Thursday 19 October 2017

'How do you compete with that?' - Leo Cullen takes aim at big spending French and English clubs

Leinster 23 Munster 17

Cullen: “We have our way of doing things, and that’s a sustainable model that we have.
Cullen: “We have our way of doing things, and that’s a sustainable model that we have." Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Leo Cullin's press conferences have not been known for bombastic statements over the course of his two and a bit seasons in charge of Leinster, but on Saturday the three-time European Cup-winning captain launched a shot across the bows of the big-spending English and French clubs ahead of the tournament's opener next weekend.

The Irish province fielded 21 home-grown players in their impressive derby win over Munster on Saturday and now their attention turns to Montpellier - a collection of well-paid stars under the stewardship of Vern Cotter who arrive to the RDS on Saturday.

Rory O’Loughlin holds off the tackle of Robin Copeland to squeeze in for Leinster’s first try at the Aviva Stadium. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Rory O’Loughlin holds off the tackle of Robin Copeland to squeeze in for Leinster’s first try at the Aviva Stadium. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Since Leinster won their third title in four years in 2012, the European game has been dominated by two big-spending outfits with little need to balance their books.

Toulon won three in a row between 2013 and 2015, before Saracens took over the mantle and, having strengthened last summer, the English club are favourites to make it a hat-trick themselves this season.

That's despite the fact that they had accumulated debts of more than €50m in January 2016 and made financial losses of more than €4m a season as they built their squad.

Operating under the IRFU umbrella and prohibited by strict rules on the number of imports allowed, Leinster recruited two overseas signings to their cause during the summer in Scott Fardy and James Lowe.

Munster captain Peter O’Mahony wins possession in a lineout ahead of Leinster’s Devin Toner. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Munster captain Peter O’Mahony wins possession in a lineout ahead of Leinster’s Devin Toner. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

Yet, they start the European season as the Irish province with the most realistic shot at the title.

"Saracens, you see their accumulated losses: £5m, £5m, £6m, £5m, £4m... This is while they are at the top of the European game. The model is different. How do you compete with that? We don't compete the same (way)," said Cullen.

"We have our way of doing things, and that's a sustainable model that we have. We can't control what other teams do, we can't accumulate €50m of losses. That's not the way it works.

"I think Saracens have this thing called making memories, but it's making memories and racking up a huge debt at the same time.

Johnny Sexton on the pitch after the game. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Johnny Sexton on the pitch after the game. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

"So that's a challenge, but that's the teams we're up against. Montpellier are the new team on the block.

"If you think back to the Leicesters and the Northamptons, and Toulouse, they're where they are in the game.

"We want to be challenging at the top. We've a great opportunity this year to start off again.

"We got to a semi-final last year, almost getting (to the final) but we weren't good enough so we need to be better this year. That's all that we will be focusing on, is getting better.

"Montpellier, I am sure, have been focusing on the same thing, because they went out and spent a lot of money during the summer to try and get better. It's not a worry. We just need to worry about ourselves and just get better. We can't control who else is out there.

Ian Keatley of Munster on his way to scoring his side's first try despite the pursuit of James Tracy of Leinster. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Ian Keatley of Munster on his way to scoring his side's first try despite the pursuit of James Tracy of Leinster. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

"There's always competition, so we need to be doing all we can ourselves to be better. End of story."

When it came to getting better, Leinster certainly posted an improved performance against Munster on Saturday as they claimed seasonal bragging rights in front of 46,374 fans at the Aviva Stadium.

Handsome

Their performance was far from perfect, but it deserved a more handsome winning margin than the one they finished with after Munster staged a late rally.

A sharper home side would have comfortably collected a bonus point against a team committing hara-kiri in the way Munster did.

By the time they got their act together, the penalty count stood at 10-1 in the home side's favour and no one can win a game of rugby with so little access into the game.

Leinster's tight-five were mean, their back-row efficient and their half-backs ran the show. When Robbie Henshaw clears the dirty petrol and the backline get their attacking spacing right, they will be a force.

Of course, Munster also reached a European semi-final last season but they appear diminished by the loss of Donnacha Ryan.

Their tight-five couldn't get a foothold in the battle and that meant the likes of Peter O'Mahony, CJ Stander and Conor Murray looked pale shadows of their normal selves. There is much to fix for Castres next week.

Rassie Erasmus hopes to have Simon Zebo and Jean Kleyn for that fixture and they will make a difference. Zebo's return could see JJ Hanrahan revert to out-half given the twin struggles of Ian Keatley and Tyler Bleyendaal whose 10-12 axis reaped little reward.

The key focus at UL this week will be discipline as the Reds gear up for a distinctly tricky trip to Castres.

"Leinster played well and they had unbelievable discipline," Erasmus said.

"To only concede one penalty, (in 60 minutes) I've never played against a team who only conceded one penalty. So they obviously did things right in the eyes of the referee.

"We didn't and that we must fix it. We lost the game by six points because we conceded - they kicked three, six, nine and scored two tries. We'll have to fix that. Pressure makes you make stupid errors like that. So we'll have to handle it better."

The one shining light for Munster was Keith Earls' sharpness and he bagged a brace to go with Ian Keatley's opportunistic first-half effort as the visiting side outscored Leinster three tries to two.

That doesn't tell the full story, however, as the men in blue were the smarter side for long periods - scoring tries either side of half-time through Rory O'Loughlin and securing the result through the boot of Johnny Sexton who overtook Felipe Contepomi as Leinster's record points-scorer as he kicked his side to a deserved victory.

LEINSTER - J Carbery; A Byrne, R O'Loughlin, R Henshaw, B Daly (F McFadden 73); J Sexton (capt) (R Byrne 76), L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 62); J McGrath (C Healy 49), J Tracy (S Cronin 49), T Furlong (M Bent 49); D Toner, S Fardy (R Molony 70); R Ruddock (J Murphy 62), J van der Flier (R Ruddock 73), J Conan.

MUNSTER - JJ Hanrahan; A Conway, C Farrell, T Bleyendaal (R Scannell 66), K Earls; I Keatley (A Wootton 46), C Murray (D Williams 73); D Kilcoyne (L O'Connor 67), N Scannell (R Marshall 67), J Ryan (S Archer 46); R Copeland (M Flanagan 69), B Holland; P O'Mahony (capt), T O'Donnell (R Marshall 29) (J O'Donoghue 64), CJ Stander .

Ref - B Whitehouse (Wales)

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