‘There’s no major hangover’ – Leo Cullen insists Leinster are ready for challenge of champs La Rochelle
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen has brushed off concerns that his side may suffer a hangover from last weekend’s URC semi-final defeat to Munster.
Cullen was speaking as he puts the final touches to his game plan ahead of tomorrow’s mouthwatering Heineken Champions Cup final against La Rochelle at the Aviva Stadium.
Despite suffering a late scare with Tadhg Furlong sitting out this afternoon’s captain’s run, Cullen downplayed fears surrounding the fitness of the key Ireland tighthead.
“He is okay, yeah,” the Leinster boss said following the light run out at Lansdowne Road.
“There were a few guys who didn’t train today, and that’s the way it would normally be with captain’s runs. Some guys step out. James (Ryan) is the captain, so he runs it. Just the normal course of events. He’s good to go.”
That news will come as a welcome relief to Leinster supporters as their much-changed team looks to bounce back from the Munster loss by landing that elusive fifth star.
As Cullen recalls his big guns, he is hoping for a big response against Ronan O’Gara’s formidable defending champions.
Asked if he was confident the Munster defeat had been cleansed from Leinster’s system ahead of the biggest game of their season, Cullen said: "Definitely, yeah. There were a number of players in the stand last weekend and I suppose most of their attention was on this game, on this week.
"So yeah, it's been a good week, an enjoyable week. So much work goes into getting to this point and here we are.
"If you'd have offered us at this stage of the tournament last year when we lost the final to La Rochelle and we get the opportunity to come to Dublin and you're in the Aviva in the final again ... yeah, a lot of work has gone in to get to this point.
"It's exciting, all the talk and all the noise and all the rest, but it's two teams going at it and doing what they can for their respective clubs, it's great.
"So many great battles have taken place to get to this point, so for our guys, it's really about delivering now. So no, there's no major hangover from last week."
As was the case in last year’s final in Marseille, Cullen is expecting another ferocious test from La Rochelle, who have made it to their third consecutive final.
“It's well-documented in terms of the way they approach the game, so for us, it's about being able to deliver on our own plan now and making sure we're nice and calm because it's going to be a chaotic enough type of atmosphere out there,” Cullen maintained.
"It's making sure we're nice and calm within that, commit to the plan and deliver. It's unbelievably exciting to be here.
"It's how everyone in the organisation has refocused to get back to this stage and it's amazing it's here in Dublin. It was in France last year, so to be in Dublin for a final is great.
"So it's great to be here and it's a real honour. For us, it's about making sure we do what we can to deliver our best performance, and for the players that we've picked, we've full confidence that they'll be able to do a good job for the wider group.
“Pressure is a funny thing, isn't it? Everyone is nervous because they want to do their best. It's such an amazing tournament, isn't it? There's a real privilege to be here.
“Pressure is a good thing. That's what we want, we want to be here. If you offered us this opportunity after the final last year, knowing there was a final in Dublin, and we're here now.
“It's a pressure, but the most positive pressure we can ask for. We hope we'll have a big turnout of supporters. We hope everyone gets behind the team.
“Hopefully, everyone gets behind the team because that relationship is important. There's been plenty of talk over the last 10 years.
"I think back to that final in 2013 when we didn't qualify from the pool stages, so we were playing in the Challenge Cup final, and two French teams were in the final that week, Toulon against Clermont. Everyone was asking the question at the time, would we ever be able to beat these French giants?
"It's so hard to win this tournament. You think you're on a roll at different stages. I think back to that time, 2011, 2012, and it was so hard up to that point, but then you're thinking, 'Maybe it's not as hard as we thought it was.'
“But it is hard, it's unbelievably hard, and there are so many good teams. To navigate your way through the season, there are so many bloody variables to get through.
“We've been very close. Very, very close last year, which was a painful experience.
“So credit to everyone, they've worked away to get back to that point, but it's just on to the next one, isn't it? And here we are again. It's a great opportunity, but it's about just delivering a performance and not look too far into the future.”
James Ryan will captain Leinster in the absence of the injured Johnny Sexton, and the Ireland lock insisted that his approach in terms of going for the points or the corner will depend on the flow of the game.
Leinster paid the price for their cautious approach last year, and having been kept tryless, they are out the right the wrongs in Dublin this time around.
“I don't know yet, to be honest,” Ryan added.
"It's not that easy. A big part of it is feel, trusting your gut and instinct. We'll see how the game has gone, see how our set piece is doing, how our lineout drive is doing and the way of all these things. It won't just be my decision, it'll be a decision I make alongside Garry (Ringrose), Ross Byrne, and Ross Molony.
“Feel is a big part of it, being out there and trusting your gut. We'll see how we're doing.
"Obviously, it means a huge amount, and as I said, to get to play a final in Dublin and represent this club is going to be very special, definitely.
“Our focus all week and for me personally has been on us performing as well as we possibly can tomorrow and the rest looks after itself.”