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The Leo Cullen verdict on 'far from perfect' Leinster performance

By Liam Heagney
Michael Milne celebrates (Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Leo Cullen has called on double-chasing Leinster to deliver more polish next weekend after a scrappy affair limited their dominance to only a 35-5 URC quarter-final win over the Sharks in Dublin.

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The Irish province last weekend won its way through to the May 20 Heineken Champions Cup final with an eye-catching effort versus Toulouse, but the display from a much-changed XV in the league clash against the visiting South Africans didn’t have their boss shouting from the Aviva Stadium rooftops.

Leinster were methodical in their delivery of a five-tries-to-one success in which three of their scores came when Sharks were down a man due to yellow cards. The first half-binning of Makazole Mapimpi for his illegal actions when failing to prevent Caelan Doris from scoring resulted in tries during that 10-minute spell from Michael Milne and Jordan Larmour.

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The 35-5 victory was then rounded off in the closing minutes with a score from Jamison Gibson-Park just minutes after the Sharks had a consolation from Rohan Janse van Rensburg chalked off for yellow-carded foul play by James Venter at the breakdown. It meant that Leinster won the 15 versus 15 battle 14-5 compared to 21-0 when it was 15 versus 14.

“Credit to the players, they are seeing the space,” enthused Cullen, whose side also prospered last weekend when Toulouse were hampered by yellow cards. “That has been good. Caelan does well to score the try but it’s a double whammy for them when they lose Mapimpi to the bin as well.

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“But even at the end it gets a bit of gloss, 28-12 and we get that (Sharks try) chalked off, so then we are able to clear our lines and we score. I don’t think the score was really reflective of the game but we will take it and move on and I believe we are back here next Saturday at 5.30.”

That will be for a semi-final versus Irish rivals Munster, who defeated 14-man Glasgow 14-5 in their quarter-final. Cullen admitted there was an injury concern over the availability of sub prop Cian Healy, who replaced Tadhg Furlong at tighthead at half-time against the Sharks, but he laughed off suggestions that the rested James Ryan was a doubt.

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“I was told he was wearing a protective boot; I think he is just looking for a bit of attention,” chuckled Cullen about Ryan. “He’s fine. He has a minor issue with his foot but it is nothing major.”

As for his props? “He [Furlong] is okay. There was nothing major. We brought Cian on but he had to come off at the end. We aren’t 100 per cent exactly sure what is up with him, but we will get him checked out. He is probably the more immediate worry at the minute, but hopefully he is not too bad.”

It was a year ago when four-in-a-row champions Leinster were dethroned by the Bulls six days after they had put more than 70 points on Glasgow in a one-sided quarter-final. That mishap was on Cullen’s mind after seeing off the Sharks in a less convincing fashion.

“It was far from a perfect performance from us but it’s enough to get us through. If you remember the quarter-final last year we had a big win against Glasgow. There were lots of really positive things in that game but then we weren’t able to turn it around the following week against the Bulls.

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“So we just need to learn from the past would be my sense at this moment in time, learn from the past how you back up a quarter-final into a semi-final. It’s great that we have another game to look forward to at the Aviva.

“It was a little bit of a scrappy affair I thought but it was going to be a tricky week we always felt (after Toulouse). We’re pleased to get through it.”

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