Champions Cup chasing Cullen concentrating on Marseille, not Munster 

Leo Cullen has indicated he will field a much-changed Leinster team from the one which defeated Toulouse for this Saturday’s United Rugby Championship clash with Munster.
Champions Cup chasing Cullen concentrating on Marseille, not Munster 

Leinster's Head Coach Leo Cullen. Photo: Donall Farmer/PA Wire.

Leo Cullen has indicated he will field a much-changed Leinster team from the one which defeated Toulouse for this Saturday’s United Rugby Championship clash with Munster.

Leinster booked their ticket to the Heineken Champions Cup final in Marseille on May 28 thanks to an impressive, powerhouse performance to defeat last-four opponents and title holders Toulouse 40-17 in Dublin at the weekend.

Now they must return to Aviva Stadium to complete their regular-season schedule against interprovincial rivals Munster. Yet the provinces have very different priorities, Johann van Graan’s Reds need a victory to remain in second place behind Cullen’s Blues, who have already secured the home play-off draw his opposite number is aiming to claim ahead of four clubs – Sharks, Stormers, Ulster and Bulls, who could overtake them on the final weekend and potentially consign Munster to an away quarter-final.

Having seen off both English Premiership leaders Leicester Tigers and French champions Toulouse in successive weeks with a team boasting 13 Ireland Test starters, the Leinster head coach looks set to give his frontline stars a back seat this weekend having challenged the rest of the squad to make an impression against Munster on Saturday and stake a claim for inclusion in Marseille in the following week’s European decider.

“We were down in Marseille before. We played a semi-final there against Toulouse but for our guys now it’s about trying to recover. We have a big game here next week against Munster: back to the URC everybody! We want to put on a big performance here next week.

“There are different layers in the group. You have guys like Johnny who has experienced lots of positive memories and a few tricky ones along the way, as we all have, and then there is a younger group that is striving for success for the first time.

“Next week we’ll have some players that are desperate to put their hand up, that’s what we want to see from them. That’s the thing that is probably occupying my thoughts the most at the moment, getting ready for a team that we know are very ambitious to be successful as well.

“They’ve come out publicly and said their desperation for trophies and I guess investment they’ve put in, in terms of some World Cup winners into their squad as well.

“So that’s probably the thing that is actually taking up most of my head space at the minute because that’s the way our minds go to, which is the next challenge.” 

Cullen joked that tickets for the Munster game were still available although there have already been 33,000 sold and looking beyond that he is relishing the opportunity to lead his team into Leinster sixth final and bid for a fifth European crown. He captained the side to victory in the 2009, 2011 and 2012 deciders and has coached them to the 2018 and 2019 finals, winning the first for Leinster’s fourth Champions Cup at Racing 92’s expense in Bilbao four years ago but losing the latter to Saracens at Newcastle’s St James Park.

Now the focus turns to La Rochelle - and a familiar face in Ronan O'Gara - in the final. 

Cullen added: “We’ll put a plan together based on who comes through that.

“Then it’s just about getting excited. Hopefully there’ll be a few planes on and we’ll have a sea of blue down in Marseilles because that would be amazing. Like, last week the support in Welford Road was incredible, the 4,000 people that made the trip over there.

“We won a final in Bilbao but there was an amazing sea of blue that day. It’s one of the most vivid memories I have is that drive into that stadium literally into a sea of blue covering the tunnel.

“They’re the special moments that you get, I guess the honour of representing this team.

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