Leo Cullen is annoyed with criticism levelled at individuals at Leinster in recent months, but has embraced the pressure on the team in general ahead of their two crucial Champions Cup pool fixtures.
Defeat to Harlequins in round three last month, and the constricted number of teams involved under the new Champions Cup banner, leaves the three-time winners skating on thin ice as they negotiate ties at home to Castres and away to Wasps.
Matt O’Connor’s side have failed to deliver much in the way of aesthetic delights this season but an upswing in form has been clear in their last two PRO12 fixtures against Ulster and Cardiff.
With Castres second from bottom in the Top 14 and certain to send over a weakened battalion to Dublin, the pressure will be on Leinster to rack up badly-needed tries, ideally on the back of some eye-catching rugby such as was once their trademark.
“Sometimes the product is very attractive but because of the nature of the conditions and everything else that we play in sometimes it’s not that attractive,” said Cullen who is in his first season as forwards coach.
“It could be attractive to someone else, like me say, and maybe that’s the purist view. Everyone wants to be better here and I see it as only a positive thing that the outside support, or media, or whatever it is puts that positive pressure on us.
“Within reason. There are a few guys maybe that I have seen that have been singled out, which is grossly
unfair, and that is really disappointing, especially from some of the people that might point out these things.”
O’Connor and the soon-to-depart Jimmy Gopperth have been singled out for criticism more than most, but it would be astonishing if Leinster can’t put the French side to the sword without providing much more ammunition for the doubters.
The province have until tomorrow to decide whether they should appeal the suspension handed out to Jack McGrath for his alleged stamp on Ulster’s Rory Best.
McGrath’s absence would be a major blow what with Cian Healy still rehabbing from injury.
The Ireland loosehead’s chances of featuring this next two weeks, and those of Sean O’Brien’s, are still somewhat unclear with Cullen talking of the need to protect the players from themselves as they edge closer to full fitness.
Jamie Heaslip is rated only 50/50 for Castres having damaged his AC joint against Ulster and then missing the trip to Cardiff while Zane Kirchner was hobbling about UCD in crutches with a ‘bang to the leg’.
His unavailability also remains unclear although Marty Moore came through his first action since October against Cardiff and Fergus McFadden has seemingly recovered from the big Manoa Vosawai hit he took in Wales on Saturday.
Pool 2 could hardly be poised better. Harlequins top the group from Leinster given they scored more tries in their December meetings while Wasps, who face Quins on Saturday evening, are just one point behind both.
Inevitably, much of the talk yesterday was of points and permutations although Sean Cronin was eager to dismiss all that and speak about the difficulties Leinster have experienced in Europe against Castres this season and last — even if they have won every time.
“Earlier this season, we had no idea what team they’d put out, but they have a depth to their squad, in the front row, back-row or centres,” said the hooker. “Whatever team they send over will be physical. The start of the game will be massive, we need to get the crowd into the game and see what happens from there.”
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