Saturday 16 December 2017

Cullen urges Blues to raise their game

ACTIONS speak louder than words, points louder than possession and results louder than performances. The time for actions, points and results is here.

Leinster have lost their last three, the most recent away to Ulster last Friday night, and they simply cannot afford to lose another to Connacht in the PRO12 League.

Captain Leo Cullen is on the threshold of becoming a centurion for making his 100th league appearance for Leinster. But, past glory and a present landmark are not what he is about.

He knows that the presence of a world-class goal-kicker has been partly the downfall of the province in the last three outings, Clermont's Morgan Parra and Ulster's Ruan Pienaar punishing them with points on the board.

"Against Clermont, in The Aviva, we gave away too many kickable penalties and Parra kicked seven out of eight of them," said Cullen. "Then, against Ulster, Paddy Jackson missed a few fairly kickable shots at goal, but Ruan Pienaar stepped up and kicked well.

"From our perspective, we have to try and build some momentum coming into a busy next few weeks which will go a long way to defining the season.

"We need some big results and we need to try and get some more rhythm to our play," Cullen stated.

Connacht made a number of solid signings for this season, none more so than their former Scotland fly-half goal-kicking machine.

"This weekend, Dan Parks will punish any penalties we give away because he has such a high kicking percentage and has proven himself time and again over the years.

"So we need to be more careful about giving quality sides easy opportunities to keep the scoreboard ticking over. These kinds of games are won and lost over the finest of margins."

Of course, the recent saga over Mike McCarthy's transfer to Leinster next summer, the European Cup champions' anger, in return, at a province they qualified for the Heineken and Connacht's humiliation of Joe Schmidt's men in Galway all add spice to the occasion.

"We learned a few harsh lessons over in the Sportsground last time out. I acted as water-boy that day and it was tough watching from the sidelines," said Cullen. "They brought greater physicality to the game and they dominated us in that regard. We can't allow them to have that kind of an upper hand again."

At present, Leinster reside in sixth in the PRO12 League. This first impression is tempered by the fact that they are just seven points behind The Scarlets, in second, with a game-in-hand.

"Ulster are racing clear at the top of the table and they're going to be very hard to rein in, so we need to dig deep to get back into the top four," he said.

"Then, we travel to Edinburgh in the PRO12 before facing Scarlets at home in Europe and then travel to Exeter Chiefs where they have a great record at home.

"By the end of January we'll know our fate and we have a bit of ground to catch up on. And, for us, that process starts this weekend."

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