Thursday 22 March 2018

Try-hero can become 'best in world' - Cullen

Hugh Farrelly

ON an evening when the Leinster front-row laid the platform for a seminal European victory at Lansdowne Road, captain Leo Cullen singled out his props for special praise, declaring that two-try hero Cian Healy has the potential to be "the best in the world".

Healy's hard work in tight phases did not prevent him turning in a dynamic, man-of-the-match performance around the park, while Mike Ross provided Leinster with a solid platform to operate from, coming out on top in his tussle with first-choice French loose-head Thomas Domingo.

"Cian is a work in progress," said Cullen. "He is a phenomenal talent. When his head is in the game he is as good as anyone out there. He is a younger guy. It is easier to drift (mentally), but when he is clued in to the game he is a phenomenal performer.

"I believe he has the ability to become one of the best in the position in the world. It is about how far Cian wants to go with it himself.

"He was pretty p*ssed off he didn't start the game last week and he probably expected to (start) coming off the Autumn Internationals.

"Heinke (van der Merwe) is a serious operator for us as well and he was unlucky to miss out this week. Having that competition is a motivating factor for players. Cian is far from the finished article but he has world-class ability," added Cullen.

"Mike didn't get many opportunities for us last year but he is the man for us this year. He has been around the block for a while. He didn't get much recognition in Ireland because he went to England, but he was schooled under Deano (Dean Richards) and John Kingston for four or five years and that is paying dividends.

"It was a great learning ground for him and he has gone through that grind of playing 25-30 games a season. Now that has stood to him. He didn't get many opportunities for us last year but he is the man for us this year."

Cullen, replaced by Devin Toner after 64 minutes when victory was secured, expressed some regret that Leinster were not able to cross for a fourth try to pick up a bonus point, but believes the squad are still in the driving seat in Pool 2.

"When you have three tries on the board with whatever it was, 25-30 minutes to go, it is a little bit disappointing but we would have taken that result beforehand," said Cullen.

"Sometimes, when you have three tries you almost try (too hard) to go for it. It is like you don't take care of the basics sometimes and our ball security in that period was quite poor. They brought on some pretty experienced campaigners and made a bit of a mess of the breakdown.

"I thought the last 20 minutes probably suited them more than it did us. It is a little frustrating but our destiny is still in our own hands, which is what we always wanted."


Clermont coach Vern Cotter could not mask his frustration with his side's performance. After trying to gee up his players all week with comments about a perceived lack of respect from Leinster at the Stade Marcel Michelin last weekend, the New Zealander was hoping for a powerful performance away from home, but Clermont exhibited mental weakness when the pressure came on.

"A very poor performance," said Cotter. "I'm disappointed. To turn up here and to perform as poorly -- we were dominated in every sector of the game from start to finish -- there's not a lot I can say. They really took us to pieces.

"It's a game we probably needed (to win) and we got ripped apart. We got dominated physically, we couldn't get go-forward, we couldn't put several phases of play together going forward to put them in any real danger."

He added: "We scored a try at the end but only because the game was over and done with. So congratulations to them, but we'll put this behind us as quickly as possible."

Irish Independent

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