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'We've seen what they add to the tournament' - Leinster expect improved Bulls challenge at RDS

The South African side take on the province in a URC semi-final clash tomorrow.

Johnny Sexton and Leo Cullen.
Johnny Sexton and Leo Cullen.
Image: Evan Treacy/INPHO

LEINSTER HEAD COACH Leo Cullen says Leinster are expecting a much sterner challenge from the Bulls this time around as the province prepare to meet the South African side for the second time this season.

The Bulls come to the RDS on Friday evening for a United Rugby Championship semi-final date with Cullen’s Blues, their first trip to Dublin since a 31-3 defeat at the Aviva Stadium on the opening day of the season back in September.

And while the South African teams initially struggled to find their feet in the new-look league, the four new additions have since come good; with the Sharks also reaching last weekend’s quarter-finals and the Stormers set to host Ulster in Saturday’s other semi-final fixture.

“They’re very well organised, and a very well-coached team for starters,” Cullen said of the Bulls.

“If you’re trying to put yourself in their shoes, it’s the growth, familiarity, understanding of traveling to the northern hemisphere to play, dealing with the conditions and teams, getting better all the time and you can see that in their results.

They have a lot of quality and a lot of stability, their team doesn’t change that much if you look at their selections, and they’re very well led by Marcell Coetzee who understands Irish rugby particularly well.

“He’s still a real physical presence and a huge talisman for them. The Bulls DNA is a strong kicking game, setpiece, very physical and abrasive in the contact area, that’s in their mindset. That’s what they’ll default to in big games. It’s a great challenge for our guys.

“We talked plenty over when it was mooted about South African teams coming in and we’ve seen what they add to the tournament. There are two Irish v South African games in the semi-finals which is great and brilliant for the competition. One up here, so we’re happy we don’t have to figure out all the permutations of flights and travel and all the rest.”

Home advantage should be particularly helpful for Leinster tomorrow given the demands placed on the Bulls this week. Having overcome the Sharks on Saturday, the Jake White’s team reached Dublin on Monday as they looked to get the long journey out of the way as early as possible into their six-day turnaround.

“That’s the tournament, isn’t it?,” Cullen said.

“Does it (the travel) have an effect, that’s the mental toughness part as well. It affects certain individuals more than others. How you’ve slept on a flight, the time of flights, there’s all those different variables. 

“So it’s trying to accumulate as many points as you can (during the season) because then players sleep in their own beds, and you don’t have to deal with any of those variables.

“But there is strength sometimes as well. There is strength in the collective of being together as well, so it depends on how you use that.” 

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Cullen has made two changes to his starting XV, with Ireland internationals Robbie Henshaw and Jack Conan both returning.

The Leinster boss added that Tadhg Furlong is fully fit having overcome a back issue early in the week, and admitted that the absence of Hugo Keenan from tomorrow’s matchday 23 was based purely on selection, with the fullback also sitting out last weekend’s defeat of Glasgow.

“It was one of those tight calls, but he’s good to go,” Cullen said.

“We just wanted to see Hugo train (during the week), and I thought the other guys did quite well last week. It was just him getting through the week’s training, and he ran around with the guys again today.”

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Ciarán Kennedy

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