Subdued celebrations for Leinster as Saracens move into focus

Leo Cullen’s side parade a third-straight title in front of an empty house at the Aviva

Leinster celebrate after their Pro14 final win over Ulster. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Leinster celebrate after their Pro14 final win over Ulster. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

Leo Cullen’s Leinster men had the look of Brian Cody’s Kilkenny hurlers, in their pomp, as they barely lingered on the Aviva grass.

Happy and unsatisfied in equal measure.

“Leinster have not peaked,” said Ulster captain Iain Henderson. “They get better and better year on year. We need to get better and better quicker than they do.”

Onwards both teams must march on after the three-in-a-row is banked in the weirdest possible environment as the lost season is found and finished. Leinster are the Pro 14 champions, yet again and without dropping a game, but there was a subdued feeling among the players after this comprehensive 27-5 dismissal of Ulster.

There are two obvious reasons for this. The first being the lack of people, a trophy lap is only to show off to a sea of smiling faces. The second being the looming threat of a cornered Saracens.

“It’s great but very strange being here all alone in the stadium,” said Cullen. “A lot of work goes in to getting here, huge credit to everyone who played.

“The biggest disappointment for us is that not everyone is here that played such a big part over the course of the season and that’s probably the hardest thing.”

Cullen was talking about the supporters. It fits into our current existence that Leinster are celebrating another title - his fourth as head coach since 2018 - on their home patch with nobody to around them.

How will they celebrate? Do they even have the time?

“Good question, we’re limited in what we can do in terms of gathering. The big focus is enjoying the moment and then turn the page. It’s important to savour the moment and not look too far ahead now.

Dejected Ulster players after their defeat to Leinster. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Dejected Ulster players after their defeat to Leinster. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

“In terms of a plan for next week, we’ve already discussed it as coaches. We had a previous plan for Saracens and the personnel has changed over the course of five, six months, but we’ll put a plan together.

“But at the moment it’s about enjoying each others’ company in the dressing-room.”

Dan McFarland, the increasingly impressive Ulster head coach, was disappointed not to take advantage of Ronán Kelleher’s inability to consistently find Leinster jumpers.

“They lost a lot of lineouts,” McFarland replied to the question of whether Leinster surprised him at all. “That was quite helpful for building a bit of pressure. It was a gift that we didn’t managed to make the most of.

“They were phenomenal when on the front foot,” he added with a nod to an immense performance by Caelan Doris in particular.

Marcell Coetzee is the immediate concern for Ulster’s daunting trip to Toulouse, and 5,000 people inside Stade Ernest-Wallon next Sunday.

“He was just tightening up a little bit.”

If the South African bruiser tightens up in the south of France, Ulster’s season will be over. But they march on. This being a mere appetiser before the resumption of European competition.

“The longer I sit here the prouder I am of the people I work with,” McFarland added. “We’ve been building but were disappointed tonight because of the realisation that we’re a fair bit away from where we want to be.”

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