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Saturday 21 April 2018

Best is yet to come from Leinster

O'Connor delighted with season as Blues haven't got to full swing

COMEBACK: Leinster’s Leo Cullen starts tonight.
COMEBACK: Leinster’s Leo Cullen starts tonight.

Winning ugly can be a beautiful thing. This is where Leinster are, just 10 games in to their evolution under coach Matt O'Connor, winning seven, drawing one and losing out in two.

They are managing to achieve that most curious back-handed compliment of winning without playing to the levels they can reach. And there is a solid reason for it.

"It's all relative. What is playing well? Playing well is winning," said O'Connor.

"The reality is we've played eight Rabo games and we've had a full roster to pick from for three of them."

Of course, Leinster's season revolves around the Heineken Cup and their 'pool of death' does not exactly leave many easy options. The Ospreys and Castres Olympique have been seen to, for the moment.

"We had to win in Europe because you've got to win in Europe and it's been about prioritising different things. We will be better with every game," he said.

True. First and foremost, Leinster have to win. This is a results-based business. That is why so many clubs play to the conditions and not their ambition.

"We just haven't got the combinations to develop week-on-week because some players had to have late pre-seasons and other have been on Test duty," noted O'Connor.

"The longer the season goes the more the cream rises to the top. That is the reality. It is about doing enough to be within striking distance of the top."

Where Joe Schmidt did this primarily through attack, O'Connor has set about making Leinster a more resolute proposition in terms of their defence.

"I couldn't be happier with where we are in the League. I couldn't be happier with where we are in Europe. Now, we've just got to build on it."

Ireland starter Gordon D'Arcy soldiers on. Leo Cullen is back from an Achilles operation. Seán Cronin and Mike Ross are weapons off the wood.

Zane Kirchner, Lote Tuqiri and Luke Fitzgerald make for a dynamic-looking back three, with Ian Madigan and Jack McGrath keen to put to rest last Sunday's epic defeat by New Zealand.

The Scarlets are next in the firing line. They are without Jonathan Davies, through injury, and their Wales contingent of centre Scott Williams, props Rhodri Jones and Samson Lee, hooker Ken Owens and full-back Liam Williams.

"You need to go to face Leinster with a positive mind-set and not allow them to put pressure on you throughout," said Scarlets coach Simon Easterby.

"They have the ability to keep hold of the ball and their continuity is second to none. So we're not going there to keep offering them the opportunities. We have to turn up and take our game to them as well."

The former Ireland flanker had a renowned threshold for absorbing pain. He may have to stomach more than he would like tonight.

Leinster: Z Kirchner; L Tuqiri, B Macken, G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald; I Madigan, E Reddan; J McGrath, A Dundon, M Moore, L Cullen, M McCarthy, R Ruddock, S Jennings (capt), J Murphy.

The Scarlets: G Owen; N Reynolds, G Maule, A Warren, F Climo; A Thomas, G Davies; P John (capt), K Myhill, J Adriaanse, J Ball, J Snyman, A Shingler, J Barclay, S Timani.

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