'We’d all have a pretty sick feeling if we don’t': Leinster a win away from securing top seed

The eastern province have done the hard work, now a win in Italy will guarantee top seeding in the last eight.

Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

THROUGHOUT THIS SENSATIONAL winning run Leinster have strung together, it has scarcely seemed to matter what combination of youth and experience, names big and small, that they put together.

Still, head coach Leo Cullen is intent on making the most of this brief window he had with a full squad (bar injuries) at his disposal.

That means going full-pelt at Benetton next week to ensure the eastern province advance to the quarter-finals as top seeds.

As things stand, despite emerging as standard-bearers this side of the equator, Leinster are not yet assured of a home quarter-final. However, a win in Treviso next Saturday to complete a six-from-six sweep through the pool phase would put them out of reach of the chasing pack; the 22-point club featuring Exeter, Toulouse and Racing. Plus Clermont with 20 on the board.

Top seeding will also serve to book Leinster a home advantage if they can force their way through to the semi-final stage. An added bonus which teams with serious designs on the title must bear in mind as the dust settles on the pool.

“We will be going full at it,” said Cullen, hastily adding that does not necessarily mean he won’t make changes to a side that counted Sean Cronin, Andrew Porter, Caelan Doris and Rob Kearney as replacements in the six-try win over Lyon yesterday.

“Just to freshen things up,” he adds, “it’s full steam ahead and try and make sure we finish the job now.

We’d all have a pretty sick feeling if we don’t manage to do that. We want to go after that top seed.

“We know now if we win the game that can happen. That’s the most important piece now, delivering the performance that will help us win the game.”

Success breeds further challenges for rugby coaches. So while so many Leinster players will soon turn their attention from provincial to international matters, Cullen and Stuart Lancaster must plan ahead, through an off-Broadway Pro14 run, to the quarter-final stage.

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james-lowe-rob-kearney-jordan-larmour-and-dave-kearney-after-the-game Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Then, all the cohesion they have worked so hard to build into performances in the first half of the season must be produced pre-packaged when players parachute back into blue after the Six Nations.

“After Treviso, for a lot of guys the next time they’ll play for Leinster is in the quarter-final. That’s just the way it’s geared up, which is great in many ways. It keeps it fresh and new. The two weeks prior to the quarter-final we’re in South Africa, so that’s the lead-in that we’ll have.

“There are lots of things that we’ll need to consider, but for now it’s just a six-day turnaround into Treviso and how we manage that.”

The much-discussed competition for places will help aid Cullen’s decision over how much to rotate his line-up. There is competition and healthy arguments in the coaching box too, with all of the voices ultimately roaring this special side on in the same direction.

“It’s diversity,” Cullen smiles as he counters use of the word ‘competition’.

“It is hugely important. Even with Felipe (Contepomi) coming in last year, there was fresh eyes on the group, and Robyn (McBride) coming in this year, it’s hugely important for us to be able to see things in a different light.

“Felipe, all the different environments he’s been in, his understanding of French rugby, his understanding of Pierre Mignoni (Lyon coach), his understanding of the international game.

“Robyn has come in… I think the scrum got a lot of reward today, as an example,

Cullen adds: “As a coaching group, those guys have a ton of experience that I don’t have, so I lean on that all the time.”

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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