On Saturday night Leinster’s 26-game winning streak in the Guinness Pro14, a run stretching back to April 2019, finally came to an end at the hands of a superb Connacht side. Andy Friend’s team were full value for the win, their ambitious game plan backed by an intensity and physicality that Leinster struggled to cope with.
However the high number of former Leinster men in the Connacht ranks wasn’t lost on head coach Leo Cullen, who pointed out that his squad will face a similar test when Conference A leaders Ulster come to town on Friday.
“They (Connacht) all fronted up, particularly in that first half,” Cullen said. “They put a lot of pressure on us, got off the line aggressively. I thought the backrow were good, all ex-Leinster guys. Two big, physical second rows, ex-Leinster guys as well.
“It’s always good to see those guys progress with their careers,” he added.
In total Connacht’s starting team contained eight players that had at some stage been in the Leinster system – Peter Sullivan, Tom Daly, Shane Delahunt, Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux, Eoghan Masterson, Conor Oliver and Sean Masterson.
The result has sparked some life into the Pro14 season, with Leinster now trailing Friday’s opponents, Ulster, by 10 points in Conference A. Like Connacht, Ulster have a string of ex-Leinster players in their squad, most notably John Cooney, Jordi Murphy, Ian Madigan, Jack McGrath and Marty Moore.
“It is going to focus the minds for sure,” Cullen admitted.
“We talk about Connacht and they have a big string of ex Leinster players, Ulster is very, very similar isn’t it? There are a lot of guys there that will be highly motivated playing in these derby games.”
The movement of players from Leinster to the other provinces has at times been a source of frustration for Leinster. When Nick McCarthy decided to swap Leinster for Munster last year, Cullen said other provinces were actively trying to recruit Leinster players.
“Everyone here at the club is conscious of the fact that there is a lot of Leinster players being, ‘targeted’ maybe? I’m not sure what the best way to describe it is,” he said.
Leinster might not be happy with the amount of former Leinster men plying their trade rival provinces, but it’s a trend that is serving Irish rugby well, allowing players who might struggle for time on the pitch at Leinster to flourish elsewhere.
A number of fresh injury concerns for Leinster. https://t.co/AtxgDPVeui
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 4, 2021
Take Tom Daly, who scored Connacht’s bonus-point try at the RDS, as an example. In three seasons at Leinster Daly made just 12 senior appearances, all in the Pro14. He signed for Connacht on loan in December 2018 and had won 1o caps by the end of the season. Saturday’s game against Leinster was his 35th appearance for the province in all competitions, including a handful of starts in the Heineken Champions Cup, and he has become a key part of their squad in that time.
The sight of Leinster players opting for new challenges elsewhere isn’t likely to end any time soon. With Ulster recently confirming Marcel Coetzee will be leaving the club at the end of the season, Leinster will be on red alert given the high number of talented players battling for space in their own backrow.
What a game ?
? A bonus-point win
? First victory in Dublin since 2002@Connachtrugby record a win against @LeinsterRugby who face their first defeat since April 2019 ? #GuinnessPRO14 highlights ? pic.twitter.com/C3rWBI7rp5
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) January 2, 2021
Increased competition within the Leinster squad will always lead to a greater number of high-quality players being denied regular time on the pitch. They might look at those who have left with an envious eye.
Here’s our Leinster Exiles XV selection:
A LEINSTER EXILES XV:
15: Joey Carbery
14: Andrew Conway
13: Tom Farrell
12: Tom Daly
11: Matt Healy
10: Ian Madigan
9: John Cooney
1: Eric O’Sullivan
2: Shane Delahunt
3: Marty Moore
4: Gavin Thornbury
5: Quinn Roux
6: Tadhg Beirne
7: Jordi Murphy
8: Paul Boyle
And here’s a breakdown of the ex-Leinster men now playing at Connacht, Munster and Ulster, including players who were on senior Leinster contracts, were members of the Leinster academy or came through the Leinster schools/club system
Jack Aungier, Paul Boyle, Tom Daly, Conor Dean, Shane Delahunt, Oisin Dowling, Jordan Duggan, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Eoghan Masterson, Sean Masterson, Conor Oliver, Peter Robb, Quinn Roux, Peter Sullivan, Gavin Thornbury.
Tadhg Beirne, Joey Carbery, Andrew Conway, Jeremy Loughman, Nick McCarthy, Roman Salanoa.
John Cooney, Greg Jones, Ian Madigan, Jack McGrath, Marty Moore, Jordi Murphy, Alan O’Connor, David O’Connor, Eric O’Sullivan, Dave Shanahan, Nick Timoney.
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