Leinster ‘not much better than us’, says Ulster coach after defeat
Kiss laments side’s inconsistency but believes they have a chance to respond
Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss: “We don’t have a constant dependable style of rugby that we can rely on.” Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Leinster’s scorching hot streak continues while Ulster splutter into 2018 as season-defining Champions Cup rugby returns.
“I don’t think they’re that much better than us,” Les Kiss, the embattled Ulster director of rugby, protested despite Saturday’s 38-7 scoreline at the RDS telling no lies. “It’s a [downward] spiral. It’s not ideal and it’s hurting us to be that inconsistent, it’s not ideal that’s for sure. That’s the nature of what we’re looking at the minute. That inconsistency, we don’t have a constant dependable style of rugby that we can rely on. We have a chance next week to respond.”
Some of the toughest weeks imaginable lie ahead, on and off the field, for Ulster. French title contenders La Rochelle will be salivating at the sight of such porous defending. There follows a journey to Wasps before Christian Lealiifano is replaced by another foreign outhalf just as Paddy Jackson’s legal proceedings commence.
Matt Giteau’s Suntory Goliaths play in the Japanese Top League final this weekend.
In stark contrast, Leinster’s spiral soars ever higher despite conundrums caused by wondrous form and fresh wounds to James Tracy (serious elbow injury), Garry Ringrose (ankle) and Tadhg Furlong (concussion).
Picking a Leinster team to face Glasgow in Dublin and Montpellier away, as Leo Cullen seeks to maintain a seamless balance to secure a home quarter-final come April, makes every public utterance intriguing.
European rules demand one foreigner from Scott Fardy, Jamison Gibson-Park and James Lowe must be excluded from the upcoming match day squads.
With Isa Nacewa rested over the three-game Christmas period and Rory O’Loughlin completing return-to-play protocols following concussion against Connacht on January 1st, midfield options appear plentiful but Ringrose’s ankle injury, when trapped under Jacob Stockdale’s body in the 59th minute of this six-tries-to-one rout, might inadvertently provide a solution.
That solution being Jordan Larmour.
“What is his best position ?” Cullen retorted following the 20-year-old’s stunning two-try performance. “He’s played on the wing for us, he’s played in the centre even in the game against Ulster in Belfast. He’s been playing 15 obviously the last few weeks so he’s got a bit of versatility and, again, he’s just incredibly talented.”
With Ireland fullback Rob Kearney, Lowe and Barry Daly or Fergus McFadden primed to make up the Leinster back three, there’s a growing case to play Larmour at 13 against Glasgow.
“If he goes out and scores a couple of tries every time he plays, definitely, it makes it harder not to pick him.”
Cullen will be without Tracy – following the hooker’s elbow injury – and possibly Furlong who received prolonged treatment after sustaining arm damage tackling Lealiifano in the 22nd minute. Medical experts, under the guidance of professor John Ryan, subsequently identified a potential concussion and withdrew the British and Irish Lions tighthead at the interval after Furlong failed a head injury assessment (HIA).
“This is a call I was told at half-time; we are going to put him through a HIA,” said Cullen. “Then I was just told Tadhg is not going to come back on. That’s the way the information was relayed to me. I am just relaying the information that gets relayed to me to you guys.
“Okay, so just to clear up what is a HIA,” Cullen continued. “Does everybody know what is a HIA and how that assessment works? Do they? The information is out there.”
The HIA is a three-stage process. Stage one begins with an off-field medical assessment, during the game, that attempts to identify if a concussion has occurred. The eight-day turnaround to Glasgow provides Furlong with extra scope to complete the return-to-play protocols.
Andrew Porter stepped in for his ninth appearance off the bench this season, keeping the scrum solid before a busting run through Darren Cave and Jacob Stockdale allowed Gibson-Park put McFadden clear.
Leinster also released a statement late Saturday night denying reports in “some media that the stand ‘collapsed’” during the game: “There was an issue with the flooring in a single isolated row of seats at the back of Block L in the Grandstand [the newer stand]. As a result, up to 12 patrons were moved from their seats and the area was shut down...There were no injuries reported at the time and a formal investigation is now under way by the RDS in conjunction with their event safety management contractors Eamon O’Boyle and Associates”.
Munster’s dominance in their 39-13 defeat of a depleted Connacht – Bundee Aki, Ultan Dillane and Kieran Marmion rested under the IRFU minutes rule – in Thomond Park was such that Johann van Graan opted to see out the game with 14 men when Andrew Conway limped off, rather than “risk” Peter O’Mahony.
“We were well and truly bullied around in a number of areas,” said Connacht coach Kieran Keane.
Munster appear to have a clean bill of health ahead of Sunday’s trip to Paris to face Donnacha Ryan’s Racing 92.
“If we beat Racing I believe we will get through the pool,” said van Graan. “If we don’t we will have to get back here to Thomond Park the following week [against Castres]. So to win in France we will need an 80-minute performance with all 23 of our players.”
Tyler Bleyendaal (neck) will not be among them as the soon-to-be Irish qualified outhalf could face a further two-month recovery period.