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Cullen puts defeat down to experience with La Rochelle his priority

Leinster 3 Munster 27


A dejected Rory O’Loughlin and James Lowe

A dejected Rory O’Loughlin and James Lowe

�INPHO/Ryan Byrne

A dejected Rory O’Loughlin and James Lowe

It turns out there is a hard floor to Leinster's seemingly bottomless pool of players. Not since September 28, 2008 when Heineken Cup champions Munster nilled them at the RDS have they scored so few points at home.

Normally at this point of the season, the Blues have a large cushion at the top of the PRO14 table and when they rotate the squad they do so with little risk.

This year's strange format means Leo Cullen and his charges are starting at zero points in late April with five games to turn things around.

With La Rochelle coming next week, the coach opted to wrap most of his starters in cotton wool for the visit of a full-strength Munster team with plenty of cause.

He had plenty of talented, players in his team, but they couldn't match what their visitors were bringing as Conor Murray scored two tries and Munster's pack added a third, with Joey Carbery doing the rest with the boot.

"It's such a unique challenge this year," Cullen said.

"You're starting from scratch. One tournament ends and we're sort of coming to the real serious part of another tournament and then another one begins so there's definitely a challenge within that.

"Obviously for teams that are not in another tournament, it's a great new dawn for them.

"That is a double challenge in many ways because they're all geared up and getting ready to rip into a new tournament whereas for some of our guys, they are different sub-plots going on.

"For our young guys, it's a great experience to have come through that tonight."

Even a Munster team with a complex about playing Leinster couldn't fail to spot the weak points in the team.

Leinster went into the game with the departing Hugh O'Sullivan scrum-half and young gun Harry Byrne at No 10. Byrne's hamstring went after five minutes, Ciarán Fraley's went on the eve of the game so for 75 minutes Leinster were playing with fifth-choice out-half David Hawkshaw.

The Dubliner has a good pedigree and had some nice moments, but Munster's team of internationals swallowed him hole. They tormented his half-back partner who was afforded little or no protection from a beaten pack.

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The plus points for Cullen were getting James Ryan and Garry Ringrose back on the park ahead of the La Rochelle semi-final. The calf problem that Caelan Doris suffered will probably do for his chances, while Harry Byrne and Frawley's hamstring issues are a concern if Johnny Sexton isn't cleared to play.

That would leave Ross Byrne and Hawkshaw as the only fit No 10s in the squad and the 21-year-old has yet to start a senior game and has never played in Europe. Jamison Gibson-Park's hamstring is a further concern.

"It is a huge challenge at La Rochelle next week against a couple of coaches that know us reasonably well with Johnno Gibbes and Ronan as well," said Cullen.

"They're in great form. You saw in their game against Sale how dangerous they are.

"They've got a good mix of power and pace like a lot of French teams."

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