‘It’s half-done’ - Leinster and Connacht preparing for unusual second leg

Leo Cullen gives no clues over possible return of Andrew Porter or Ronan Kelleher

At various junctures at a jam-packed Sportsground on Friday night Leinster looked set to make next Friday's second leg at the Aviva Stadium seemingly cut and dried. But, like a dog with a bone, Connacht not only hung on but even threatened to win before ultimately Leinster took a five-point (26-21) lead into the return meeting.

The retiring chief executive Mick Dawson and the Leinster bean counters might take consolation that the tie being kept alive may help ticket sales.

"Yeah, Mick was just saying there's a couple of tickets left so get in early, make sure you don't miss out . . . in his last season!" joked Leo Cullen, who was in good spirits if unsure exactly how to feel afterwards.

“Well you’d like it to be, ‘right, job done, move on to the next job’ whereas now it’s like, ‘we’re still on the same job, half-done’. So it’s definitely unusual.”


Whereas the traditional December back-to-back games each had a certain finality about them, not so these two-legged ties he noted.

“It’s game on. We’ve come away from home, got our noses in front and now it’s about going back home and making sure we start the game well and apply pressure.

Nothing new

“Obviously the different dynamic, you start the game well and Connacht have to chase the game and the game takes on a slightly different form. But we know Connacht are a good, attacking team as we said over the last number of weeks really, so nothing has changed there.

“They obviously brought unbelievable intensity to the game as well so for our guys it’s making sure we’re able to bring that same level of intensity next week.

"A lot of our guys are familiar with the surroundings of the Aviva and all the rest of it but Connacht played Ulster there earlier in the year and had a big win so we know they'll be dangerous," said Cullen who, true to form, gave little indication as to whether Andrew Porter or Ronan Kelleher might be back in the mix.

Although well beaten in both URC meetings this season, Connacht can also take heart from having overcome Leinster at the RDS last January, or otherwise it would be two decades since their last win over them in Dublin.

"Look I think on that day it was probably a different opposition," admitted Jack Carty, who scored 25 points that night. "I think what gives us confidence about today is that it was the first time that we probably went up against a fully loaded Leinster team and we went toe to toe with them. That will give us confidence.

“Look, any of the times we went up to the RDS bar the one at Christmas, the two previous occasions, we were there or thereabouts. But it is a different Leinster team that we faced that day. They’ll be better again next week and we will be hopefully.”

Connacht’s big guns rose to the occasion, none more so than Mack Hansen, whose latest box office performance was worth the entrance money alone.

Andy Friend admitted that Hansen's breakthrough Six Nations campaign has brought his game on another level.

“I think that’s what those camps do for all our players that have come back. There is just a different level of intensity and intent around what they are doing and confidence around what they are doing.

“I’ve seen an enormous growth in Mack off the footy field but that equates to on the footy field. Every time he touches the ball it’s pretty to watch, isn’t it? It’s great to watch. But he’s one of the few blokes that I think have grown again this year, which is what it’s all about.

“They’re the moments that make you really proud as a coach.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times