Cullen sweating on Sexton as Leinster get off on the right foot
Leinster 33 Castres 15
Published 17/10/2016 | 02:30
If Leo Cullen wanted any more cheering up after seeing his side brush Castres aside with a performance of real physical intent on Saturday, he would have got it when watching Francois Steyn's interview after Montpellier had thrown away a win in Northampton.
The South African-dominated Top 14 outfit are next up for Leinster and an away trip to the Altrad Stadium is one to be taken seriously.
However, rather than channelling the hurt of defeat into talk of a big performance, the bulky Springbok centre spoke of the fact that the Challenge Cup winners haven't been at this level for some time and that they are looking to learn things to take back to the French league.
They weren't words to leave the three-time champions quaking in their boots.
It still seems unlikely that Leinster will be able to dominate physically, as they did at the RDS, scoring three tries from their lineout maul and another with a penalty try from their scrum.
"They beat us in the tough, in the grit, in the basics of it," was Castres scrum-half Rory Kockott's assessment.
Leinster might have had far more than the five tries they scored had their backs been more clinical, but they did a lot of things right and put last year's terrible start behind them.
This week, all eyes and ears will be tuned for news of Johnny Sexton's hamstring. The out-half did a light running session at UCD on Saturday morning, but never got beyond a trot.
Joey Carbery deputised well, showing some brilliant touches, yet an away game deep in the south of France is a time for your most experienced campaigners.
Tadhg Furlong's hamstring is also a concern and the prospect of taking on Montpellier with rookie cover for Mike Ross and such inexperience at half-back is a daunting one.
That's why news of Sean O'Brien's successful 40-minute return from injury for Leinster A will have gone down well.
Josh van der Flier was man of the match on Saturday, Dan Leavy did well off the bench and Jordi Murphy was 24th man, but there is no substitute for what O'Brien brings to the table.
The temptation to bring him to France will be huge, especially after Rhys Ruddock came off with a tight calf muscle.
For van der Flier, it was imperative that there was no repeat of last season's bad start.
"We learned a huge amount last year," the flanker said.
"We had a bad loss to Wasps first up and then we were chasing our tails. It put a lot of pressure on us, so we needed a good start."
They did so thanks to a dominant pack effort, but will reflect on the fact that they made 16 line breaks, beat 30 defenders and made 13 offloads, but scored just once from open play - an Isa Nacewa solo effort from the base of a ruck.
Otherwise, it was up the jumper stuff, as Sean Cronin grabbed a brace, Jack McGrath capped his 100th Leinster appearance with a try and the dominant scrum earned a penalty try.
Castres threatened to make things a contest by earning a penalty try of their own on the cusp of half-time. They got the score back to 19-10 and knew Luke McGrath would be in the sin bin for the first 10 minutes of the second-half, but Nacewa stepped into scrum-half and enjoyed his latest incarnation so much he scored a try as Leinster re-asserted control.
In Carbery, Robbie Henshaw and the excellent Garry Ringrose, Leinster have real threats behind their dominant scrum. If they can add a clinical edge, they'll be a force.
Next week they will have less opportunities, making it all the more important that they can take them.
"Definitely," Cullen said. "They're a very pragmatic team with a pragmatic coach. We need to be nailed on when we are given opportunities.
"It's about capitalising on what we are creating. We are pleased with the outcome, but we're a bit frustrated with the feeling that we left a lot of chances go. There's always a hundred things to fix, but it's nice to do it off the back of a positive result."
Leinster - R Kearney (C Marsh 71); Z Kirchner, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, I Nacewa (capt) (N Reid 68); J Carbery, L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 59); J McGrath (C Healy 53), S Cronin (J Tracy 53), T Furlong (M Ross 37); D Toner, I Nagle (R Molony 59); R Ruddock (D Leavy 50), J van der Flier, J Heaslip.
Castres - G Palis; R Grosso, T Combezou, R Ebersohn (F Vialelle 61), D Smith; B Urdapilleta (M Javaux 71), A Dupont (R Kockott 54); A Tichit (M Lazar 53), J Jenneker (B Mach 20-26, 38), D Kotze (D Tussac 59); V Moreaux (A Jelonch 60), R Capo Ortega (capt) (T Lassalle 54); M Babillot, S Mafi, A Tulou.
Ref - M Carley (Eng)