Although agreeing that there was definite room for improvement, Leinster coach Michael Cheika was admittedly ‘very happy’ to see his side overhaul Ulster in the final quarter and notch a 21-13 win at Ravenhill on Saturday.
To listen to Michael Cheika’s post-match interview at Ravenhill, please click here.
With two defeats in their last four games prior to Saturday’s trip to Belfast, Leinster were under pressure to deliver against Ulster and they did just that with second half tries from Rocky Elsom and Simon Keogh catapulting them over the finish line.
There were some stand-out performers – Felipe Contepomi had a vital presence in kicking 11 points and Gordon D’Arcy’s return from a long term injury was welcomed by both coaches – but the result and four valuable match points was of most concern for Leinster coach Michael Cheika.
Speaking afterwards, he said: “I was pleased with the match. Over the whole 80 minutes, even the first half, we made one mistake there off set piece defence – bar that, I thought we managed the game okay.
“We probably could have got a bit more pace onto the ball at times. We were a bit static when we received the ball.
“But we tried to do a few things differently today and that was the first step in that direction.”
Coming out on the right side of a tight result is always pleasing and to do show in the cauldron of Ravenhill, particularly after their interprovincial defeats by Munster and Connacht this season, was a considerable plus point for Leinster.
Cheika added: “Ravenhill’s a very difficult place to come and play. We’ve copped a lot of flak (after losing to Castres) and we’ll probably cop some more maybe next week, you never know – that seems to be the way that everyone wants it to work.
“But there’s a lot of self belief in our team. It was always going to be a tough match for us because you had that little bit of extra pressure – everyone was waiting to stick the knife in a little bit more.
“We kept our composure okay, we could have done a few things better but we’re very happy to win up here.”
The Australian picked out his stand-in captain Chris Whitaker for praise as the visitors bounced back from leaking a first half try to Ulster centre Darren Cave.
“It’s always tight against Ulster because they defend very well. (Matt) Williams has got them defending very well and doing the basics of that game right.
“You’ve got to have a bit of patience. We still probably needed to identify opportunities when we got on the front foot, flatten up and get the ball out in front of us, we probably could have done a bit more damage.
“We had a lot of patience with our build-up, we were able to get quick ball.
“I thought Whitaker played reall well at the base, he was able to free the ball to Isa (Nacewa) or forward runners.
“And by just staying down there (in their half) we kept what is a very partizan crowd quiet. That helps up here because as I said, it’s a difficult place to play.”
Cheika confirmed that full-back Girvan Dempsey shipped an ankle injury when he was forced off early in the second half and that an assessment will be done on Monday.
With a lengthy injury list, which currently includes team captain Leo Cullen, it was heartening to see the returning D’Arcy, who is back from a series of operations on the forearm injury he sustained against Italy last season, last the full 80 minutes.
“I probably wasn’t planning to play Gordon for 80 minutes but he seemed to manage it quite well,” Cheika explained.
“After being out for so long, tt’s always the speed of the game (that you have to adjust to) and having to defend against those guys that come back and counter attack.
“I think that he got a good look at it from the wing and it’s only going to help him now as he makes more steps coming forward.
“He’s a class player. If nothing else, he’ll be fresh because he’s had long enough time out!
“He’s definitely added a bit of zip to us at training. It’s a different dimension, he’s a different type of player to the ones we’re carrying at the moment and gives us good options for how we want to play the game.”
Expanding on Leinster’s injury situation, which has seen many of the squad on the treatment table already this season, Cheika was philosophical.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries this year but that’s something you’ve got to deal with on a regular basis in this game. We’re trying to manage it as best we can.
“We’ve just got to hang in there together, keep believing in our play even if we lose a few guys.
“We’ve got good back-up, like (Jonathan) Sexton didn’t even play tonight, he didn’t come off the bench – he’s been playing a starting role for us (in recent games).
“We’ve still got plenty of depth. We’ve got other guys who weren’t in the squad tonight, like Fergus McFadden who has played recently.
“We’ve still got (Shane) Jennings, Leo Cullen, CJ (Van Der Linde), Bernard Jackman all still coming back from injury. Hopefully we’ll be able to get a full selection to chose from very soon.”
Saturday’s win has Leinster back up to third in the Magners League table and their title defence could gain further momentum in the coming weeks with home successes over Connacht and Cardiff.
With league trips to the Ospreys and current table-toppers Munster further down the line, Cheika’s knows that he and his players cannot afford to look too far ahead.
“We just need to keep getting points until Six Nations time and see where we sit then. It sorta takes on a different dimension then because teams lose players for the internationals as we will,” he observed.
“We’re very aware of our position in the league, we want to always stay close because if we’re in touching distance towards that last bout of games – four or five games – we really are keen to defend our title.
“It’s just about taking each game on its merits and trying to claim the points and just keeping the pressure on Munster out in front.”