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'It's created a lot of frustration in the club' - Montpellier decision still a sore point for Leinster

The province are back in action this weekend for the first time since the 11 December win over Bath.

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen.
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen.
Image: Ben Brady/INPHO

LEO CULLEN ADMITS the last month has represented a hugely frustrating period for Leinster, following a number of postponements and the decision to award Montpellier a 28-0 bonus-point win for their cancelled Champions Cup fixture in December.

The province host the French side at the RDS on Sunday, a game which will represent Leinster’s first outing since the round one win over Bath on 11 December.

In the period since, Leinster have seen games against Montpellier, Munster, Ulster and the Lions postponed or cancelled, and Cullen admits it’s been a challenging time for the club.

In particular, Leinster are still disappointed with ECPR’s decision to award Montpellier a 28-0 win for their round two fixture, which was cancelled following Covid outbreaks in both camps.

Leinster’s unhappiness around that decision is based on the fact they had a matchday squad fit and available to travel to France. To add to their frustration, further round two games which were postponed due to travel restrictions between the UK and France were recorded as 0-0 draws, with two points awarded to each team.

“Going into our first (Champions Cup) game against Bath, we were frustrated at the end of that game because we probably let some opportunities slip later in the game and weren’t really clinical, particularly in the last 20 minutes, to try and push the score on,” Cullen said.

“The following week (round two), hugely frustrating and that sort of feels like it’s ever ongoing and it’s created a lot of frustration in the club, because the tournament means so much to everybody here. 

“I know there are some reports out there, because our game the following week (St Stephen’s Day) didn’t take place against Munster, but I think it’s important to state that there are other factors that play into that as well, so not just from a purely Covid point of view. There are also national players and some of the guys that were away with the Lions, who have to get managed during that Christmas period. 

It was interesting listening to Philippe Saint-Andre talk about his squad when Montpellier were away to Exeter (11 December), and he talked about being under pressure to manage some of their players. It’s almost like they prioritise the Top 14 over Europe, and anyone that knows us here, we would very much be of a different train of thought, as you are all aware. 

“So we would go full steam ahead for these European games and quite often manage guys over Christmas, as you have seen over many years now. So that’s one of the factors that plays into that, and then you add in the close contacts at that time of year as well, so I’d like for people to try and separate those two thoughts in their head, in terms of that decision that took place.

“For us now, it’s just trying to get back and control what we can, and that’s being dealt with at board level.” 

Cullen has named a strong team for Sunday’s fixture, with a loaded bench that includes Ireland captain Johnny Sexton, who hasn’t played since injuring his knee and ankle during the November internationals. James Lowe is also named among the replacements with Jimmy O’Brien getting the nod on the left wing. 

Robbie Henshaw and Ryan Baird are notable absentees, but both are in line to return for the trip to Bath next weekend.

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“Johnny is pretty good,” Cullen said.

“Coming back from his injury, he’s worked hard and trained well over the last few weeks. We’ve put all the players through those game scenario pieces and he’s come through that well. Hopefully he’ll provide big impact off the bench for us this weekend and that will serve him well then for what is ahead over the next few weeks.

“James had a knock, so he was bit more affected in terms of training over the last couple of weeks, and Jimmy has gone well. So that’s the logic there. But we expect James to come into the action at some stage and provide good impact as well.”


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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