Rugby ‘Healthy competition’ driving Leinster to whole new heights

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Rugby Northampton Saints 16 Leinster 43


Rugby Leinster’s James Lowe makes a break during his team’s Champions Cup victory against Northampton. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Leinster’s James Lowe makes a break during his team’s Champions Cup victory against Northampton. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Leo Cullen is too familiar with the strange rhythm of this competition to get carried away by a round three win, a 2013 reverse to the same opposition in the Champions Cup back-to-backs is an easy cautionary tale to reach for.

But this iteration of the boys in blue seem less susceptible to a shock at Aviva Stadium next week, not least because of the internal competition for places.

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Rugby Caelan Doris of Leinster is tackled by Matt Proctor, left, and Alex Waller of Northampton Saints. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile


Caelan Doris of Leinster is tackled by Matt Proctor, left, and Alex Waller of Northampton Saints. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

There are no sacred cows in this Leinster squad. Form is everything, and if you want to get into the starting XV you have to pull up your socks.

Rob Kearney, Ireland’s starting full-back in the World Cup quarter-final seven weeks’ ago, waited until the 78th minute to see any action at Franklin’s Gardens and faces a real battle to displace Jordan Larmour.

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His fellow Lion Tadhg Furlong watched from the stand as Andrew Porter made his bid for a Six Nations starting spot, while Ronan Kelleher and Caelan Doris put themselves firmly in the Ireland frame with superb performances in a seven try to one win over the Premiership leaders.



Rugby James Lowe of Leinster makes a break. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile


James Lowe of Leinster makes a break. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

It would be no surprise if as many as 21 of the match-day squad from Saturday were included in Andy Farrell’s first squad, with Devin Toner firmly back in the frame with another performance that made a mockery of his baffling World Cup omission.

That strange statement selection seemed to be designed to send some sort of message to Ireland’s senior players that no one was safe, but it didn’t ring true when other out of form players were persisted with through thick and thin.

At Leinster, no one is safe from the coach’s axe. Lose Johnny Sexton to injury? Ross Byrne comes on and scores a try with one of his first touches. Back in Dublin there’s a whole other XV ready to go as demonstrated by their superb PRO14 win in Glasgow last weekend.

Cullen has the luxury of being able to freshen things up without weakening the team this week, but there are senior figures who will go into training this morning unsure of their place in the pecking order.



Rugby 7 December 2019; Rónan Kelleher of Leinster is tackled by Matt Proctor and Teimana Harrison of Northampton Saints during the Heineken Champions Cup Pool 1 Round 3 match between Northampton Saints and Leinster at Franklins Gardens in Northampton, England. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile


7 December 2019; Rónan Kelleher of Leinster is tackled by Matt Proctor and Teimana Harrison of Northampton Saints during the Heineken Champions Cup Pool 1 Round 3 match between Northampton Saints and Leinster at Franklins Gardens in Northampton, England. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

And that’s a serious place to be for the coaching team as they look to ensure that standards don’t slip between the two back-to-back games against the Premiership leaders.

“The competition is just healthy for the group,” Cullen said.

“It is bringing out the best in people, generally. Even the guys that are losing on tight calls, no-one is skulking around at the moment. They know their chance w

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