Wednesday 11 December 2019

Leo Cullen warns Leinster young guns their 'manhood' will be tested in Lyon

22 November 2019; James Lowe, left, and Robbie Henshaw of Leinster on their arrival in Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport ahead of their Heineken Champions Cup match against Lyon on Saturday. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
22 November 2019; James Lowe, left, and Robbie Henshaw of Leinster on their arrival in Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport ahead of their Heineken Champions Cup match against Lyon on Saturday. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

As Leo Cullen sees it, this is a rite of passage for any Leinster player. If you can prove your worth away from home in France, then you've taken another step on the ladder.

They are surrounded by experience, but for Max Deegan and Rónan Kelleher this is a first Champions Cup involvement in France, while Josh Murphy will make his European debut off the bench.

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The trio have ticked every box so far this season, impressing when the internationals were away at the World Cup; with Kelleher in prolific try-scoring form and Deegan upping his work-rate to match his precocious ability.

Along with Caelan Doris, who would no doubt be involved were it not for injury, they are pushing themselves into the Ireland picture.

Lyon may be a relatively new face on the European scene, but they are top of the Top 14 and have picked a formidable team. After losing the corresponding fixture to Toulouse last season, Leinster are on guard.

"It will be a great step up for them in terms of their development," Cullen said as he looks to his on-field leaders to guide the new boys through.

Caolin Blade will be in command from scrum-half as Connacht bid for back-to-back
victories against French opposition. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Caolin Blade will be in command from scrum-half as Connacht bid for back-to-back victories against French opposition. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

"That's the piece that we always have to get through. You've got to pick them for the games. You talk about guys coming through, they play for the PRO14 team, then play for the European team and if you go well in that scenario it's not long before guys go on and play for Ireland.

"This is why you get involved in the game. We love the home games, but when you go to France it's a bit more of a test of our manhood, so to speak.

Controlled "Can we stay controlled in the environment with all the chaotic bits going around; trumpets and bands and crowd noise and cheering; opposition flying into you, maximum pressure all the time. Them playing on the edge.

"Can we think clearly with all of those going on in the background."

Last year in Toulouse, he felt the team didn't manage the game well enough when the home team got on top and the atmosphere stepped up several notches. Lyon don't have the same pedigree, but Leinster's status as four-time winners means their arrival in France's second city is a big deal.

"When you see the European draw, you look to see what's the French team and when do we go to France?" Cullen said. "Last year, in Toulouse, if you think of the game; we'd seen a lot of footage of Toulouse and seen some of the threats they have and said there was actually lots of opportunities.

"Then, you actually get there and there's the cauldron atmosphere and it's a very different team to what you analysed on the footage.

"Then, when Toulouse win at the end, you see (coach) Ugo Mola's reaction and the players scoring their tries, how they celebrate. The crowd, the noise, everything.

"This is a big deal, it is a big deal to them, it looks like, to play against us which is in one way a compliment because you can see how much it actually does mean to them, that they're not making it up.

"It is also the realisation for us that we understand what we're letting ourselves in for. That's what we've tried to focus on this week, understanding what it means to these guys when they win against Leinster."

That's the challenge.

To meet it, Cullen yesterday made five changes to his team, recalling Rob Kearney to the full-back jersey as Jordan Larmour shifts on to the wing. Robbie Henshaw partners Garry Ringrose, while Tadhg Furlong, Scott Fardy and Deegan come into the pack.

Lyon, meanwhile, are without their game-breaking Fijian winger Josua Tuisova, but still boast a decent amount of experience across the park.

Having lost to Northampton last week, they need a win to stay in the hunt. The league may be their priority, but they lost all six pool games last season so expect them to target a home victory here.

Leinster have the know-how and ability to rise above.

Verdict: Leinster

LYON - T Arnold; X Mignot, T Regard, C Ngatai, N Nakaitaci; J Wisniewski, B Couillous (capt); X Chiocci, M Ivaldi, D Bamba; V Bruni, H Roodt; J Puricelli, L Gill, C Fearns. Reps: J Maurouard, R Chaume, F Gomez Kodela, E Oosthuizen, L Goujob, J Pélissié, JM Buttin, R Wulf.

LEINSTER - R Kearney; J Larmour, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Lowe; J Sexton (capt), L McGrath; C Healy, R Kelleher, T Furlong; S Fardy, J Ryan; R Ruddock, J van der Flier, M Deegan. Reps: J Tracy, E Byrne, A Porter, D Toner, J Murphy, J Gibson-Park, R Byrne, D Kearney.

Ref - L Pearce (England)

Lyon v Leinster,
Live, BT Sport 3, 4.15

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