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Cullen is delighted with victory as clinical Leinster prevail without hitting heights

 

By Jonathan Bradley

It wasn't vintage Leinster but, worryingly for Ulster, they didn't need to be.

The northern province's most frequent of foes have put paid to many of their best laid plans over the past seven seasons but, before Saturday, hadn't won in Belfast since 2014.

Having been the most impressive team in the opening two rounds of the Champions Cup over the past fortnight, Leo Cullen's men were far from hitting those heights, but still had more than enough to leave their hosts with no return from a league game on their own patch for the first time in over five years.

"It was far from a classic," admitted Cullen bluntly after the 25-10 win.

"It was a reasonably poor game with a lot of errors, but we haven't had a great record here so we're delighted with the outcome.

"Performance-wise, there were some good aspects from our defence. There were plenty of errors but we can get better at those.

"One of the things is, these weeks there is a challenge because there's so much emotional energy that goes into the previous three weeks - Munster in the Aviva and then two European games.

"We had a lot of changes, and we're conscious of that, still the group were a little bit flat for whatever reason."

Just like in Ulster's defeat to La Rochelle the week prior, Les Kiss's men were trailing 13-10 at the break but again it was simply one way traffic after the turn.

With 55 minutes on the clock, still trailing by just three, Ulster appeared to be handed a way back into the game when Dave Kearney was yellow carded for an intentional knock on.

Leinster though would win the sin-binning period 7-0 thanks to the first of Luke McGrath's two tries, the outcome seeming to galvanise the victors while simultaneously deflating Ulster.

Cullen added that he thought it was a pivitol segment of the proceedings.

"I thought we controlled the game reasonably well in that period," he said. "It probably helped that Ulster coughed up the ball a few times and that allowed us a couple of scrums when we were starting to get a bit of dominance in that area.

"Lukey got a breakaway try and it was a big moment in the game."

If that period seemed critical, so too was the timing of Jordan Larmour's first-half score.

Coming with a quarter of an hour gone, Ulster were on top when the early substitute danced through the Ulster line for a fantastic try that caught the eye of man-of-the-match Sean O'Brien.

"It was something special and we got it when we needed it as well," said the Ireland flanker. "We were under the pump for a while, only had the ball for a few minutes at that stage, and then he does that. He is going in the right direction."

Ultimately, the three tries to one win, and four to zero match-points split, sees Cullen's side sitting pretty on the cusp of the international break.

Second in Conference B, three points behind leaders Scarlets but four ahead of Ulster, the former Irish international lock was quick to point out the significance of wins such as these in the newly re-organised PRO14.

"We talked this week - in football they have relegation six-pointers. it was this 10-pointer today, so thankfully it's four points in our favour.

"We were trying to get it back to the halfway line (after their third try) to have a crack at the bonus point, we made a good break with Dave (Kearney) and I was like: 'go on keep the ball in play'.

"So we're pushing hard because it is important that we're scrapping for every point.

"Ulster Scarlets, Edinburgh and Treviso on our side of the conference, it's much more relevant when we play those teams.

"Finish first and you get a week off, at that time of year. Finish second and you're at home (in the first play-off round) but even if you win that you're going to be away to the number one from the other side. So it certainly creates a few more scenarios.

"Even by conceding the try to Munster at the end of the game (three weeks ago), I was tearing my hair out because it could be the difference between us being second and third."

Belfast Telegraph

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