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Dublin: 5 °C Saturday 23 March, 2019
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Leinster 'feel a responsibility' to seize opportunity and bring quarter-final back to RDS

Leo Cullen and his players want to reward their supporters with another big European occasion in Dublin.

The RDS has become a fortress for Leinster in recent years.
The RDS has become a fortress for Leinster in recent years.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THERE’S A FEEL-GOOD factor around the corridors of Leinster HQ again, and you can’t help but notice it; the province are back, back in the last eight of Europe and playing rugby with a real swagger again.

It’s probably stretching it to say Leo Cullen’s side have exceeded expectations in the Champions Cup this season but qualifying for the quarter-finals with a game to spare is an indication of the progress made.

Tomorrow night in France, Leinster have the opportunity to bring that quarter-final tie back to Dublin and their RDS fortress (although there is also the possibility of staging it at the Aviva) with victory over Castres — and they’re determined to seize the moment.

“I didn’t think that far ahead,” Cullen admits when asked did he see his side in this situation.

“At the start [of the season] you just want to be in the shake up still and it’s nice to be qualified but we want to push on now and get a result. We want to win the game and we generally have a reasonably simple philosophy; try to prepare well and we want to try to win every game.

“But Castres is a tough challenge and they still have a chance of qualifying. Obviously their team will get announced later today and we’ll see what with line-up they go with.

“We’ve made plans based on various different permutations and who we’re going to be playing against. It’s good to be in the quarter-finals but we want to push on now and get as high a seeding as possible.”

Leo Cullen Cullen speaking to the media in UCD this morning. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Leinster are fully focused on the process ahead of tomorrow’s final Pool 4 fixture but you can’t not look at the significance of the result. Win and their chances of winning this competition are greatly increased, and the stats from recent years would back that up.

The advantage of playing at home in the knock-out stages cannot be underestimated and particularly when you consider Leinster’s record in-front of their own fans in Ballsbridge; they’d fancy beating any team in Europe on their own patch at the moment.

“I just think it’s home comforts for players, it does matter,” Cullen continued.

“It’s hard to exactly determine on any given week the difference it makes but playing in front of, especially for a team like Leinster where so many of the players have grown up reasonably close to the ground or in the province.”Having that sense of support from family and friends as well, that sense of responsibility is a big thing. We’re pushing on this week to ensure we do get a home quarter-final.”

Leinster only have to look at their own group campaign to appreciate the difference between playing at home or away, with French sides providing an entirely different proposition based on the venue.

It remains to be seen what Castres side turn up tomorrow with the Top 14 outfit not mathematically out of the running to progress themselves. Either way, Cullen is expecting a tough night for his side.

“Castres are a proud club, they don’t have the same resources or budgets as some of the other Top 14 teams but you can see year after year that they have always punched above their weight.

The Leinster team huddle Leinster want to reward their fans by giving them another big European day out at the RDS. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“When they play at home they are very strong. There are other clubs in the Top 14 who have much bigger budgets but they (Castres) always stay in and around the top six. They won the Top 14 four or five years ago, reached another final as well.

“They have a reasonably new coaching group under Christophe Urios, went through a sticky patch but have come out the other side of it. They are a well coached team, comfortable playing a non-structured game.

“They don’t have the same size and power as some of the other Top 14 teams so they have adjusted their game slightly. They have had wins over Toulon, Racing and Montpellier this year at home. It is going to be a tough challenge for us.”

Cian Healy, who returns to the starting XV for the game at the Stade Pierre-Antoine, is fully aware of what the visitors will be up against.

“It’s like they have a different level of energy to go to so we’ve worked on getting fit and being able to keep up with the pace of game and setting the pace of games,” the prop said.

“We’re simply looking to take what we’ve done in training and bring it over there and in the pack fight the fire there. Get the upper hand on the pack is something that is pretty important for us so we’ll try and take the steam out of what they’re trying to achieve.”

If Leinster can record their fifth victory of the pool stages then it would consolidate their position as one of the leading contenders to lift the silverware this year.

It might seem a tad hasty to talk about the eastern province as one of the favourites, particularly given how much rugby is still left to be played and their disastrous campaign 12 months ago, but there is no reason to think otherwise.

Cian Healy Cian Healy starts tomorrow evening. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Cullen’s side are playing with confidence, panache and in a manner which is not too dissimilar to teams of yesteryear who went all the way and brought European glory to the club.

So does this squad have the potential to emulate the feats achieved in 2009, 2011 and 2012?

“Yeah there’s a lot of players I guess who have been involved during that period and a lot of younger guys who are coming through and that’s a good profile to have I guess because there’s assurance there from some guys who know what it takes to get to that point and there’s the energy of some of those younger guys coming through,” Cullen replied.

“I think the group is generally in a good place, competition for places is good even though there is a few guys injured on the sidelines at the moment. Guys that are stepping in are taking their opportunity which is pleasing and this week is another chance.”

Only time will tell, but for now the focus is on Castres and bringing that quarter-final back to Dublin and the Leinster supporters.

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Ryan Bailey

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