| 7.2°C Belfast

Leinster must understand former players' motivation to avoid getting caught cold against Ulster, says Leo Cullen



Leo Cullen

Leo Cullen

�INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Leo Cullen

Something's got to give.

In the absence of supporters, those stranded on settees will be eager to see their heroes show some fight.

This pair will not lack in motivation. Ulster have never won all three of their festive fixtures; completing a hat-trick tonight would mark them down as almost unbackable favourites to tee up a league final against Munster.

For their part, Leo Cullen's Leinster cannot abide the prospect of back-to-back home defeats against interprovincial opposition; they have never lost twice in succession at the RDS.

Ulster have won only once here in 17 attempts, and once in the last eight against the best team in Ireland.

Rugby Round Up Newsletter

Exclusives and expert analysis from the sports team straight to your inbox

This field is required

Their perfect 10-game streak in the league means nothing without adding an 11th here tonight; they may return here again but the squads will be vastly different and the circumstances may have altered substantially by then.

Tonight's the night to extend the 10-point margin and ensure the two games Leinster have in the bag weigh a tad heavier on their backs.

Cullen senses the importance too; Jonathan Sexton is hastily re-installed in the starting line-up despite disappearing after just 24 minutes of last week's dismal defeat to Connacht, never to return after undergoing a head injury assessment (HIA).

"When you get removed for HIA, you just go through the stages," explained Cullen.

"(Sexton)'s in the gradual return to play and he's managed to tick all his relevant boxes and is good to go."

It was not clear whether Sexton had failed the HIA last weekend but coach Cullen clarified.

"If you present with a symptom, you'll just pause and not enter back into the field of play. Does that make sense? He didn't return to the field of play based on a symptom."

Ulster boss Dan McFarland houses almost as many ex-Leinster players as Connacht did and he playfully stoked the fires this week, aiming a dart at Leinster's production line, painting a picture of Cullen and company plucking players en masse from wealthy local schools.

"I didn't spend a huge amount of time looking at them so I don't know," says Cullen when asked about McFarland's comments. "There is a lot of narrative around at the moment. At the end of the day there are a number of ex-Leinster players.

"And the Ulster ones are hugely motivated when they are coming to the RDS, similar to the Connacht players coming here.

"For us, it's about understanding that motivation and ensuring that we are not getting caught out again or getting caught cold on the day."

Belfast Telegraph