Sunday 15 September 2019

Leo Cullen says leaving James Lowe at home was a difficult decision

Head coach Leo Cullen, left, and Robbie Henshaw during the Leinster Rugby captains run
Head coach Leo Cullen, left, and Robbie Henshaw during the Leinster Rugby captains run

Rúaidhrí O'Connor in Bilbao

Leo Cullen has explained his decision to pick Scott Fardy and Jamison Gibson-Park in his match-day 23 for tomorrow's Champions Cup final in in a decision that resulted in flying winger James Lowe missing out.

Under tournament rules on so-called non-European players, the coach can only select two of his three Antipodean signings and with Luke McGrath just back from an ankle injury he has chosen to go with the more experienced Gibson-Park ahead of Nick McCarthy who has travelled to Bilbao with the team.

Lowe's absence means 20-year-old Jordan Larmour gets the nod on the right wing and his inclusion, as well as McGrath's return, are the only changes from the team that beat Scarlets in the semi-final.

"There is a lot of different factors," the coach said of the decision.

"I thought Jamison did very well in the semi-final against Scarlets so in a way he is unlucky not be starting.

"Scott has come in and done well, he's been a really good addition to the forwards. He is a good leader in the group. It's not an easy decision.

"As we have said a number of times during the course of the season, it adds a little bit of complication but we felt those two guys have gone well and we think they will do a good job for us tomorrow."

Asked how Lowe took news that he was not selected, Cullen said: "It's not just James. There's a whole host of players that we had difficult conversations with this week.

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"We have used 37 players in the eight games so far and in our domestic competition, the PRO14, we have used 55 players. So, it takes a huge amount to get to this stage.

"But the players have fought hard for each other this year. With that competitive environment there is always going to be people who miss out. There are guys who travelled with the squad here who won't get to play tomorrow.

"We are actually in another competition as well, the British and Irish Cup. They play the final over in Ealing.

"So it has been a really competitive group this year and that is what we will need again tomorrow."

The former second-row can become the first man to play for and coach a team to the European Cup and he is expecting a clash of styles against a strong Racing 92 team at the San Mamés Stadium in the Basque city.

"Very powerful," he said of tomorrow's opponents after overseeing his side's final training session at the venue.

"They've a lot of very, very powerful players; very, very dangerous broken-field runners.

"We know (Leone) Nakawara from his time with Glasgow in the PRO12 and his ability to suck in defenders and get the ball away through the line.

"So, he is obviously a clear threat. Vakatawa as well. He would have played our Ireland guys with France. But just the power that Racing have in their squad, the depth of experience that they have as well. When you have Dan Carter on your bench that says it all really.

"What Racing have built in the last seven, eight or nine years and what they have done in bringing in an expensive bunch of players … we have to do things slightly differently in Leinster where we produce guys from within, mainly.

"We bring in a couple of key signings from overseas so it is a clash of styles in how you assemble a squad. We are under no illusions. It is a very formidable bunch of players that we will be up against tomorrow.

"It's a great challenge that we face as a club moving forward, you see some of the French teams and the resources that they have available and the calibre of players they have been signing over the last couple of years. It's a great challenge for us."

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