Wednesday 21 February 2018

Cullen delighted as Blues seal top-seed status

Head coach Leo Cullen. Photo: Sportsfile
Head coach Leo Cullen. Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Leinster reached a best-ever tally of 27 points in the pool phase thanks to an impressive and hard-earned win in Montpellier yesterday. Already assured of a home draw in the quarter-final, they got the added value of a win in France given that they don't know how much travelling they will have to do before their campaign is done.

"You can't really control the quarter-final/semi-final stage - well, you can control your bit, but not the other bits," Leo Cullen said at Altrad Stadium, after the 23-14 win.

"Getting a seeding of one or two is partly important but you can't control the other games so you may have to travel to France again. It's one of those things that people could start to talk about. Does that drain confidence? At least you've got rid of that potential psychological barrier, because we've lost a few games in France. They showed a lot of character today, which was pleasing, and controlled the game for good chunks of it."

Having been 8-0 ahead at the end of the first quarter, Leinster trailed 14-8 at the break. They then kept Montpellier scoreless in the second half, as they tacked on tries from Robbie Henshaw and man of the match Sean Cronin, to complement Ross Byrne's touchdown in the first period. It left Montpellier out-half, and former All Black, Aaron Cruden, convinced of their quality.

"For sure, they've proven over a number of years that they stick to their structures, they pressure teams, and I guess in those championship moments before half-time and after half-time that's where they really thrive," he said.

"I certainly think they've got the capabilities to go all the way but in saying that there are still quality sides out there. That's the great thing about this competition: there are quality sides right across the board. So you've got to be at the level every single week."

Clermont's victory over Ospreys guaranteed them a quarter-final slot as pool winners, as did Scarlets' win over Toulon. Toulon, though, made the last eight as one of the three best runners-up.

It will be later this afternoon before we know if all three Irish provinces have made it through to their respective knockout stages. Munster need to beat Castres in Limerick to secure their passage, while Ulster have to do the same in Coventry against Wasps to be certain of advancing.

Saracens' bid for a three in-a-row is hanging on today's results, although they look a good bet to take another of the runner-up spots after their 48-point win over Northampton yesterday.

Connacht maintained their impressive Challenge Cup form with an eight-try thrashing of Oyonnax in Galway to secure a home quarter-final against Gloucester, improving their chances of securing a Champions Cup place next season via this competition.

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