Saturday 24 March 2018

Cullen wary of challenge posed by powerful Clermont


Leo Cullen: Looking for leaders on the pitch. Photo: Sportsfile
Leo Cullen: Looking for leaders on the pitch. Photo: Sportsfile

John Fallon

Warm sunshine and a firm sod yesterday greeted Leinster when they arrived at the Matmut Stade de Gerland in Lyon where over 35,000 Clermont supporters will today provide as hostile an environment as Leo Cullen's men could encounter.

But Cullen wants his side to feed off the atmosphere - Leinster are expecting 2,000 fans to travel - and book their place in the Champions Cup final.

Cullen will be looking to four of his five Lions - Robbie Henshaw, Jonathan Sexton, Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong - to provide the leadership in the absence of such experienced players as absent Lion Seán O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip and the suspended Cian Healy.

Cullen admitted they were a big loss and that Healy's suspension in midweek further reduced the level of experience, but pointed out that his replacement Peter Dooley was pushing hard for selection in any event.

"Seán and Cian are two very experienced players, but having said that when you look at the other players who have stepped in, Peter Dooley has performed so well for the group all season, he was pushing hard for selection anyway.

"With Seán, it's well documented that the back-row is a very competitive area of our squad. Rhys (Ruddock) was unlucky to be injured the week leading into the Wasps game, but he has played the last two weekends and has gone really well and captained the team last weekend. Dan Leavy and Jack Conan have been in really good form all season and we still have Josh van der Flier on the bench."

Cullen said the Clermont team selection was very much as he expected.

"It's very similar to what we saw in the quarter-final against Toulon and it's very much how we prepped this week. We knew that they had lost a couple of key players themselves but that's the way it is. They have a huge squad with a lot of resources behind them and they are a well-supported team and we are looking forward to the atmosphere.

"We respect Clermont as a club, they are a team with a lot of power, and are comfortable playing unstructured rugby and have a coach in Jono Gibbes who knows our group very well and that's definitely an advantage they have, having a coach who understands so many of our players."

Jack McGrath said it would crown a fantastic week for him to reach the Champions Cup final a few days after being called up to the Lions squad.

But McGrath said that his selection along with a quartet of his Leinster teammates has been parked since Wednesday's announcement.

"It was an exciting time on Wednesday, we all watched it together as a squad, but then it was straight out to training.

"It's a massive honour but there is still a lot of rugby to be played to that point. That's how we're looking at it, plenty of work to be done and the selection is not going to cloud any judgement," said the loosehead prop.

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