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Jonathan Bradley's review of the rugby weekend: From Ulster's unsung hero to Leinster's relentless drive for all-encompassing success

Luke Marshall, Dan McFarland, Nigel Carolan and Max Deegan all feature in JB's review of the rugby weekend.
Luke Marshall, Dan McFarland, Nigel Carolan and Max Deegan all feature in JB's review of the rugby weekend.
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

It's been another busy weekend of rugby action. So what were the main talking points that may have gone under the radar?

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Game previews, plus expert insights and exclusive commentary from the Belfast Telegraph sports team.

While Ulster, of course, enjoyed a win over Munster on Friday evening, there was plenty more going on besides.

In the first edition of his review of the rugby weekend, our chief rugby writer Jonathan Bradley takes a look at all the storylines you might have missed:

Are Leinster playing a different sport to the rest?

No coach will relish the prospect of a mid-game interview yet Connacht's Nigel Carolan found himself in an especially unenviable position on Saturday evening at the RDS.

Handed the microphone only 20 minutes into his side's clash with Leinster, he'd hardly have expected to be talking as their interprovincial rivals had already banked the four-try bonus. Indeed Leo Cullen's men were just a tick over two minutes shy of breaking Ulster's own competition record for the quickest extra-point as they stretched their unbeaten run to 16 games with ease.

In a point-a-minute first-half Leinster ran in tries with such frequency that you would have had to go back to a student night in 2006 to hear more regular blasts of The Fratellis.  

"What can you do to stop the bleeding?" Carolan was asked.

"I don't know that there's much blood left," came the reply.

The boys in blue have fielded 44 players over their unbeaten festive derby slate and it's something of a feat that the locals keep pouring through the turnstiles when the result feels such a foregone conclusion.

Quite whether this is sport in the strictest sense remains to be seen. Leinster are so far ahead of the chasing pack of this league that they give the impression of playing chess against opposition still mastering the intricacies of checkers.

They'll win everything but the Best Picture Oscar in 2020 and the likes of Ulster, despite any recent strides, know all too well the size of the obstacle between them and their ambitions of silverware.

Quote of the Week: "Stop mentioning the streak at home, it's killing me!"

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland clearly a believer that all good things must come to an end. The northern province are now 19 games unbeaten in Belfast, just two short of tying their pro-era record.

Dan McFarland

Ulster's unsung hero Luke Marshall one of the first name's on Dan McFarland's team-sheet

Stuart McCloskey was rightly awarded man-of-the-match honours on Friday night for his gainline heroics but his centre partner on the night has been a key driver of Ulster success this season. Still just 28, yet now the side's longest serving player, Luke Marshall has recaptured the form that saw him handed an Ireland debut by Declan Kidney still a week shy of his 22nd birthday in 2013  and can perhaps consider himself unfortunate not to have been back in green for Andy Farrell's "stock-take" last month.

Luke Marshall

Having returned at the tail end of last season from long-term injury - making his comeback in a Champions Cup quarter-final of all stages - nobody has played more minutes for Ulster this season with the Munster game providing something of a rarity - his substitution in the 63rd minute.

"There was a few stages earlier on in the stages when Dan (McFarland) would say 'are you able to play this week or do you want a rest?' and I was always keen to play," he said last week of his workload this season. "And that is due to the competition here as well because you know if you're not playing one week somebody else could come in and take your shirt."

Not likely at this point. Marshall is one of the first names on the teamsheet once again.

Number of the Week - 30

The scarcely believable number of different players who crossed the whitewash for Ulster in between Jacob Stockdale's two most recent scores for the province.

Jacob Stockdale

The usually prolific winger was rapidly approaching a year-long drought at Kingspan Stadium - although he had scored four times for Ireland during the period - before picking the pocket of Sammy Arnold and racing home to put the gloss on Friday's victory.

Player of the Week - Max Deegan

Such is the reliability of that aforementioned Leinster production line that you can find yourself usurped as the coming man of Irish Rugby before you've even had the chance to pull on a green jersey. Such has been the case for Max Deegan, who turned 23 only last October, with Caelan Dorris now widely tipped to start not just the big games for Leo Cullen but perhaps even get minutes under Andy Farrell in the upcoming Six Nations. Not to be forgotten though, Deegan was immense against Connacht, scoring twice, assisting thrice and making 26 tackles with none missed in a game that saw him deployed at both number eight and openside flanker.

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