Friday 20 September 2019

Cullen hails Sexton's calming influence

Leo Cullen and Isa Nacewa at the launch of this season's Champions Cup
Leo Cullen and Isa Nacewa at the launch of this season's Champions Cup
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

After two years away from his home province, Johnny Sexton made his return against Treviso last weekend and coach Leo Cullen has praised him for the immediate impact he has had on the players around him.

Sexton's influence was clear to see from the confident approach that he brought in Italy last weekend and the confidence his team-mates took from that is something Cullen hopes to continue ahead of a crucial period for Leinster.

The Blues will look to cut the gap at the top of the table when they take on leaders Scarlets at the RDS this evening.

Cullen maintains that Sexton has benefited from his two-year spell in France with Racing Metro and that Leinster will soon reap the awards.

"He's got so much experience. It's great to have him back," Cullen said of his out-half.

"The two years away has been really good for him as well in terms of seeing different environments.

"Johnny was always incredibly passionate about Leinster rugby. He's very driven. He's fitted seamlessly back into the group.

"He is probably more analytical of the bigger picture, the preparation, not just on the field but the various things we do off the field.

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"He's had a different view of that in a different country. Like anywhere, there's always the perception of what's good and what's bad and what works.

"He's been around the Top 14 and seen all those other teams up close. All the experience is invaluable to the group."

Meanwhile, Cullen has warned that his side face a tough task at home this evening, especially at the set-piece as Scarlets' undefeated season thus far has largely been predicated on that.

"I think one of the things is that they've real solidity in their set-piece, that's been a big feature of their early-season form," Cullen maintained.

"They're very effective at the scrum in what they're delivering, plus they've Samson Lee and Ken Owens coming back into the mix on top of what they have there already. Jake Ball into the second-row who's a big, physical player.

"One of the areas where they've had great strength this year has been the back-row.

"James Davies has been man of the match in most games he's played, John Barclay is there as well, a player who's really experienced; Aaron Shingler too who is a really good athlete so that back-row combination has been fairly effective for them.

"They have a good midfield partnership with Owens and Regan King, I see King's son is playing there last weekend which is an amazing achievement for any family; across the board they've had a really settled team.

"They've got some quality back from Wales as well. They cause a lot of problems with their line speed and as we know when we were 25-0 down.

"James Davies has been very good. He's been very good for them so far and if he is playing for them we need to be aware of what his threats are."

Cullen faces plenty of selection headaches in the coming weeks with the returning internationals coming back into the fold but it's a position that he wants to be in, as he explained:

"It's important that we do have options; as I said, we're going into a big block of games and there are a few combinations that I would have in my head.

"We'll have a look at a few other combinations over the next few weeks, but it's not just centre, there's combinations at literally every position: back three, lock, half-backs, front-row, back-row, the combinations of all really because we do have some good options."

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