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Dublin: 2 °C Saturday 14 December, 2019
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Cullen wants squad to move past World Cup 'anti-climax' as Lyon lie in wait

Leinster were far from their best despite making a winning start to their Heineken Champions Cup campaign against Benetton on Saturday.

Garry Ringrose after scoring his second try against Benetton.
Garry Ringrose after scoring his second try against Benetton.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

IT’S NOT OFTEN that we see an angry Leinster take to the pitch, but even in the early stages of Saturday’s 33-19 Heineken Champions Cup defeat of Benetton there was a definite sense of frustration in the air at the RDS.

Things got heated during a scrappy first half as James Ryan needed to be pulled away from an altercation with Benetton lock Ime Herbst. 

As the Blues struggled to shake off a stubborn Benetton in the second half, that anger simmered away underneath the surface. Johnny Sexton roared at the crowd after finishing a superb move five minutes after half-time. Garry Ringrose flung the ball into the same section of the home crowd after completing a fine hat-trick deep into the second half.

It could be that Leinster were just annoyed with themselves for not putting this game to bed earlier. For all Benetton’s fight, anything other than a Leinster win here would have been a disaster. Kieran Crowley’s team repeatedly shot themselves in the foot. Despite scoring three tries they left a host of good opportunities behind them, while their discipline, particularly in a stop-start first half, was poor.

Yet it also didn’t go unnoticed that those Leinster flash-points all involved players that were making their first appearance of the season for the province since returning from Ireland’s latest World Cup quarter-final defeat.

If those players are hoping to move the conversation past Ireland’s World Cup exit, this isn’t the way to do it.

Head coach Leo Cullen was ultimately happy to get the new European campaign off to a winning start, but admitted it will take a while for his Ireland contingent to play their way through their World Cup pain.

“They are trying to get out of it, get it off their chest, get back out there and just play, and play well,” Cullen said.

ronan-kelleher-and-braam-steyn Ronan Kelleher capped his Champions Cup debut with a try. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“There is a huge amount of frustration when you get knocked out of any tournament. The problem is the World Cup gets such a build up that – and we have talked about this – there is going to be an anti-climax for guys regardless of how that tournament ends. I think you are going to see it across all the countries.”

This morning’s video review will focus on a number of issues that would not normally be associated with Leinster. Cullen admitted that his team looked complacent once Sexton scored their fourth try of the evening, allowing the visitors to cross for two further tries instead of putting the game to bed. They also conceded a total of 12 penalties. 

Next up for Leinster is a tricky trip to face Lyon, a game which presents an element of the unknown. The French side lost all six pool games last season and began this one with a loss in Northampton. However, they have made a storming start to the new Top14 campaign, leading the table by five points with eight wins from nine. Last year’s 28-27 defeat away to Toulouse is fresh enough in the memory to remind Leinster of the need to be more clinical in France this Saturday.

Cullen is hoping his players have used the Benetton game to flush out some of the errors in their system.

“They’ve got to get back going now. You can see it in them. You can see it in the players, that sense that they just want to get out and play well,” he said.

“When things go well it is that sense of ‘yeah, we are doing something positive again, it is not all bad.’ But definitely we talk about getting back on the horse for the guys. We have so many players who missed out on selection, players who have been away at the World Cup that are key leaders amongst the group, others who have a peripheral role and everyone just wants to get back out and play, and play well.

“It was a bit frustration watching that game [against Benetton] as the players timing is a bit off. Hopefully they will be better for the game with a difficult challenge away in France.”

The Leinster head coach is still in the process of easing players back into his team. Rob Kearney has played just 20 minutes since returning from the World Cup, while Robbie Henshaw played 16 minutes from the bench at the weekend.

devin-toner-and-robbie-henshaw

Henshaw was originally left out of the match day 23 as he recovered from the illness that saw him miss the Guinness Pro14 win at Connacht a week previously, but was called into the squad in place of the injured Joe Tomane, as Rory O’Loughlin moved into the starting XV.

Tomane pulled up with a hamstring problem in Friday’s Captain’s Run, and the province will provide an update on his fitness this morning.

Otherwise Cullen is expected to have a strong hand to select from for the round two game at the Matmut Stadium, and he will likely be tempted to keep faith in young hooker Rónan Kelleher, who continued his superb start to the season with another calm and controlled performance during an impressive European debut. His first half try brought his tally up to seven tries in just six games this season, but Cullen is wary of keeping the 21-year-old grounded.

“We just need to control what we can at the moment. Rónan just needs to make sure he looks after his performance. He has done well. The nature of the game is teams will start to work players out.

“Guys just need to work on continually improving.” 

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