Leo Cullen: I’m not someone who is worried about what I don’t have

So, no Jonathan Sexton to set the tone and dictate the tune.

Leo Cullen: I’m not someone who is worried about what I don’t have

So, no Jonathan Sexton to set the tone and dictate the tune.

No Rob Kearney to guard the back door and scan the skies. No Robbie Henshaw to force the gate in midfield. No James Lowe to pick the lock out wide. No Devin Toner to call the lineout. No Dan Leavy to create havoc. No Jack McGrath to deputise for Cian Healy.

And that’s just this week’s drop-outs.

Added to that are the players we knew wouldn’t make this one long before the team announcement yesterday: Sean O’Brien (arm); Fergus McFadden (hamstring); Joe Tomane (hamstring). Will Connors and Nick McCarthy too.

Put all that together and Leinster will take to the RDS today minus a collection of players who boast a collective — deep breath — 1,142 Leinster caps, 427 Test appearances, 26 European Cup medals, 26 Celtic League mementoes and well over 20 Six Nations titles.

Five of the absentees are British and Irish Lions.

It’s Leinster, Jim, but not as we know them. Not in the context of a Heineken Champions Cup weekend, anyway. And not against a side as daunting as Toulouse who are unbeaten since September and arrive in Dublin fully locked and loaded.

This, then, will be the acid test for the province’s much-vaunted strength in depth. Proof, as to just how much worth has been mined from all those PRO14 weekends, spent drafting in a bewildering roll call of talent honed from the schools and academy systems.

“I’m not someone who is worried about what I don’t have,” said head coach Leo Cullen. “We have so much faith in the players and the experience and depth we’ve built over the past few seasons. It’s important, we want to have that competition and it’s very, very strong across the squad.

“It doesn’t particularly worry me. We’ve got a good group. There’s a lot of experience there. If you look at the one to 15, they’re all internationals. There’s 20 of the 23 that have come through the Leinster academy system and they’ve got to get the experience at some stage.

“There’s no magic fix to get guys to 100 caps. You’ve got to get picked 100 times. Guys are maturing all the time and there’s a ton of experience in our team and in our squad. We’ve full confidence in the guys who are going to represent the group in a massive game for this club.”

Kudos must go to Cullen who has rarely, if ever, sought to hide behind, or lean on, excuses before or after games. It’s a laudable policy, one that is all too rare in high-profile sports and, it’s worth pointing out, something that makes an abundance of sense here.

What’s the alternative? Doom and gloom?

That’s not his job, but it is ours to point out the scale of the task created by all of these injuries, many of them suffered in training, as they go about plotting the win that would see them leapfrog their visitors into top spot in Pool One with a round of competition to go.

Some more context.

Jack McGrath has as many Ireland caps (52) as the entire back line which starts today at lunchtime. None of that seven have more Test experience than Dave Kearney, who has played 17 times for his country and yet has just 38 minutes of European rugby to his name these last three seasons.

Adam Byrne has featured twice in the Champions Cup in the past two terms and even the likes of Rory O’Loughlin, Luke McGrath and Jack Conan — not exactly senior pros — are expected to lead the charge.

The bench is painfully callow, too. Ed Byrne has just 42 minutes to his credit in Europe. Ross Molony has managed 44 in the past two campaigns. Max Deegan has banked the grand sum of 60 seconds of game time at this rarified level, while Conor O’Brien is poised for his Euro bow.

Reasons for cheer?

Ross Byrne has proven his mettle on big European occasions before now, as well as in last season’s PRO14 semi-final against Munster. A steady hand is to be expected there. The tight five is still ridiculously strong and the back row is well-balanced and highly capable.

But so too are the opposition.

Leinster have been talking up Toulouse all week, highlighting their counter-attacking and offloading ability, and the depletion in their own ranks now is only compounded by the fact that the Top 14 aristocrats come to Ballsbridge in the rudest of health.

Twelve games unbeaten, Toulouse have named a stronger side than the one that accounted for Leinster over there in October. Jerome Kaino starts at No.8 having been suspended then. Antoine Dupont, on the bench that day, starts at nine here.

Both are key men in different ways.

Toulouse are a side awash with talent up front and out the back. They are a team that is humming as a collective, playing with a confidence and verve that is reminiscent of the club’s greatest sides at their peak, and they have motivation aplenty.

Theirs is a combination of power and panache. The bludgeon and the rapier.

If they see off Leinster, they will top the pool and likely earn a home quarter-final. Leinster’s best means of preventing that would appear to be in keeping this tight, relying on their pack to grind out the hard yards and for Ross Byrne to run a tight ship with the boot and through the hand.

A loss wouldn’t be fatal for either side, but whoever wins will have made a statement that will ripple throughout Europe.

“If you want to be serious about going well you need to get as much out of these games as possible, because it’s not just about the setup for seedings,” said Cullen.

“You want to get out of your pool first and foremost so then it is about where you sit with the other pools. There are a lot of things going on on the periphery which don’t mean a whole lot to the players.

“It is all about performance and getting as much as you can out of it. We’re still in general control if we go out and win the game. Toulouse have won the tournament four times... it’s a massive game.”

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