Cullen: Losing ‘unacceptable’

LEINSTER captain Leo Cullen has branded losing as “unacceptable” as he prepares to lead his team on a mission to heal the scars of last season’s Heineken Cup semi-final defeat against defending champions Toulouse at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow.

Tries from Yannick Jauzion and man of the match David Skrela, who also kicked 16 points, ensured Leinster lost their European crown in a 26-16 defeat in Toulouse and their French foes advanced to a fifth Heineken final where they beat Biarritz at Stade de France.

The Irish province then went on to lose the Magners league final to Ospreys in Dublin to complete a trophy-less final season under the departing Michael Cheika.

And although Leinster have bounced back better than ever this season under Joe Schmidt, seeing off Racing Metro, Clermont Auvergne and Saracens in their group and Leicester Tigers in the quarter-finals, Cullen is acutely aware his side could still end this campaign with nothing as they head into tomorrow’s rematch with four-time champions Toulouse.

“I think the team now is in such a place that losing at this stage is unacceptable really,” Cullen said yesterday.

“It’s difficult to compare year on year. There are a lot of comings and goings in between and the team we have this year is slightly different to the one we had last year and even the way we play is a slight bit different.

“We’re in a semi-final. A lot of hard work has gone in to get us to this stage and you want to make sure you give a good account yourselves and everybody’s looking for a big performance.

“At this stage of the tournament you’re going to come up against quality teams and Toulouse, without a shadow of a doubt, have been the best team in Europe over the course of this competition.

“At this stage of the season last year we were in a very similar position and we lost the semi-final and got to the final of the Magners and lost that. So this is the business end of the season and obviously we’re pretty keen to go a bit better than we did last year.

“These games are won and lost on small margins. The games last year were lost on small margins also so it’s about taking our opportunities when they come.

“I suppose the scars are still relatively fresh in people’s minds but it’s totally different. There’s different players this year and we’ve different players this year as well and personally I feel like I’ve something to prove and there’s other lads in the same situation but it’s hard to imagine how that’s going to pan out.

“And then some of those guys travelled here with France so they’ve memories of coming here to the Aviva and winning already. So we can’t just rely on the fact we’re turning up at home here. We have to earn everything we get off these guys.”

That was the striking lesson learned by Cullen from last year’s encounter in southern France and he added of Toulouse: “They’re the sort of team that just don’t give you anything, don’t give you any opportunities.

“They scrummed really well last year and they did their homework and won lineout ball fairly easily. It was quite a wet day as well and they kicked a lot and they’ve got good guys in the air as well and we just felt like we had to work really hard for everything.

“They contest hard. They’ve got guys like (Thierry) Dusautoir who are very strong on the ball as well and we just have to be so precise with our own drills against them. They’re just a team that make you work very, very hard for everything, don’t give you anything.”

Schmidt, who names his Leinster team today, admitted he was facing some difficult choices concerning selection. On the injury front, he said, his squad was “looking good”.

“We’ve some tough decisions to make before tomorrow,” Schmidt said. “It is good to have options when you look at the depth Toulouse have, they can name 23 internationals.

“The build-up has been pretty good, even the weather has been good, but you are judged on your 80 minutes during the game. As good as the build-up has been the proof is in the Saturday performance.”

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