Leo Cullen took his place in the European rugby pantheon as the first man to win the Champions Cup as a player and coach but the Leinster boss quickly set his sights on a first league and cup double for the province.
Cullen raised the Heineken Cup three times as Leinster captain only for his side to fall short in the league on each occasion, finishing third in the table in 2009 and losing deciders to Munster and Ospreys in 2011 and 2012.
Now as head coach the former Ireland lock has a chance to make amends and will this week prepare his side for a Guinness PRO14 semi-final against Munster on Saturday at Dublin’s RDS Arena.
Backing up from the tense and narrow European final played out against Racing 92 at the San Mames Stadium on Saturday and transitioning into an interprovincial derby against a Munster team with plenty to prove has factored into Cullen’s thoughts since the semi-final line-up was finalised but the Leinster man believes counterpart Johann van Graan has a head start in terms of preparations.
“We talked about it as a staff... it’s about seeing how guys pull through,” Cullen said.
“Even though it wasn’t a quick game it was quite attritional. We’ll just see how everyone is. Munster – with the prep they’ll have had, they’ll have got the edge. They’re up and running this week, thinking about Leinster. They probably have a plan in place.
“‘If that was our plan against Leinster, what would it look like, etc, etc’... It gives them a huge advantage from the off. It’s important our guys celebrate as well because it’s the fourth time this has happened to the club, it’s a pretty momentous day.”
Leinster will monitor Johnny Sexton’s fitness when they return to training today after the fly-half reported a “tweaked” groin after slipping during the 15-12 win on Saturday, while captain Isa Nacewa, who kicked the last two penalties to seal victory, and fellow back Robbie Henshaw both limped away from the San Mames dressing rooms post-match.
Cullen may also call on some members of the province’s A squad which lost the British & Irish Cup final at Ealing Trailfinders on Saturday.
“He finished the game, we’ll see,” Cullen said of Sexton.
“A couple of guys, Isa, Robbie took some heavy bangs as well... guys have actually come through reasonably okay but we’ll see how the week goes. We’ll re-assess and I’ll have a look even at that B&I final, there’s a couple of guys there who might potentially come into the mix.”
Cullen said getting Leinster ready for the Munster game was more an examination of his team’s mental strength than physical recovery.
“We’ll try and get a team that is fresh and hungry to go out and do the business. It’s back at the RDS and the last time we played there we got beaten by Treviso. Obviously we lost the semi-final at home last year against Scarlets. They are things we’ll discuss this week.
“In many ways it’s a mental challenge more than a physical one because the guys got a good physical work-out today. It’s just mentally can we get ourselves to a place where we need to go and take on Munster. There’ll be hype on Leinster now and Munster are waiting in the background. I know what it’s like being in that other team that’s waiting in the background. That was the Leinster team when Munster were riding high and we were going into games where no one gave us a chance.
“Do you think players listen to what you guys are writing and think they’ve got no chance? They think the complete opposite. In many ways it just fuels the motivation a little bit more. Our guys will need to understand that as the week goes on, I’m not sure right now is the time to think about it.”
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