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Cullen is pleased to maintain winning run amid display of strength in depth

 

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No stopping: Scott Penny scores a try for Leinster despite the efforts of Ulster’s Louis Ludik

No stopping: Scott Penny scores a try for Leinster despite the efforts of Ulster’s Louis Ludik

�INPHO/James Crombie

Centre partners Stuart McCloskey (left) and James Hume combine to take down Leinster centre Ciaran Frawley

Centre partners Stuart McCloskey (left) and James Hume combine to take down Leinster centre Ciaran Frawley

�INPHO/Billy Stickland

No stopping: Scott Penny scores a try for Leinster despite the efforts of Ulster’s Louis Ludik

Abridged but unbeaten, Leinster's win over Ulster on Saturday night ensured the PRO14's reigning champions will go into the play-offs boasting a league record this season of played 15, won 15.

Bulk suppliers to the national side both at the World Cup and into the Six Nations, such a record is squad rather than team achievement. Perhaps fittingly, therefore, the clean sweep was secured by their second string.

Leo Cullen made 15 changes from the line-up that beat Munster a week before and yet his side didn't appear to miss a beat, leading from the third minute to the final whistle.

Such is the strength in depth that is available to the league's most dominant outfit that, even in light of strong performances from the likes of Ciaran Frawley, Will Connors and Josh Murphy, all those who kept the winning run rolling could find themselves back in reserve roles come the serious stuff of a semi-final.

"I thought that was a nice dogged performance," said the Leinster head coach.

"Guys put in good shifts physically and fronted up, particularly with some of the ball-carriers that Ulster have, with (Marcel) Coetzee in the forwards and (Stuart) McCloskey in the backs, so they are a handful and you've got to be able to deal with them. That was pleasing.

"I thought we were clinical in terms of taking some opportunities in the game as well and we played quite smart considering we have a number of young guys out in the 23 there, so I thought overall we were quite smart.

"We probably had a 20-or-25-minute period in the second half which was a bit sticky for us.

"You've got to give Ulster credit because they came back quite strongly at us with those waves of attack which are pretty direct.

"It was a big moment with the John Cooney try being disallowed, then we go down the other end and score, so it's a pretty big shift in the game. There's a period in that second-half when it's a bit sticky for us but it's probably to be expected at this stage of the season.

"It's not going to be perfect, is it? There were 15 changes off the back of last week, but credit to the group, the way they fronted up was good."

Frawley was to be Leinster's man-of-the-match, slotting in seamlessly to the midfield and even mimicking the grubber through the defensive line that usual inside centre Robbie Henshaw had used to such devastating effect against Munster seven days prior.

"It's pleasing. We've looked at Ciaran quite a bit at 12 over the course of pre-season," added Cullen.

"There was a great little kick at the start which obviously leads to the first try but I thought he was good and physical as well.

"Stuart McCloskey is one of the biggest backs out there. He's a big, big man so I thought, overall, we dealt with him well. He's going to get the odd moment in the game for sure but I thought Ciaran fronted up well. He's that second pair of hands as well which you're seeing more and more in the game and how important that is, it takes a bit of pressure off whoever is playing at 10.

"He got a great poach over the ball as well, I thought he fronted up really well."

Frawley himself hopes at least he gave his coaches something to think about.

"Ulster brought down a strong outfit and we were delighted to get another win," he said.

"We're into knock-out rugby now so it's important we keep pushing each other and keep competition through the roof, keep giving Leo and Stu a headache for selection."

Belfast Telegraph