‘We’ve battled through a difficult period’ — Leinster coach Cullen

NO MATTER WHAT all of us outside the Leinster environment think or say, inside the bubble the squad continue to keep the shoulder to the wheel.

And they keep showing a handy knack of winning tight games.

Ben Te’o was just warming up when Ian Madigan took on the last-minute conversion. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The province has approached this season a block of games at time this season, and they may well look back on the trio of Christmas inter-pros and be satisfied with a mark of somewhere between 60 and 66%.

As a block, it has rarely been pretty, but Saturday’s win over Ulster made it two wins out of three. That leaves the eastern province fourth in the Pro12 (just four points off leaders Ospreys after their defeat to Scarlets) with one league fixture to go before the competition goes on hiatus for a month.

“We’ve been through a difficult period for various different reasons,” said forwards coach Leo Cullen, speaking to the media in place of head coach Matt O’Connor.

That battle was intensified by an Ulster side who made the breakdown a quagmire for the home side, and it was telling how quickly the visitors killed moves once Leinster had a sniff of an opening. With Marius Mitrea in unforgiving mood, though, it was not a sustainable way to frustrate Cullen’s pack.

“[Ulster have] guys who are really strong on the ball, so they can be very difficult to play against. You see that across the board in all their games, how aggressive they are on the ball and it can be difficult to deal with some of the threats they have.

“Roger Wilson, Rory Best, Callum Black – they’re all strong in that area and they can be tough to play against. I thought for the most part we were generally accurate.

“They got a couple of turnovers and it was a bit difficult sometimes with their tackler at the back of the tackle, for our support players to try and get in to that area, it made it a bit of a mess. Maybe that’s why we struggled at times with continuity and trying to get quick ball.”

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Cullen and O’Connor will hope that the final quarter, when the hosts first thwarted Ulster’s last attack before mounting their own pressure and scoring through Jack Conan on the last play of the game, can give them confidence and momentum going in to the next block of games.

“I don’t think anyone is in flying form at this time of year, but as long as we’re battling in to position…

“We’ve one more game in the Pro12 before we go to Europe. Then you start working with a different group with the internationals going away for the Six Nations. We have more of the guts of a squad that will work for the four games during that period… but that’s quite far away. The three weeks in front of us are all we’re really focused on.”

Three weeks that could well define the season.

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