Now in his third season in charge, head coach Leo Cullen will be hoping that semi-final defeats in the league and Champions Cup will propel the Irish province closer to silverware this season.

Last season

Pro12: 2nd in regular season, 27-15 semi-final defeat to Scarlets

Champions Cup: 27-22 semi-final defeat to Clermont


After a challenging first term in charge – a worst ever European campaign with just a solitary victory and a Pro12 final defeat to Connacht – 2016/17 represented a significant upturn in fortunes for the three-time European champions.

Clermont Auvergne scuppered hopes of a final appearance in a campaign with many bright moments, while they kept close tabs on Pro12 table toppers Munster, finishing a point adrift before coming unstuck against an under-appreciated Scarlets side.

That surprise home reversal will have given Cullen and his management team plenty of food for thought over the close season, and will hope to avoid a third successive season without silverware after the most decorated period in the province's history.


Leo Cullen was rewarded for Leinster’s progress last year with a new two-year deal in May, ensuring the former captain will lead the province until 2019 at least.

Senior coach Stuart Lancaster and assistant coaches Girvan Dempsey and John Fogarty, also signed new contracts.

"I think Leo deserves enormous credit for the way he has stepped up to the mark over the last two seasons," Leinster CEO Mick Dawson said at the time, crediting Cullen with dealing positively with "challenges and disappointments".

Successive top-two placings and a European semi-final have reinforced stability, but adding silverware to the cabinet is now the priority.


James Lowe arrives with huge expectation, though fans won’t get a glimpse of the gifted 25-year-old until at least the middle of October owing to Mitre 10 Cup commitments with Tazman.

The sought-after Maori All Black will add another creative dimension to the back division, and with Zane Kirchner departing for Wales, does offer versatility in a number of positions.

Fellow newcomer Scott Fardy will bolster Cullen’s options in the pack. The bulk of his 39 Australian caps were won at flanker, but the 33-year-old has been signed primarily as a second row.

Mike Ross, Mike McCarthy and Dominic Ryan deprive Leinster of seasoned warriors, but there is a fresh crop coming through looking to put their stamp on the senior squad.

Chief among them is James Ryan, who made his Ireland debut in the summer but is yet to make his first appearance with the province.

In: Scott Fardy (Brumbies), James Lowe (Chiefs), Ross Byrne, Joey Carbery, Nick McCarthy, Rory O’Loughlin, Andrew Porter, Max Deegan, James Ryan, Peader Timmins (all  Academy)

Out: Billy Dardis, Zane Kirchner (Dragons), Dominic Ryan (Leicester Tigers) Mike McCarthy, Mike Ross and Hayden Triggs (all retired).


Leinster go in search of a fifth title, having finished as runners-up on four occasions in the past seven years. The domestic season petered out in a disappointing manner last season, despite consistency for large portions of the campaign.

After defeat to Munster on St Stephen’s Day, they chalked off 10 victories on the spin, before ending with two defeats.

While there was no shame in losing away to Ulster with a home semi-final already secured, the lethargic nature of the loss to Scarlets was a bitter pill to swallow.

"We've almost saved our worst performance of the season for the very end, which is hard to fathom really," he said at the time.

Now it is a case of looking forward.

In Conference B, Leinster open their campaign with a visit to Rodney Parade and will end September with two away games in South Africa under their belt. First up are Southern Kings before the Toyota Stadium hosts the clash with the Cheetahs.

Cullen has admitted his is wary of the early season scheduling – they will have little time to study the South African sides – and believes the first six weeks are crucial with the Lions contingent returning in and around Game Week Five, the interprovincial clash with Munster at the Aviva Stadium.

Should they require wins at the business end to guarantee progression, their two final home games of the regular season will be at home to Italian opposition.

Champions Cup

After only one win in the previous season, the three-time champions tasted defeat just once in the pool stages in 2016/17 and survived a second-half comeback from Wasps to reach the last four.

Against Clermont it was Cullen’s side that rallied, but after a disastrous start that saw them trail 15-0 in the opening quarter, but couldn’t overcome the star-studded French side. The defeat on 25 April was their first of 2017.

"The players would love another crack at it. Unfortunately you don’t get that chance, and it’s a bloody long way until you get into another European semi-final again. Hopefully it’s only a year."

A tough path once again lies in wait should they strive to go a step further as they are joined by Glasgow Warriors, Exeter Chiefs and Montpellier.

The Warriors are familiar foes and both games should be keenly contested affairs. An average of four points is all that has separated the sides in their five previous encounters.

The Chiefs will be buoyed by their first ever Premiership success, with former Ulster player Gareth Steenson kicking them into extra-time against Wasps in the final before nervelessly slotting over the match-winning penalty.

Montepllier will be pool opponents for the second successive season. They were edged out of the quarter-finals by Toulon on points difference and gave hugely contrasting performances against Cullen’s side.

They were full value for their 22-16 win at home, but capitulated at the RDS in a 57-3 defeat, not helped by the red card to out-half Frans Steyn. Where the fixtures fall with the Top14 side could have a significant impact on the outcome of the group.

Reasons to be cheerful

Cullen gave youth its chance last season and he was richly rewarded, with the likes of Rory O’Loughlin, Andrew Porter, Joey Carbery, and Dan Leavy and Luke McGrath making their international bows on the back of stellar campaigns.

James Ryan gained international honours without playing a single game for Leinster and big things are expected of him this season.

Jordan Larmour (below) is another building a budding reputation and is likely to feature this season. He has started at full-back this season and excitement is building at the potential of the player who missed Ireland’s U20 Championship campaign after undergoing ankle surgery in May

"He definitely has something a  bit special," says Leo Cullen. "He has that love for the game and you can see he is competitive by nature in everything he does."

Carbery’s emergence has meant less reliance on Johnny Sexton, while backrow is brimming with options. Dan Leavy and Jack Conan are applying serious pressure on the more established Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien, Rhys Ruddock and Josh van der Flier.

Swash-buckling Conan was a key ball carrier last term, beating more defenders than any other Leinster player in the league, while Leavy is a poacher supreme, second only to Scarlet’s James Davies in the turnover stakes after 28 steals last season.

Areas of concern

Leinster begin the season a little light in midfield.

Garry Ringrose’s shoulder injury means he isn’t expected to return before October, around the same time as Robbie Henshaw after the former Connacht man was forced out of the Lions tour prematurely.

Tom Daly ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee in pre-season and Leo Cullen will have tinkering to do early season.

Second row has been a problematic area, highlighted further last year during Devin Toner’s dip in form. The lineout struggled at crucial junctures in important games and with Mike McCarthy and Hayden Triggs now retired, responsibility is likely to rest on Scott Fardy to improve the set-piece.

He has been signed primarily as a lock, but his ability to play in the backrow makes his a welcome addition to the squad.

View within the camp

Leo Cullen

"I’m sort of on-guard at the moment. There are a lot of potential banana skins over the first six weeks of the campaign. We have the added challenge of players coming back at different stages. We have the challenge of going to South Africa in Round Three and Four, which is new.

"Zebre and ourselves are the first two teams to go out there, so there is a bit of uncertainty there and the environment. The Lions players are still returning . It’s a tricky first six games.

"The younger players are better for their experience of last year and how they respond in difficult scenarios."