Sunday 22 April 2018

Cullen demands ruthless streak from his title-chasers as crunch time beckons

Cullen: More work to do. Photo: Sportsfile
Cullen: More work to do. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Dave Rennie may yet bring his Glasgow side back to Dublin for a PRO14 final later this year and, who knows, give Leinster a bit of a better contest than they have in their European encounters to date this season.

Should both sides pitch up at the Aviva Stadium in late May, many feel that Leinster will be aiming for a spectacular double by then, given their status as Champions Cup favourites after an eight-try demolition of the Scots maintained Europe's last remaining unbeaten record, confirmed by Munster's loss in Paris yesterday.

"Yeah, they're impressive," said Rennie, which perhaps is an inevitable response from a coach whose side have been well and truly shellacked.

"They won't be easy to beat. They have excellent depth and play some quality football. But there are still real quality teams left in this competition. In quarter-final play, it's cut-throat."

Leinster discovered just as much last season when they reached two semi-final tests but flunked them both.

"It's definitely something that we need, to keep working on, that feeling - the semi finals last year - did we have a ruthless streak in those games?" agrees Leo Cullen.

"Maybe we weren't as comfortable as we should have been, even being in that setting. So for us it's about getting back to that place again, showing we've learned the mistakes of the past and if we get there again, we're better prepared.

"We still have a huge amount of work to do to progress. In terms of being ruthless, there was some good, some bad, in the second half, the main thing is we need to focus a bit better later in the season.

"If we get to those games again, making sure that the same thing doesn't happen again," Cullen added, before returning to familiar themes of ethic and attitude.

"There's no magic formula. Everyone is working hard. There's a lot of disappointment at how we finished last season.

"Losing two semi-finals has a very 'almost' feel about it, doesn't it? There was a lot of work to get us to those semi-finals.

"It's a competitive group. The players are pushing each other on and it is good to see that they are enjoying themselves when they are out there as well.

"It's nice to have a quarter-final to look forward to, even if it is a couple of months away.

"There is some luck involved, we have a lot going away on international duty and you're not sure how they'll come back."

Leinster are now guaranteed a home quarter-final and, if they can maintain their status as a top two seed - Toulon and Clermont can still upset them if Cullen's men are pointless in Montpellier - they can reach the final in Bilbao without leaving Dublin.

The French side, despite their defeat on Saturday to Exeter, can still qualify for the last eight but will need a four-try win to do so as Cullen prepares to re-shuffle his handsomely stocked squad.

"From what I can see they are still in the tournament if they win and win well. All they are relying on is Glasgow not losing and they don't lose too many games at home.

"For us it is to see how much improvement we have made since we played Montpellier just over a year ago.

"We made hard work of that for big chunks of the game. It is a tough pitch over there; very, very heavy, against tough individuals and even if they were to make 10 changes they are bringing in 10 guys with international experience to replace them.

"If you look at their 40-man squad for Europe they have a lot of depth so it is some challenge for us.

"It's important to be winning games but maintain good habits, there a few areas we need to be better come the knock-out stages. Against Montpellier, we can get punished for those errors."

Irish Independent

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