Cullen wary of Munster mission after Leinster's weekend woes

Leo Cullen is hopeful his bruised and fallen European champions can recover from their Saracens loss but wary of Munster’s own desire for silverware as preparations begin for Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 semi-final.

The interprovincial rivals meet once again at Dublin’s RDS, a year on from Leinster’s one-point victory over their southern neighbours en route to the title. 

This time around there is likely to be one key member of that league success in the opposite camp as fly-half Joey Carbery looks set to prove his fitness following a hamstring injury.

Leinster have also lost Jordi Murphy to Ulster since that day and if Munster prevail this weekend, it will be the final games in blue for both Jack McGrath and Sean O’Brien, who will join Ulster and London Irish respectively this summer.

The new kings of Europe had a much stronger bench in Newcastle on Saturday while Cullen did not see fit to utilise any of his three backline replacements as Leinster tried to recoup a 10-point deficit in the last quarter.

Yet the Leinster head coach disputed the suggestion that the departure of players to other provinces in search of more regular starts had undermined his own squad’s ability to compete against the likes of Saracens.

“I don’t know so, that’s just a natural evolution as well,” Cullen said. “Look, it’s tricky, for us it’s … there are certain market forces that make it

difficult. But every team has some sort of thing that they will complain about. We don’t want to complain too much, we just get on with what we’ve got and then make sure we are as good as we possibly can be on any given day.

“So we have got ourselves into a situation where we have made a final in Europe, now we are playing a home semi-final in the RDS in the PRO14 and we just need to try and turn our attention to that, which is not going to be easy.

“Munster have the advantage in many ways because they’ve had a week of preparation under their belt already and they will be geared up. 

"Even listening to some of the noise out of their camp as well, some coaches moving on, listening to some of the players and the way they are talking about not wanting to finish playing for Munster until they win some silverware. You know how much it means to them, so it should be a good battle.”

Saracens' Alex Goode and Jackson Wray celebrate at the final whistle. Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland
Saracens' Alex Goode and Jackson Wray celebrate at the final whistle. Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Cullen reported no immediate injury concerns from what was a contest of Test-match intensity that left him marvelling at the sheer size and physicality of Saracens, which seemed magnified by the narrow pitch dimensions of Newcastle United’s football pitch.

“That’s the thing when you are chasing the game against them. You can’t fault the bravery of our guys but you are playing into the teeth of some pretty big physical men. Even if you look at the measurements of the pitch, it was smaller and had less space than we would be

normally used to.

“Little things like that. It’s a football pitch and Saracens have big men clogging up the middle of the field, they are bloody hard to play against and then it feels like you are running into brick walls. 

"In fairness to Saracens, you see their defence whatever way you want to call it, it is physical and committed and they are whacking us and they are whacking us on numerous occasions, so there will be some sore bodies. There doesn’t seem to be any show-stoppers (injuries) at this stage but we will get them assessed and see what the toll is.”

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