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Saturday 14 December 2019

Blues need to heed history lessons

EXPERIENCE: Leo Cullen. Photo: SPORTSFILE
EXPERIENCE: Leo Cullen. Photo: SPORTSFILE

The way French clubs can transform from lambs on the road to Lions in their own den makes a mockery of something known as professional integrity.

The power of the parish can over-ride all else, as Leinster know only too well from their experiences in France.

The love affair with Europe was not felt at first sight, as the Blues suffered six straight losses in five seasons to Toulouse (2), Stade Francais (2), Begles-Bordeaux and Biarritz Olympique from 1997 to 2002.

The initial breakthrough came against Montferrand, since re-christened Clermont-Auvergne, at the magical Stade Marcel Michelin in front of a 10,000 crowd.

Even then, it took a star-studded cast, led by Brian O'Driscoll, Shane Horgan and Leo Cullen, to get the better of the likes of Richard Cockerill and Olivier Magne.

In fact, it was in victory that Leinster absorbed their greatest lesson in how French clubs can simply defy all logic.

The province had just posted by far its' largest total in the Heineken Cup with a 92-17 humiliation of Bourgoin, notching 13 tries, three of them from their current assistant coach Felipe Contepomi.

One week later, in December 2004, they had to fall back on the brilliance of Brian O'Driscoll for two tries, turning pending doom into four precious points.

Just last year, Leinster should have known better when they were slow to settle at Stade Ernest Wallon, falling 11 points behind Toulouse in as many minutes.

The French giants, on their way back to European prominence, had the bit between their teeth and enough left in their legs to strike for a breakaway try by Maxime Medard, the winning points arriving from Thomas Ramos's conversion in the 70th minute.

Overall, Leinster have played 25 Pool matches in France, losing almost twice as many (15) as they have won (8) with two draws thrown in.

On Saturday, Top-14 League leaders Lyon will go all out to add to Leinster's nightmares in France.

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