Saturday 18 January 2020

Cullen wary of tougher challenges that lie ahead

Leinster 42 Lyon 14

Leinster’s Dave Kearney scores his side’s first try against Lyon at the RDS. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster’s Dave Kearney scores his side’s first try against Lyon at the RDS. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Life is pretty good at Leinster these days. With 15 wins from 15 games, their perfect season goes on as they head into this weekend's final round of Champions Cup pool games with their destiny firmly in their own hands.

Although their quarter-final place was secured after just four games, past mistakes have meant that Leinster remain fully focused on the task at hand.

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Any sort of win in Treviso on Saturday will ensure that they go into the knockout stages as the top seeds, which would of course mean a home quarter-final as well as a potential - or rather likely - home semi-final.

That Leinster find themselves in this position with the minimum of fuss is down to their utter relentlessness, even when they are not at their brilliant best.

Lyon made life difficult for them at times yesterday, but ultimately it was Leinster's sloppiness that kept the depleted French side in the game for so long.

A better team might have posed even more questions, and deep down Leo Cullen may have preferred more of a challenge because right now, his biggest concern ahead of the last eight, is that his team haven't been given a thorough test often enough.

Lyon were gamey, but nothing more, and had Leinster's accuracy been at their usual high standards, the bonus point would have been in the bag long before it eventually was secured on 54 minutes.

Benetton pushed Northampton close and while Leinster have struggled against the Italians in the past, Cullen will be expecting another win, even if he might want a stiffer test before the competition ratchets up on the first weekend in April.

"There are so many worries going into the knockouts," Cullen admitted. "We have enough time to talk about those down the track.

"After Treviso, for a lot of guys the next time they'll play for Leinster is in the quarter-final. That's just the way it's geared up, which is great in many ways.

"It keeps it fresh and new. The two weeks prior to the quarter-final we're in South Africa, so that's the lead-in that we'll have.

"There are lots of things that we'll need to consider, but for now it's just a six-day turnaround into Treviso and how we manage that.

"Overall it's a pretty healthy bunch in the dressing-room. We'll train as well as we possibly can this week given the constraints that we have.

"But in many ways that's a positive thing because we trained well in the lead-in to this game, so it's nice and short and sharp this week, which will be positive, hopefully."

With several players piling the pressure on in their quest to get more game time in Europe, Cullen may look to change his team up for the trip to Italy.

That said, Leinster will not be taking Benetton for granted, as they look to cement their status as the team to beat.

"We will be going full at it," Cullen insisted. "That may require a couple of changes within the group, just to freshen things up. It's full steam ahead to try and make sure we finish the job now.

"We'd all have a pretty sick feeling if we don't manage to do that this week. We want to go after that top seed. We know now if we win the game that can happen.

Performance

"That's the most important piece for us now, just delivering the performance that will help us win the game."

Leinster out-scored Lyon by six tries to two, yet at half-time it was a one-score game.

After a few harsh words at the break, Cullen's men ramped it up in the second period in which they kept the indisciplined visitors scoreless.

Josh van der Flier, Seán Cronin, Andrew Porter and man of the match Max Deegan all scored tries, while Dave Kearney's brace took his tally to nine in nine games this season.

Kearney is in the form of his life right now and with Andy Farrell naming his Ireland Six Nations squad this week, the winger has played his way back into international contention.

"He was maybe just a little bit late into that in terms of that World Cup selection," Cullen said of Kearney.

"I get the impression that he was close to going because he finished last season in good form and he started the season in good form as well and hence he keeps getting picked.

"So Dave has been good, him obviously with Jordan (Larmour) and 'Lowey' (James Lowe), the three of them today again, they all give us something a little bit different.

"But for Dave, I think the big thing was to encourage him to finish when he gets those opportunities and today he's got in for a few tries and that's been the pleasing thing for him."

Cullen faces the reality of losing his front-liners to international duty following this weekend's game, but that Leinster will again be the bulk suppliers to the Ireland squad is a reflection of how well the team are playing.

"It's one of those facts of life that you have to get used to," Cullen added.

"We get excited when we see them go on to represent Ireland because it is a great day for the club.

"You want the guys to progress. For the guys that don't get picked then it is about making sure they deliver for when selection comes around again they are in a good position."

Leinster could not be in a better position ahead of the business end of the season.

Lyon couldn't get near them, it's now up to Benetton to see if they can manage it.

A true test may still be some way off.

Leinster - J Larmour (R Kearney 63); D Kearney, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Lowe; R Byrne ( C Frawley 68), L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 54); C Healy (P Dooley 54), J Tracy (S Cronin 54), T Furlong (A Porter 54); D Toner, S Fardy (capt); R Ruddock (C Doris 54), J van der Flier (R Molony 66), M Deegan.

Lyon - T Arnold (J Moura 73); X Mignot, E Dumortier, T Regard (J Tuisova 63), N Nakaitaci; J Buttin, J Pelissie (S Hidalgo-Clyne 54); H Kaabeche (R Chaume 54), B Alkhazashvili (J Maurouard 61), F Gomez Kodela (K Yameogo 54); M Rolland, H Roodt (T Halaifonua 66); K Geraci (F Lambey 1), E Oosthuizen, V Bruni.

REF - B Whitehouse (Wales).

Irish Independent

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