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Thursday 27 June 2019

Point to prove for Blues

BELIEF: Leo Cullen will place his faith in Jonathan Sexton against Ulster. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
BELIEF: Leo Cullen will place his faith in Jonathan Sexton against Ulster. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

It could just be that Ireland's pain turns out to be to Leinster's gain ahead of their Champions Cup quarter-final.

The long line of Ireland internationals leaving Carton House last week in bad form were given three days to mull over the previous seven weeks.

Chief among them Jonathan Sexton, the out-half being just as crucial to his club as his country.

"You get concerned about all sorts of things," said coach Leo Cullen.

"Over the last few years, I have watched the Six Nations, I just learned that you are better off trying to forget it and enjoy it as an Ireland fan.

"You're better off because if you are worried about all these other things, you drive yourself a little bit demented."

Instead, the coach will place his faith in Sexton's recuperative powers and the environment at Leinster.

"It's just trying to get his body sorted and make sure he is in the best possible shape," said Cullen.

"He went into the campaign off the back of a bit of disrupted form, really. He didn't play since the Munster game, so it was a difficult lead-in for him.

"But at least he has played, got through and started all five games in the Championship.

"For us, now, it's about taking a bit of pressure off him. He was good last week. He's getting himself sorted and (is) on top of everything."

The inconsistency of Ireland's Six Nations would have left the players yearning for a change of voice and scenery.

The step-down from international camp to the Champions Cup could be just what most of them want and need.

"I think that's just always ongoing post-Six Nations - during the course of all the parts of the season," noted Cullen. "There are these ups and downs, ebbs and flows with people's form over the course of a campaign.

"But that is always the case for us," he said.

"Guys are pi**ed off they haven't been picked so they come back a bit frustrated. They are the guys who often go best when they come back in, because they have a real point to prove.

Players

"I think the players all feel that they have a point to prove now.

"They are disappointed with how the campaign ended. Nobody is denying that, I don't think."

The here-today, gone-tomorrow nature of the transitional periods that punctuate the season are second nature to the Leinster players and their coaches.

That makes the process more familiar, not necessarily much easier.

"There's always a lot of work to do because, post-Six Nations, leading into a quarter-final in Europe is one of the most difficult challenges we face," said Cullen.

"Coming back post-World Cup is more difficult, if you think about the long lead into that, but there's definitely challenges coming back into a quarter-final.

"We've a good chunk of players away. Since round six of Europe, the majority of them have been in Ireland mode. That's just how it works."

The Blue brigade returned last Wednesday to do a deep dive into the preparations that will sustain them through this week.

"For us, it's about making sure we have a good plan for the players, that they understand what they need to do to get back up to speed.

"We make some assessments, in terms of what we see over the course of the Six Nations.

"It's trying to get a good plan in place, give them a little information last week, then try to get them up to speed today, tomorrow.

"It's a short lead into the game."

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