The three-time champions face Clermont in Lyon in three weeks’ time and Cullen, who raised the trophy as captain on each of those occasions, knows much better than most how difficult it is for any of the provinces to clear the penultimate hurdle on French soil.
Between them, Munster and Leinster have featured in seven semi-finals on the continent and won three. Take away the two Munster won, against Toulouse and Castres at the turn of the millennium, and the strike rate shrinks to a discouraging one from five.
That one success came five years ago when a last-ditch tackle by Gordon D’Arcy dislodged the ball from the grip of Wesley Fofana just as the Frenchman crossed the line. It was an intervention that secured a 19-15 win over Clermont for the visitors.
And this was Leinster at their peak.
Ulster were dismantled at Twickenham in the final weeks later but there were snapshots of the old panache and power that made the Dublin-based side so good in their heyday in this 15-point defeat of England’s league leaders on Saturday.
Fifteen offloads, eight busted line breaks and a dozen defenders shown a clean pair of heels make for the sort of stat sheet that actually does little justice to the approach from Leinster, and the joy it was to watch.
“It was just (about) playing with intent and trying to manage the collisions on our terms,” said Cullen on Saturday evening when the amount of offloads specifically was put to him. “Just keep the ball alive. That’s something we’ve focused on a lot in pre-season.
“Considering the conditions, I thought the lads did well but you need to be brave as well coming into these big games. We’ll certainly need to be brave when we play against whoever wins the other semi-final.”
Bravery earned rich reward here.
Three first-half tries, for Isa Nacewa, Jack Conan, and Robbie Henshaw, propelled Leinster into a 22-3 lead. Threatened by a third-quarter Wasps resurgence that produced five-pointers for Christian Wade and Jimmy Gopperth, it fell to Fergus McFadden to cross over for the game’s deciding try.
Leinster’s performance was framed in a more rounded context by Wasps coach Dai Young who, while praising the hosts, couldn’t look past the part his own side played in their downfall after a diabolical opening half-hour.
Leinster’s second and third tries were gifts from a defensive standpoint — the first of them loose defence after a poor clearing kick and the other a failure to protect the pill from their own ruck — and the Irish side made them pay with 14 points.
None of that was to mention Willie Le Roux’s unforgivable sin in dropping the ball as he aqua-planed over the Leinster try line 24 minutes in, but Young was far more vexed by his side’s failure to string together more than three passes in any one phase until the 28th-minute.
Rabbits in headlights, the Welshman said of his players, which could hardly have been more of a contrast to the manner in which Leinster’s younger brigade answered the call. Joey Carbery, Garry Ringrose, Dan Leavy, and Jack Conan: all four were sublime.
Robbie Henshaw should probably get a mention there given he is still only 23 but then the maturity with which the former Connacht centre adapted to first-class rugby a few years back seems now to be merely par for the course, given the individual efforts witnessed two days ago.
Carbery was adjudged to be the best of a bloody good lot. A constant threat with ball in hand at 15, he even stood in as first receiver for Jonathan Sexton at times, but it was the manner in which he shrugged off his few mistakes that bodes so well “They are pretty good,” Cullen said of the new crew. “There’s a lot of really smart kids in there. They shock me, to be honest. Those 21, 22, 23 year-olds, they’re very level-headed and they are very pragmatic the way the review their own performances.
“I think back to how disappointed some of the younger lads were with their performances in Castres (in January). Coming off the field, even though we drew the game, they were gutted with how they had performed.
“Another trip back to France now,” he finished. This Leinster side look like they are only getting started.
J Carbery; A Byrne, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, I Nacewa; J Sexton, L McGrath; J McGrath, R Strauss, T Furlong; D Toner, H Triggs; D Leavy, S O’Brien, J Conan.
J van der Flier for Leavy (16-22 and for O’Brien 67); F McFadden for Byrne (22); C Healy for J McGrath (52); J Tracy for Strauss (55); R Molony for Triggs (59); J Gibson-Park for L McGrath (63); M Bent for Furlong (66); Z Kirchner for Carbery (79).
K Beale; C Wade, E Daly, J Gopperth, W Le Roux; D Cipriani, D Robson; M Mullan, T Taylor, J Cooper-Woolley; J Launchbury, K Myall; J Haskell, T Young, N Hughes.
A Johnson for Young, M Moore for Cooper-Woolley, M Symons for Myall and J Simpson for Robson (all 50); A Leiua for Cipriani (55); S McIntyre for Mullan (58); A Rieder for Hughes (77).
N Owens (WRU).
60 Second Report
You could look alternatively at Willie Le Roux’s clanger or Fergus McFadden’s clinching try but the sense Wasps were on an impossible mission solidified on the half-time whistle after they conceded a third try that left them 22-3 adrift at the break.
What else, but Mr Le Roux’s excellent tribute to Christophe Dominici’s butter-fingers impression for France against England at Twickenham in 2004?
An unenviable choice. Sean O’Brien looked back to his best but this was about the youngsters. Jack Conan and Dan Leavy were superb in the back row, the centre partnership of Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw just as impressive, but Joey Carbery probably deserved the nod.
The expectation was Leinster would ape Ireland’s defeat of England by keeping it tight but they played with far more freedom and adventure and, though mistakes were made, it paid dividends against a dangerous Wasps side.
Barely noticed. Nigel Owens whistled for only 14 penalties in total - six for Leinster - and reacted as competently as you would expect when disallowing Willie Le Roux’s try when the replays were shown on screen.
Wasps return to a diet of domestic action while Leinster make a pair of PRO12 trips to Ospreys and Connacht before packing their bags for that European semi-final in France.