Leo Cullen is not convinced that Ireland’s Six Nations defeat to England last February will have any effect on next month’s Champions Cup final.
Eddie Jones’ side won 32-20 in Aviva Stadium, with six Saracens players involved, including Owen Farrell, Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, George Kruis, Maro Itoje, and Billy Vunipola.
Ireland had no answer to the Red Rose’s physicality and pace, and trailed by 19 points before John Cooney’s 80th minute try made the scoreboard a little less embarrassing.
“I’m not sure what the relevance of it really is,” said Cullen, “There’s so much motivation for so many different reasons. The motivation will be high for both teams.
“I don’t really know how it will affect things, you come off the Six Nations and everyone’s trying to gel together quite quickly. We knew last year was such a big occasion for us, how did Saracens view that? I don’t know.
“They came over here, Ireland had beaten England at Twickenham at the end of the Six Nations. What does that mean? Does it mean anything? Who knows?
You’re trying to make all of these different assessments and, again, feed into a performance at the weekend.
Leinster won last year’s quarter-final between the two sides, weeks after Ireland’s win over England in Twickenham but Cullen believes the fast start they enjoyed was more important than the memories of beating England in London.
“We got a good start that day which helped, I think, because when Saracens get a good start they’re a very tough team to play against. It’s hard chasing the game against them,” he said.
“How you start the game is important, we got off to a reasonably good start against Toulouse which was good and everyone gets into the groove of the game. It can be hard to play catch-up in some of these finals. You never know what way the game is going to be.” Leinster will have no shortage of motivation for next month’s final in Newcastle — with the province chasing a fifth European title.
Only Toulouse can match their tally of four, so a win in St James’ Park would put Leinster out on their own as the most successful club in the competition’s history.
Rob Kearney revealed that Stuart Lancaster told the squad they should aim for five stars on their shirts when the former England head coach first turned up at Leinster over two years ago —and Cullen believes the province will want to win the cup as a farewell to some departing players.
Last year’s final in Bilbao saw Jordi Murphy and Isa Nacewa raise the trophy ahead of their departure from the province, while this year Seán O’Brien and Jack McGrath will be leaving the club.
At the end of the season you realise guys are moving on at the end of the games, so everyone works very hard to ensure that everyone gets the send-off we’d like to give people who have given a huge amount to the club, it’s a great challenge
But Sarries will not be short of motivation themselves, chasing as they do a third title in four seasons. They were stung by last season’s quarter-final defeat to Leinster, something that Cullen believes is firing them to new heights this time around.
“I think when a team loses in a competition when they’ve won it previously it just drives greater desire usually. That’s what my experience would be,” Cullen said.
“Particularly when you’ve got a group of players that has generally stayed together over the course of a good number of seasons now, you can see that some of them are pretty ambitious, so...
“Yeah, they’re going to be a real handful but what would you expect at this stage of the competition. There’s a lot of really good teams in Europe.
“They were seeded No 1, so they’re in the final for a reason. They’ve probably been the most consistent team in the competition so far.”