Leo Cullen: Never a dead rubber when Munster are in town

Leinster’s meeting with Munster in Dublin on Saturday may not be must-win for Leo Cullen but he insisted the derby clash was still a very big “want-to-win” game.
Leo Cullen: Never a dead rubber when Munster are in town

Head coach Leo Cullen during Leinster rugby squad training at Energia Park in Dublin. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Leinster’s meeting with Munster in Dublin on Saturday may not be must-win for Leo Cullen but he insisted the derby clash was still a very big “want-to-win” game.

Head coach Cullen has rested his entire first-choice starting line-up for this United Rugby Championship finale to the regular season, sandwiched as it is between a Heineken Champions Cup semi-final victory over Toulouse and the following Saturday’s final against Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle in Marseille.

While Munster are still in the thick of a four-way battle for second-place and a home quarter-final draw on June 4, Leinster earned the luxury to make 15 changes from last weekend’s 40-17 victory over the French double winners having already secured top seeding for the URC play-offs and with it a home draw for each of the knockout rounds should they progress.

The Leinster boss said there was still every incentive to put in a strong performance on home soil against their closest rivals.

“It’s still a very big game for us regardless because a big crowd will turn up and it’s important that the lads represent the club well,” Cullen said. “There’s a nice mix in the team, a number of guys will be finishing with Leinster at the end of the season. And that’s the same with all teams out there as we know.

“There are some young players as well who are really keen to push on and it’s a massive big step-up as well, if you think you’re playing in the Aviva in front a big crowd and all the rest. I think it’s just a brilliant opportunity. The young guys, if you look at it over the course of the season, have done an incredible job in getting us to this position where it’s not a must-win game.

“But when you play at home it’s a want-to-win game. You want to win the game but you want to play more importantly so that’s the bit we want to focus on as a group but I have to applaud all the lads the way they’ve conducted themselves this season, the younger players in particular… They’ve served the team well over the course of the season so in many ways it’s a great reward for them to be able play in the Aviva in front of a big crowd against a good team and a very experienced team.

“It’s a great challenge really. We’re just trying to weigh up, there are multiple factors that go into all of these selections as I’m sure you’re well aware. I think we’ve got an exciting group. We want to just get out there and play and see what they can do. It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be tough. Munster have a hell of a lot more of experience in terms of their cohesion and all of the rest. They’ve had an extra week in terms of their preparation coming into the game as well.

“So it’s all those little things as well which we know can potentially make a difference but it’s still an exciting group from our point of view.” Much of that excitement will centre around the returns from injury of Jordan Larmour and Ryan Baird, both of whom will start for Leinster at full-back and blindside flanker respectively.

“It’s important to get some of those guys back in, two very good players. Ryan has been available and it’s been tight with some of those selections over the last couple of weeks but he just needs to get a game under his belt. He played 40 minutes (for Leinster A) last week against the Universities team which was important for him and he’s got to try to push on now.

“Jordan as well, he was unlucky, he got very close to getting back playing and then had a little minor setback. He’s back now and hopefully he cracks on and is able to finish the season out well.” Cullen has already notched a bonus-point victory over Munster this season, his side impressing in a 34-17 win at Thomond Park on April 2 but he acknowledged the Reds had turned a corner since that day.

“Yeah they’re definitely trying to play more for certain than their traditional game shall we say. They’re definitely making progress for sure. They’ve a lot of experience through the team. Even with a couple of those guys coming back in, Andrew Conway is one that certainly stands out, it’s going to be a right ding-dong battle for sure.

“I think you saw with the mindset, particularly around that Rainbow Cup last year where we were missing a couple of players, a bit of a mixed team, and they came very physical against us so that will always be in the DNA of their team.

“It’s important we are aware of all of their threats. The better teams have multiple ways of playing the game, that’s something we’ve always been aware of. They’re trying to spread the ball more than they have in the past so we’ll see and we’ll try to adapt to whatever pictures they throw at us on the day.”

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