Saturday 3 December 2016

Cullen: We must win breakdown battle

Published 17/04/2015 | 02:30

Sean O’Brien takes on Ian Madigan during a Leinster training drill ahead of Sunday’s Champions Cup Clash with Toulon
Sean O’Brien takes on Ian Madigan during a Leinster training drill ahead of Sunday’s Champions Cup Clash with Toulon

Leo Cullen believes that Toulon's work at the breakdown is what makes them the best team in Europe, and Leinster's forwards coach says that if his side can win that battle, they will take a huge step towards dethroning the back-to-back champions.

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Leinster were bullied at the breakdown in the second half of last year's 29-14 last eight defeat - a game that Cullen himself featured in from the bench - but lessons have been learned, according to the three-time European Cup winner.

Leinster will begin the game as underdogs but the noises coming from their camp this week would suggest that they are happy with that ahead of a seasoning-defining game.

"The thing that sets them apart over the last number of years is how aggressive they are at the breakdown," Cullen said.

"They flood bodies into that area. How they actually clamp guys into the space is questionable at times, and how much release they get from their tackler, who allows some of their players to get into their poach position to get on the ball.

"So that's going to be a massive challenge for us, in how we deal with that. We didn't deal with it great in the quarter-finals. It's an area we need to target because that's where they cause teams a lot of trouble.

"They turn the ball over, and with some of the quality backs and the pace and power that they have across the team, you get guys who are able to run one-on-one or generate those miss-matches - they're a very difficult team to play against. The challenge for us is to be able to deal with that breakdown over and over and over again, because they've various different threats across the team."

Having acknowledged that Leinster did not perform well at the breakdown in the narrow win over Bath, Cullen explained despite the majority of the front-line players not playing in the defeat to the Dragons last weekend, they have had extra time to solely focus on the "great challenge" that lies ahead in Marseille.

"It's been a very quick turnaround. We had a good get-together before the Bath game and reintegrated everyone back in," he said.

"I thought for large parts of the game guys showed real good intensity. A couple of times we did get busted in defence which was disappointing, but it's getting a lot of those guys back playing together. . .

"At least they have had that game under their belts. Some of them not being involved at the weekend would have been able to have a good look at Toulon going into this week, so it leaves us a little bit down the track already, which has been good.

"Listen, I think we're in a relatively good place. Everyone understands how difficult it is going to be for sure but we need to make sure we have a real good, clear plan going into the game. It's about guys executing on that plan when they are out there."

Cullen's desire for success burns as strong as ever and despite wishing he was one of the players taking to the pitch on Sunday rather than sitting in the stands, he is hoping that as a coach, he has done enough work on Toulon that he can relay to his team.

Irish Independent

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