Monday 18 February 2019

Cullen: Name me a bigger game

Leinster coach Leo Cullen speaks with Munster counterpart Rassie Erasmus at the launch of the Champions Cup. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Leinster coach Leo Cullen speaks with Munster counterpart Rassie Erasmus at the launch of the Champions Cup. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

It is that time of the year again.

Leinster and Munster will play the part of the PRO14 League appetiser at The Aviva next Saturday to the explosive opening rounds of the Champions Cup thereafter.

It has become as much a barometer for where the provinces are ahead of Europe as it is an event in its own right.

However, it would be irresponsible to look any further ahead than the biggest derby in Irish rugby.

"This is when the spike happens," said Blues coach Leo Cullen at the launch of The Champions Cup yesterday.

"It focuses the mind for the players because of what's at stake. If you look around the world, name me a bigger game.

"Leinster v Munster games are fantastic occasions. There's great buy-in from supporters.

"Hopefully, we'll get a great crowd at the Aviva as well because that makes all the difference. It adds to the sense of occasion.

"If it was behind closed doors in front of 10 people the two teams would be going hard at it."

The rivalry also embraces the idea of 'the bigger picture' which is the November internationals and the road to the Six Nations.

"There is probably somebody clipping at their heels on both sides," he added.

"I am sure there are established guys on the Munster team and up-and-comers in the Leinster team that would want to have a crack at those players because they are competing for higher honours, selection-wise."

Leinster and Munster responded to their first defeats in the PRO14 with contrasting victories in round five, the former struggling for form, the latter finding it.

It would be a potentially shattering backward step for either one of them to under-perform at the national stadium.

Munster Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus and Cullen will drive home the necessity for momentum as Leinster host Montpellier and Munster travel to Castres Olympique in Europe the following weekend.

Within reason, the general public wants to see the best of Irish going at each other, not some pale imitation decreed by the Player Welfare Programme.

"I think both teams will be fully locked this week," said Cullen.

"Rassie will name a strong team and I'm pretty sure we're going to name a strong team.

"The fans that turn out will get full value for money in terms of two teams that will be fully committed to their colours and to their teams."

While Isa Nacewa won't make it, neither will Munster's Jaco Taute, who was due to see a specialist about a knee injury that will see him out of action for months.

This is a problem which fades in comparison to what Munster have to deal with as constant speculation swirls around the southern province, despite news that Tadhg Beirne will move there in the summer.

Erasmus refuted any suggestion of a conflict of interests in wanting to work with Johann van Graan in South Africa when Munster want the same man to be their new coach.

"I saw all the speculation and stuff going on there," he said.

"But it's people I'm not involved with currently.

"If I start putting my eye on the ball on that side, we'll drop the ball on this side. That was the commitment."

In terms of the inter-provincial derby, Erasmus is in a better position to plot Leinster's downfall in his second season.

"You can't ask for a game with more pressure, intensity, speed, physicality, win or lose," he said.

"Last year, definitely, the experiences we learned from that game we took into Europe."

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