Sean Farrell reports from the Aviva Stadium
LEO CULLEN ADMITTED a heavy sense of relief after his Leinster side edged an inter-pro battle with Ulster to take their place in the Heineken Champions Cup semi-finals.
The eastern province’s head coach surely won’t have paid much heed to bookmakers’ spreads reaching upwards of 13 points, though he admitted the 21-18 win wasn’t exactly how he envisaged the tussle with Ulster turning out.
“Relieved, frustrated. We didn’t quite give a full account of ourselves,” Cullen said.
“When it’s 18-18 and in the balance, it turns into a different type of game. The way you think the game is going to pan out and the way you plan is out the window. It’s just real cup rugby in that last 10-15 minutes. It was pleasing the way we stuck at it.”
Rory Best’s early charge-down on a Garry Ringrose clearance kick delivered a Kieran Treadwell try which allowed Ulster operate as front-runners for much of the match.
And although the reigning champions did not trail again after Adam Byrne’s try gave them a second half lead, a coolly taken late penalty from Ross Byrne was required to seal the win.
“Got the penalty to go in front and we were in reasonable control the last five minutes,” Cullen adds with satisfaction in his voice, “held possession well and took them through a lot of phases.
That single most-important fact was the single most-pleasing aspect for Cullen when coupled with how his men coped after being dragged into a tight contest by an Ulster side who have proven themselves adept in such circumstances.
Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
“We were always having to chase the game. From early on, that charge-down, we’re in that situation where we’re the ones having to force the game.
“Once Ulster had the lead, they were able to play that pressure game on us and we didn’t respond particularly well.