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'It hit us all hard really' - Leo Cullen says Leinster are still dealing with Saracens fall-out

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Leinster head coach Leo Cullen. Photo: Sportsfile

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen. Photo: Sportsfile

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen. Photo: Sportsfile

Leinster begin their 2020/21 campaign against Dragons on Friday night, but head coach Leo Cullen says they are still dealing with the disappointment of last season's Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final defeat to Saracens less than two weeks' ago.

Many of the players who featured in that game will face the Welsh region as the new Guinness PRO14 season gets underway at the RDS.

Leinster reviewed the footage last week and then gave a number of players not involved in the pre-season game against Ulster A some time off before they got together again on Monday.

Asked about the lessons of that Saracens defeat, Cullen spoke how tough it's been for the players to take.

"Some basics, really," he said.

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Saracens players celebrate winning a scrum penalty during the Heineken Champions Cup Quarter-Final win over Leinster

Saracens players celebrate winning a scrum penalty during the Heineken Champions Cup Quarter-Final win over Leinster

Saracens players celebrate winning a scrum penalty during the Heineken Champions Cup Quarter-Final win over Leinster

"Like, we dropped the first kick-off in the game and then it was a case of us processing those errors and not allowing it upset our rhythm. Clearly the one that stands out is in some of the set-piece, scrum in particular, we gave away a lot of penalties in the game.

"There are a couple of things we will tweak off the back of that in terms of the way the game is being refereed.

"Some (issues) around the maul as well will be looked at in terms of executing. I could go on. There are lots of bits. It is like any other week, really. It is just when you get knocked out of the tournament, it really magnifies things.

"Every week, we will look at it and try and make our assessments.

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"It hit the players hard, it really did hit them hard. It hit us all hard really. There was a huge sense of disappointment off the back of the previous week.

“After the game we talked a little about our ability to back things up in big game after big game. It is a real challenge for teams, but that is where we want to be.

"When we saw this fixture list originally, we always knew that four-game sequence in particular was going to be a huge challenge.

"The intention was to get to a semi-final in Europe but we never actually got there. As time goes in we will take stock in terms of even some of the selections that we made.

"Did they work? Did they not? What would we do differently if we had our time again? So we will ask lots of questions of ourselves as coaches as well?

"It is tricky because you are always asking the questions off the outcome – so if we had won the game would there be different questions that we would be asking? We are all geniuses in hindsight, aren’t we?"

One tweak that follows that performance sees Jordan Larmour and Hugo Keenan switch positions.

Larmour struggled to handle Saracens' high ball game and, while he didn't directly reference those moments, Cullen is hoping that a spell on the wing might allow him return to his natural free-running game.

"It's a small alteration, I wouldn't read a huge amount into it," he said.

"Playing on the wing probably gives Jordan a little bit more freedom to roam and it's something that comes quite naturally to him. He's played a lot of games on the right wing for us.

"So, we wouldn't see it as a major alteration but Hugo has probably played a lot more at 15 coming through. When Hugo came into the team initially it was more as a replacement when Dave Kearney got injured.

"So, this is just something we want to have a look at."

Dan Leavy is on course for a mid-October comeback and Cullen says he's "getting closer every day" and "isn't a million miles off".

Tadhg Furlong is operating off a similar timeline and is likely to go straight into the Ireland squad.

Johnny Sexton captains the team in one of his rare appearances in the PRO14.

And Cullen says he's keen to get going again in these strange circumstances.

"Round One of the PRO14, normally you're playing pre-season games. You come off the back of a very disappointing loss in such a big game on a big stage," he said.

"It's good, in many ways, that we have a game and we're back up and running.

"We're looking forward to getting going, Johnny is looking forward to playing. As are a lot of other players amongst the group.
"We'll see how everyone goes."


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