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Dublin: 8 °C Saturday 19 October, 2019
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'We're the team chasing them now. It's going to be a huge game for us'

Leo Cullen has warned his Leinster team that Toulouse are an even greater threat this weekend than they were at the start of the season.

Ryan Bailey reports from the RDS

EVEN WITH A near-capacity crowd enjoying their Saturday evening’s entertainment, and Leinster again showing they have plenty in reserve, it was patently clear from the outset that all of this served merely as a precursor to the serious stuff this weekend.

The dust had barely settled on the six-try victory over a callow Ulster outfit, before Leo Cullen was already speaking in Toulouse mode as Leinster’s attention could move on and solely revolve around Saturday’s seismic Heineken Champions Cup showdown.

Jack McGrath celebrates after the game Jack McGrath celebrates Saturday's win over Ulster. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

For their part, the second-string side — boosted by the likes of Rob Kearney, Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter and Sean Cronin — gave the 18,099 inside the RDS plenty to cheer about as Leinster extended their lead at the top of Conference B to 19 points.

It was a valuable workout in many ways, not least because the aforementioned internationals gained valuable minutes ahead of Toulouse, but the standout performances of Conor O’Brien, Max Deegan, Ciaran Frawley and Scott Penny to name a few of the consistently impressive young guns. 

Ulster, in truth, offered little resistance and the hosts had sealed the bonus point before the break but it was important for Cullen’s side to regain their winning momentum heading into the final two rounds of Europe.

Such is the depth of quality within the eastern province, Cullen — unlike Dan McFarland — has the luxury of fielding a much-changed team with the confidence the collective, and indeed individual components, will ensure there is no drop-off in standards. 

And with many of his frontline internationals either watching in the stand or wrapped in cotton wool at home, Leinster will be fresh and ready to attack the week later this morning as preparations begin in earnest for the biggest game of their campaign to date.

“We’ve had a good training week [last week] whereas the previous week was a poor one for a variety of reasons,” Cullen explained. “Some guys have had time off, they’ve been managed and it’s important they freshen up over the course of a long season.

“It is a tricky time of the season for us. We need to manage it properly and there are a lot of moving parts to it. We think that overall it will stand to us as we go on. Guys have been in this week and we’ve had to look at this one [v Ulster] in terms of how we were going to play this one.

“We didn’t know what team Ulster were going to play so that allowed us to focus the minds on Leinster so that has been a good thing in terms of guys who weren’t even playing today. They’ve had a good training week and hopefully, that will set us up for the challenges ahead. At least guys have been in Leinster mode for the last five or six weeks.”

After the December back-to-back wins over Bath, the defending European champions go into round five sitting two points behind Toulouse, but know victory in Dublin on Saturday would boost their chances of topping the pool and securing a home quarter-final.  

The Top 14 outfit will, however, travel to the RDS not lacking in confidence after their round two win over Leinster back in October, a result which is part of a 12-game unbeaten run in both competitions.

Saturday’s 27-20 victory over Agen may not have been entirely convincing but it followed the 39-0 thrashing of Toulon and consolidated the four-time European winners’ position at the summit of the Top 14 standings, as they bid for a first league title since 2012. 

Maxime Médard as his side win a late peanlty to end the game Leinster were beaten in Toulouse back in October. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Cullen, who has been tracking their progress closely, is in no doubt that the Toulouse resurgence is in full flight.

“They have kicked on from when they beat us,” the head coach continued. “They have had some big wins, putting 40 points on Bordeaux. The two Wasps wins, the away win was impressive and they are playing some dangerous, exciting and attacking rugby so it’s a massive week for us. We need to get a lot of things right.

“They rotated a lot of the players for the Clermont game a couple of weeks ago and they got a draw. I was looking at that game and wondering what their mentality might be but they got a draw, came back from 17-3 down. Then they loaded up an incredibly strong team against Toulon and won 39-0. 

“They can create something out of nothing. Suddenly you’re chasing the game again but we lost our way [in October, losing 28-27] and we had no way of getting back in control of the game. So we have to make sure we are in control of the game. And not feed them these opportunities.

And that’s probably the worrying thing about tonight [v Ulster], the start of the second half especially. We were just too loose. If we’re like that next week, we are just going to get punished. And we’ll get punished badly. That’s the big thing about tonight for me.

“We had them [Toulouse] in many ways but you could see how much it meant to them, the crowd, the atmosphere on the day. And you see them at the end`. They’re like ‘We’re back here’ in their minds. ‘This is where we want to be.’

“And now we’re the team who is trying to chase them now. So that’s an exciting challenge as well. It’s going to be a huge game for us.”

Considering they got so much right in that reverse fixture at the Stade Ernest Wallon, only to be punished by Maxime Medard’s late intercept try, the message this week is likely to be the same, but just execute the game plan better.

“How we manage the start of the game, so we don’t have to chase it would be a positive start,” Cullen says. 

There are certain parts, how do we not feed their threats because they have lots of threats by being loose with the ball and giving them possession, lots other things as well.

“They are a very, very good team, well coached. Watching them over the last few weeks, they are a better team now than when they beat us.

“It is going to be an unbelievable challenge.”

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Ryan Bailey

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