Monday 22 January 2018

Leo Cullen: Bath have been on my mind

Leinster have to shelve failing form for Europe

Leinster forwards coach Leo Cullen
Leinster forwards coach Leo Cullen

Leinster will walk the tightrope between the PRO12 and The Champions Cup quarter-final this week.

Forwards coach Leo Cullen has to quickly switch mindsets, not to mention squad personnel, from an unpalatable fifth-place in the League to the prospect of tackling a fast-improving Bath.

The best Leinster could manage on Friday night was three points from a 34-all draw against League leaders Glasgow.

At the same time, Ulster were racking up a bonus-point win at home to Cardiff (36-17), less than 24 hours before Munster and The Ospreys both claimed five points against Connacht (42-20) and Zebre (53-22), respectively.

The overall effect leaves Leinster in a worse position at the end of the weekend than they were in at the beginning of it, four points off The Ospreys in fourth.

It was worrying, in the extreme, to see The Blues fall 20 points behind before they finally started to revel in the physical exchanges.

Cullen saw it differently: "The lads showed really good character to score 27 unanswered points.

"When you get seven points up in a game with less than 10 minutes to go, we should have been good enough to close it out.

"That is what we need to learn and we need to learn that we can't obviously start that slow because it is going to be difficult if you give a team 20-point head starts.


"But the lads showed amazing character. There wasn't any panic at half-time.

"Everyone was saying the right things. We got an early score, settled back into the second half and I thought we were pretty dominant for a big chunk of it."

It has been almost forever thus, that shortcomings in the League are easily de-listed so that Leinster can tune back into Europe

"In many ways, it's been the main thing on my mind since we played Wasps," he admitted.

Cullen even returns to that pivotal late January weekend when everything was on the line for quarter-final qualification.

"A 20-all draw and you're watching the weekend's games. Will we be at home? Will we be away?

"As things panned out, we get a home draw and we're in this situation against Bath. It has been on my mind for a long time, the game.

"I know talking to some of the players how much it means to them going into this occasion as well. Listen, hopefully we can put on a big performance.

"There are always factors, trying to reintegrate everybody.

"Everyone is coming back over the next couple of days and, hopefully, we will be in good shape by the time the game comes around."

They will need to be as Bath's sound set-piece is the platform from which to launch a three-quarter line boasting three men keen on redemption.

George Ford, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson have not forgotten what happened in the Six Nations at The Aviva.

The clarion call came for supporters to row in behind their club at a time of uncertainty over where Leinster stand.

"We hope it is a great occasion. To have a quarter-final at home we hope the supporters come out with great voice on the day.

"A home quarter-final - the competition is new but there has been a lot more about the competition this year."

The burden of representing the League in which they are struggling can be a real motivating factor.

"You have four English teams, three French teams and we're sort of flying the flag for the PRO12.

"We need a huge performance because at the moment every game is the biggest game for us," he said.

"We have been lucky over the last number of years. We've had some really good days and they are made spectacular by the supporters turning out and that is what the team needs.

"We hope we can provide a performance that is worthy of them turning up to pay the money to watch us play because it means a huge amount to us."

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