Leo Cullen and co find cutting edge as Kiss looks forward

After struggling for much of the season Leinster blitzed the team that had impressed

 

Leo Cullen’s first season as Leinster coach can end with silverware and therefore be deemed a qualified success.

After European defeats to Toulon last December, Cullen pointed to the Pro12 title as the only way to escape into summer with contentment. One more victory, at Murrayfield next Saturday, and the foundations will feel secure.

“I think it is important to go back to what we can actually do which is to navigate through 22 rounds of the Pro12,” said Cullen last night.

“We had to use a lot of players to get here – 56 to be exact. It’s been a challenging season coming off the World Cup. It’s been hard to get a foundation without 20 players. They are all reasons/excuses. We are now where we are.”

Jamie Heaslip was named MVP for the umpteenth time this season, but the nominees were many. Iain Henderson for one. Jordi Murphy, Luke Fitzgerald and Johnny Sexton, naturally. Big Ben Te’o (a genuine loss to English rugby).

“We had to be quite analytical when we approached the last game but we had to wear that emotion,” said Heaslip of the recent 30-6 defeat in Belfast.

Ferocious

It so clearly did. This was a ferocious interpro, masked as a Pro12 semi-final, with Henderson growing into the game and refusing to relent. More is the pity Ulster’s front five failed to match their young blindside’s physicality because that is where the game was ultimately lost.

That and Leinster’s irrepressible opening which yielded a try from Isa Nacewa after just four minutes. That came following 14 phases and a clever cut-out pass by the everlasting Eoin Reddan.

Sexton converted and kept splitting the uprights as Ulster struggled to find a foothold in a game many expected them to win. Even Paul O’Connell said as much earlier in the day.

But Leinster saved their most convincing performance under Cullen until it really mattered.

Sexton was flawless off the tee while Ireland understudy Paddy Jackson missed his third strike at goal – the conversion of Craig Gilroy’s try just before the interval as Ulster, finally, forced a contest.

Stuart McCloskey charged into Sexton at every opportunity (knowing full well that Te’o was destroying anybody foolish enough to come through midfield).

Superior

Mick Kearney

There was a dying kick in Ulster but not much else for an incomplete Les Kiss season that finishes the way those up north have grown far too accustomed to. In regret.

“My message is this is not an ending, it is a beginning,” said Kiss. “I do think we have the talent, the appetite and the industry to go where we would like to go. It’s probably weird but I’m already looking forward to that offseason and getting my teeth into it. It was tough to come in a third into the season.We fell short for sure but Leinster delivered.”

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