrow, they will target him defensively.

The ever-resilient Ross Byrne is dovetailing excellently with Johnny Sexton as both out-halves bring out the best in each other in the blue jersey.

Glasgow, however, are different to Munster. They are a quality side, playing quality rugby.

They disposed of Ulster at home after 20 minutes and while they play a very similar brand of rugby to Leinster, they are strong where the defending champions are currently week.

As much as the intensity of last week's game transcended generations, yet at no stage can I remember a try scored by the front-row unit alone. Certainly if there was, it was not in the video era.

Sean Cronin's ability to score tries with his dynamic power will have him as a certainty for the World Cup but the lineout inaccuracy, if not corrected, will keep him out of the starting XV.

This is an area of weakness at the moment and will need work this weekend.

The scrum suffered too which is something we don't often see and Glasgow are particularly strong in both these areas so they will be sure to test Leinster.

The Ulster lineout failed to win any of their own ball in the first half and little in the second, which is almost criminal at this stage of the league.

With this in mind, Cronin will have to get his set-piece play controlled and accurate.

If he can get this area up to standard, Leinster will win and he will be reinstated to where he belongs on the Irish hooker rankings.

Glasgow play a fast-paced game and have patience for the multi-phase, which wears down the opposition.

It may be old-fashioned but any side that beats Munster in a cup or league campaign has come the harder route.

This was the perfect game to have after the Champions Cup disappointment to reignite the hunger for PRO14 glory.

The Leinster squad have been used to collecting trophies and their desire to avoid leaving this season empty-handed will push them over the line.

Glasgow are deserved finalists but they don't have the same experience that Leinster have.

Leinster have also learned this year once again what it's like to lose a final. Losing to Connacht in 2016 hurt but losing two weeks ago hurt even more.

The pain of these defeats will galvanise Cullen's men.

There is no doubt Glasgow will be out of the blocks first tomorrow, but over the 80 minutes, Leinster will grind them down.

Adaptability in personnel, game-plans and open play is this current Leinster team's greatest strength and with the recent contract renewals, it seems the players are not ready to relinquish their reputation just yet.

Irish Independent

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