Leo Cullen fired up for clash of European blue bloods

Leo Cullen has warned that Leinster face a stiff challenge from a familiar foe when they travel to fellow European blue bloods Toulouse for the second round of the Heineken Champions Cup next weekend.

Leo Cullen fired up for clash of European blue bloods

By Brendan O’Brien

Leo Cullen has warned that Leinster face a stiff challenge from a familiar foe when they travel to fellow European blue bloods Toulouse for the second round of the Heineken Champions Cup next weekend.

The French giants, who sit alongside Leinster at the summit of the tournament roll of honour with four titles, had to settle for Challenge Cup surroundings last season but have now returned to pastures they will feel more becoming of their stature.

A dramatic 22-20 win against Bath at The Rec on Saturday was the perfect way to announce their reappearance at the continent’s top tier and Cullen, who faced them in Toulouse during his own playing days, knows the scale of the challenge.

“The last couple of years have maybe been tough for them, with some change after former head coach Guy Noves left. But they have a very strong core of Toulouse people involved in coaching now and you see they’re bringing in some good young players with some very experienced overseas players. The likes of Jerome Kaino’s come in along with Charlie Faumuina, to name a couple. They’ll be a handful. It’s very different, I saw their pitch last week, it’s very heavy. So it’s going to be a very different game for us. There’ll be a lot of things for us to get our head around.”

Some of them closer to home.

If Jamison Gibson-Park recovers from an ankle injury then Cullen will, because of the rule restricting teams to just two players from Australia and New Zealand, have to decide whether to go again without the scrum-half, Scott Fardy or James Lowe.

The case for Lowe is bordering on lock-tight in the wake of his start to the season and, particularly, the two scores claimed in the destruction of Wasps on Friday.

That pair brought his number of tries to 16 in just 18 games for Leinster.

Undroppable form, normally, but Lowe sees the bigger picture.

Left out of the squad for the back end of last season’s European-winning campaign, he was still able to enjoy the occasion despite spending it in his civvies.

“They won a European Cup without me and I’m bloody stoked for a day,” Lowe explained. “It doesn’t bother me, I had a heck of a day in Bilbao. I wish ... they should have given me a camera for that. It was the best day of my life.”

Little seems to get him down.

He has taken to Dublin like a fish to water, the one complaint to date centred on the fact that some scoundrels smashed one of his car windows on Thursday night. Acclimatisation, though, has been swift with only the odd word local peculiarity catching him out.

Tadhg Furlong’s name is one. ‘Taj’, he calls him.

“I call him Tigger. You know from Winnie the Pooh? He acts like him sometimes.”

Chances are he will have to brush up on all things Irish when he qualifies for his adopted country down the line. Lowe knows that doesn’t sit well with everyone and that Gibson-Park, who makes the grade in September of next year, will feel that heat before him.

He’s keeping mum about his own ambitions right now. His parents are over next month to take in the Ireland-New Zealand game...

“No. Stop there,” he joked in an attempt to cut the obvious question off at the pass. “My parents will most likely wear a silver fern on their chest.

“I’m going to go in casual gear. I’m very, very neutral, at the moment. I don’t know who I will support.”

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