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'Our way of doing things, that’s sustainable': Cullen braced for Montpellier's expensive talent

Leinster’s opening Champions Cup opponents were on an imprssive spending spree last year.

Sean Farrell reports from the Aviva Stadium

EVERY NOW AND then, you get the sense that Leo Cullen gets a little tired of telling the assembled media how tough the tasks ahead are going to be.

So, after seeing off Munster by six points on Saturday, he was pleased to have a few figures stored away in his memory bank to illustrate that point for the week ahead.

Montpellier provide Leinster’s first opposition when their Champions Cup campaign kicks off in the RDS next Saturday. The same Montpellier who they took six points from in last season’s pool stage… only different.

New Zealand All Blacks  Aaron Cruden Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

This time around, the southern French side can boast All Black Aaron Cruden at out-half, Vern Cotter in the booth and Louis Picamoles is on hand in case anyone ever thought of over-complicating the game. Construction mogul Mohed Altrad really has out-done himself with this year’s kindness to his team.

Leinster meanwhile started Saturday’s clash against Munster with 13 homegrown players in their starting XV, 14 if you wanted to extend the definition of homegrown to count Leinster native Robbie Henshaw who was schooled in and developed by the Connacht system.

Keith Earls with Adam Byrne Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Asked if he can see shades of Toulon in Montpellier, given the quality of their recruitment, Cullen is almost wistful as he recalls the last European final that featured someone other than Saracens, Toulon, Clermont or Racing 92. He played in it after all.

“You look back at the way the game has gone and you think: ‘jeepers in 2012 we won the European Cup against Ulster in the final and you think of the teams that we played against en route there (Cardiff Blues and Clermont).

“Then Toulon come along… and the players they had then — Victor Matfield, George Gregan — then they have Jonny Wilkinsons etc. and the list goes on and on.”

Cullen’s got his teeth into a point now, and refers to the figures presented by Sky’s Graham Simmons which were mentioned in the Irish Times last week and laid out the head-spinning financial outlay of Premiership clubs. Most notable, of course, are Saracens, who have recorded pre-tax losses of £45 million over the last decade, though they’ve tightened their belts to bring annual losses from £6 million to £3.3 million last year.

Josh van der Flier after the game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Saracens, you see their accumulated losses: five million, five million, six million, five million, four million,” Cullen rattles off the figures like a man who has tried to get his head around them already this week.

“This is why they are at the top of the European game. The model is different. How do you compete with that?

“We don’t compete the same. We have our way of doing things, and that’s a sustainable model that we have. We can’t control what other teams do, because we can’t accumulate 50 million quid of losses. That’s not the way it works.

Saracens have this thing of  ‘making memories’, but it’s making memories and racking up a huge debt at the same time.”

That said, Cullen doesn’t even have to look beyond his own Champions Cup pool for a little reminder that money doesn’t go all the way to delivering silverware. It’s a double-edged sword given they will knock heads in December, but Exeter Chiefs are one of the rare Premiership clubs to make a profit last season, and they defeated Saracens in an epic domestic semi-final before claiming the title in May.

“Montpellier are the new team on the block” adds Cullen, “we want to be challenging at the top. We’ve a great opportunity this year to start off again. We got to a semi-final last year, almost getting there (the final) but we weren’t good enough last year, so we need to be better this year, and that’s all that we will be focusing on, is getting better, getting better, getting better.”

“Montpellier, I am sure, have been focusing on the same thing, because they went out and spent a lot of money during the summer to try and get better.”

“We just need to worry about ourselves and just get better. We can’t control who else is out there. There’s always competition, so we need to be doing all we can ourselves to be better. End of story.”

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Sean Farrell

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