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Saturday 14 December 2019

Focus on Lyon den

Cullen keen not to look back in anger

LOOKING FORWARD: Leinster’s head coach Leo Cullen. Pic: Sportsfile
LOOKING FORWARD: Leinster’s head coach Leo Cullen. Pic: Sportsfile

In the original 'Men in Black' film, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones use a tool called a 'neuralyzer' to wipe the mind of anybody who sees the flash.

It came in handy whenever they wanted people to forget what they had just seen.

We have reached a point in Irish rugby where most people have forgotten or rather have chosen to erase the World Cup from their memory.

Leo Cullen would certainly rather the World Cup chat was put to bed now, particularly because the majority of the Ireland squad is made up of his Leinster players. If only he had a neuralyzer.

Robbie Henshaw came off the bench late on, which means that Tadhg Furlong is now the only one of Leinster's heavy hitters who has yet to make his comeback from Japan.

The tighthead prop is struggling with a back problem and although Cullen is hoping to have Furlong back this coming weekend, an update on his fitness will be provided today.

It wasn't perfect by any means, but Saturday's bonus-point win (33-19) over a plucky Benetton outfit was an ideal way to warm up for the much tougher test that lies ahead in Lyon on Saturday.

The Leinster players looked happy to be back in blue and they weren't shy in showing it either as they channelled the obvious frustration in the right manner.

"I think it is because of you guys (media) giving them so much hassle," Cullen remarked, when asked about that emotion.

"They are trying to get out of it, get it off their chest, get back out there and just play, and play well. There is a huge amount of frustration when you get knocked out of any tournament.

"The problem is the World Cup gets such a build-up that - and we have talked about this - there is going to be an anti-climax for guys regardless of how that tournament ends. I think you are going to see it across all the countries.

"They have got to get back going now. You can see it in them. You can see it in the players, that sense that they just want to get out and play well.

"When things go well it is that sense of, 'Yeah, we are doing something positive again, it is not all bad'.

"But definitely we talk about getting back on the horse for the guys. We have so many players who missed out on selection, players who have been away at the World Cup that are key leaders amongst the group, others who have a peripheral role and everyone just wants to get back out and play, and play well.

"It was a bit frustrating watching that game as the players' timing is a bit off. Hopefully they will be better for the game with a difficult challenge away to France."

Leinster weren't at their best, but they didn't need to be as they still had far too much quality.

Garry Ringrose marked his return with a hat-trick, while Johnny Sexton and Rónan Kelleher also got in on try-scoring action. Kelleher has now scored seven tries in six games this season.

"Rónan just needs to make sure he looks after his performance," Cullen said of the impressive 21-year-old hooker. "He has done well. The nature of the game is teams will start to work players out. Guys just need to work on continually improving."

That will be the message across the board this week as Top 14 leaders Lyon lie in wait, in what should be Leinster's toughest pool task. Another win would set them up perfectly for the back-to-back meetings with Northampton next month.

Leinster won't be taking anything for granted, however, particularly not after what happened the last time they played in France.

"We went away to France in round two last season and got beaten by Toulouse," Cullen warned.

"We go away to Lyon and the question is: can we be better? Can we be better than we were this time last year?

"The challenge is the fact that we're not really up and running with this group yet, so I think everyone thinks the group is going well but the PRO14, as we know, is very different to the challenge of Europe.

"Lyon haven't been as affected by the World Cup as we have been, so they have a much more cohesive group and they're sitting pretty at the top of the Top 14. We know the quality of the teams that are in that league."

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