Bryan Keane/INPHO James Ryan captains Leinster against Glasgow today.
# Back on the Horse
Leinster know another slip-up is unthinkable following Champions Cup heartbreak
The province host Glasgow Warriors at the RDS today in a URC quarter-final clash.

THIS DAY LAST week, Leinster’s United Rugby Championship quarter-final meeting with Glasgow Warriors was nothing more than an afterthought for the province’s supporters; the next game up after the season-defining event that was a Heineken Champions Cup final.

How the picture has changed. A brilliant performance from Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle meant the province returned from Marseille last weekend without a trophy in their carry-on luggage. They now need to ensure their ambitions of winning a fifth straight league title remain intact when the Warriors visit the RDS this afternoon [KO 3.15pm, RTÉ1/Premier Sports].

While Leinster will again be heavy favourites on home soil, Glasgow have recorded some decent results of their own this season and must sense opportunity in Dublin. 

It will all come down to how Leinster have processed the week that was. A sense of bitter disappointment has understandably hung over the squad this week but for 80 minutes today they need to park that.

Easier said than done. 

Talking to Robin McBryde and a couple of Leinster players a few days ago, the feeling was that Saturday’s defeat in Marseille has very much upped the ante ahead of today’s clash at the RDS, Leinster knowing an off-colour showing could see them end a season trophy-less for the first time since 2017.

Head coach Leo Cullen – never a man for hyperbole – doesn’t buy into the idea. But he also knows that ending the campaign without silverware would be a real body-blow for a team of Leinster’s quality.

“Is there extra pressure? I don’t know, is the honest answer,” he says.

“How do you even measure that? There is so much (pressure) on ourselves anyway, you’d hope for the right reasons, which is for the group. It’s about them delivering for themselves in many ways and we know there are other (motivating factors)… Seeing some of the young lads who have come through underage teams together, does that make more of a difference versus a group of people thrown together from wherever? It’s so hard to get a gauge.” 

While Cullen was keen to look forward. the wounds of Marseille were still fresh. With 78 minutes played at the Stade Vélodrome his team were on course to be crowned champions of Europe. One minute later, the game was gone.

It was the type of defeat that will sting for some time. Just like losing to La Rochelle in the semi-finals stages last year. Just like losing to Saracens two years in a row before that.

leo-cullen Bryan Keane / INPHO Leo Cullen speaks to the media yesterday. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

“That’s the sport part, isn’t it? We got a final this year, semi-final last year, previous year quarter-final and then the previous year, we were in a final (2018), which we happened to win,” he continues.

“You have to keep working hard in the background. We’re competing at the top end, you are coming up against the best teams in Europe. 

“We have talked about heavily resourced teams and all the rest. You think if we get it right on the day, we have a good chance against those teams. It’s just making sure we get everything right that’s in our control. 

There’s always other factors there, what the opposition are doing, how the game is being officiated etc etc. You don’t have much control over. But the group is as motivated as it has ever been. That is the important bit to note. 

“The way the game ends, it’s so tight isn’t it? Some of those calls at the end… For us, it comes back to the performance piece and working hard in the background to get that performance when it really matters on the big days. 

“That’s the exciting bit to go after. Every year, it’s about putting all the pieces in place and doing all we can to get the prizes at the end of the year.”

While Cullen heads into today’s game without some key men - James Lowe, Johnny Sexton, Hugo Keenan and Rónan Kelleher all feeling the effects of a bruising encounter in the south of France - he feels his squad are in good shape heading into the URC playoffs, which will require Leinster to deliver three weekends on the bounce if they are to end their season with a URC title.

They line out against Glasgow with eight of the starting team from Marseille, as six fresh faces come in to add some extra energy.

Jordan Larmour will be keen to catch the eye again having missed out against La Rochelle, while rising second-row star Joe McCarthy and Ryan Baird get another opportunity to impress.

“Some of it is injury enforced, that’s the first thing,” Cullen explains, having kept one eye on this fixture even while planning for La Rochelle.

“When you’re leading into a big game, to plan for when you lose, it is a plan you have to have in the back of your mind but it’s a very hard one to plan for, if you understand what I mean.

“You’re trying to get a gauge on individuals, so a bit of freshness, some guys were unlucky to miss out on selection for the final. Some lads are dying to play as well. So it’s a bit of a balance.

“If we won the game (last week), okay you’d see what sort of head space are people in, because some guys are just dying to get back playing. But we’ve a number of guys that would love to play in this game that aren’t selected, and some weren’t picked in the final either.

“The motivation in the group is very very strong to get out there and represent and, I guess, channel some of that frustration that bubbles away with them. But that goes with the territory of, as I said, going through a campaign and you use 60 players…” 

Another day, another trophy to chase. Time to get back on the horse.

LEINSTER: Jimmy O’Brien; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Ciarán Frawley, Rory O’Loughlin; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong; Joe McCarthy, James Ryan; Ryan Baird, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

Replacements: Seán Cronin, Cian Healy, Michael Ala’alatoa, Ross Molony, Jack Conan, Luke McGrath, Harry Byrne, Robbie Henshaw.

GLASGOW WARRIORS: Ollie Smith, Josh McKay, Sione Tuipulotu, Sam Johnson, Rufus McLean, Ross Thompson, Ali Price; Jamie Bhatti, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Rob Harley, Richie Gray, Ryan Wilson (CAPT), Gregor Brown, Jack Dempsey

Replacements: Fraser Brown, Oli Kebble, Simon Berghan, Lewis Bean, Kiran McDonald, Thomas Gordon, George Horne, Domingo Miotti

Referee: Andrea Piardi (FIR)

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