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Tuesday 19 September 2017

Cullen's men must be fearless again for Clermont showdown

Leinster renew rivalry with French giants for final spot

Isa Nacewa scores Leinster’s first try despite the tackle of Christian Wade of Wasps at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday
Isa Nacewa scores Leinster’s first try despite the tackle of Christian Wade of Wasps at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday

Coach Leo Cullen insisted Leinster will "need to be brave" against Clermont-Auvergne in the Champions Cup semi-final in Lyon.

Jono Gibbes Clermont overcame Toulon 29-9 in what was a power-hungry slugfest at Stade Michelin yesterday to set up an intriguing prospect in under three weeks.

Leinster will have to replicate the way they rose to the challenge to close down Wasps' myriad threats in their semi-final 24 hours earlier.

Like Ireland for England, they took the position it was difficult to leak points if the best attack in The Premiership did not have openings to strike.

The keep ball commitment yielded 68% possession and 70% territory to force Wasps hooker Tommy Taylor (21) and flanker James Haskell (18) to lead the tackle count with Joe Launchbury (12) tied with Leinster leader Dan Leavy.

It also drained the energy of the guests from having to make 162 tackles, having the knock-on effect of missing 21, conceding 15 turnovers, chasing Leinster for 179 carries over the stretch of 727 metres.

The concentration on playing the ball out of the tackle, apparent in the tries from Jack Conan and Robbie Henshaw, took away the offside line.

"It was just playing with intent and trying to manage the collisions on our terms," said Cullen.

"Just keeping the ball alive, that's something we've focused on a lot in pre-season."

The weather was not ideal and it took total focus to execute a daring game plan, the offloads sticking like glue.

"I thought the lads did well but you need to be brave as well coming into these big games," continued Cullen.

Good news

When Wasps were informed of the injuries to Rob Kearney and Jamie Heaslip, it must have been portrayed as good news for them.

They could put pressure on Joey Carbery and Jack Conan with accurate kicking, evasive runners in the outside channels and back row belligerence.

"Sometimes youngsters bring that edge and that excitement and I thought both of them played really well," said Dai Young, the Wasps Director of Rugby.

"I don't think Leinster were weakened too much by the other two players not playing."

It is doubtful Wasps' England internationals, led by Haskell and Launchbury, or, indeed, their big name overseas signings in full-back Kurtley Beale and left wing Willie le Roux would have been convinced about the threats of Carbery and Conan.

"We looked at them the same as they looked at us," said Young.

"We looked more at the trend and style of their play and then we looked at the individuals.

"I don't think they played too different with these two guys playing.

"I don't think that was a factor," he said.

"It was more about us making mistakes rather under-estimating those players."

Leinster's tactic to go to their offloading to crack open Wasps was dominant in the first-half in which Fergus McFadden's was central to Conan's try and Jonathan Sexton's oiled Henshaw's third on half-time to take them away from Wasps.

They made a total of thirteen in the first forty, just six thereafter as they cleverly dialled back the risk game on foot of a 19-point lead.

"Obviously, offloads kill defences really," said Young.

"They just had lots of ball, didn't they? That was the thing.

"When we had opportunities, we kept on turning the ball over."

The former Wales prop was not willing to concede playing the ball out of the tackle came as an unpredictable strategy.

"I don't think there was a surprise element to it," he continued.

"That's in their game. They are a quality team without a shadow of a doubt.

"But, we made it easy for them.

"You keep on giving teams ball-after-ball to run at you and play, they are going to cause you problems.

"They did those basics really well and we didn't. It was as simple as that really."

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