Cullen: It Sharpens The Mind Knowing Who We Have
June 29, 2016 12:00 am client
After the Champions Cup draw in Switzerland earlier on today, Leinster Rugby Head Coach Leo Cullen has given his reaction to the draw which sees his side face Montpellier, Northampton Saints and Castres Olympique in Pool 4 with the first round kicking off in October.
Cullen has faced all three sides as a player and will now start preparing for them as a head coach.
Talking to leinsterrugby.ie, he spoke about the impact meritocracy has had on the Champions Cup and the quality of the teams Leinster will face in Pool 4.
“The way the competition is structured now it makes all the pools very tight. We’ve three very tough teams and it’s what we expected going into it. In Montpellier, Northampton and Castres, we’re pitted against three quality teams ther’s no doubt about that.”
Montpellier were first out of the hat for Leinster in Pool 4. The French side won the European Challenge Cup for the first time in their history last season beating Harlequins 26-9 in the Final and also finished in third position in the TOP 14 before losing 27-18 to Toulon in the semi-final.
Leinster last played against Montpellier in the 2011/12 Heineken Cup campaign and Cullen captained the side in both the 16-16 draw away from home in Round 1 and in the 25-3 win in the RDS in Round 6.
“They are a team that have invested heavily since then. I played in both games and we were lucky to come out of there with a draw early in the competition.
“Under Jake White they have pumped huge resources into the club and have recruited heavily with a big South African flavour to their squad and a hell of a lot of international experience across the board so they are going to be a huge threat to us.”
The Northampton Saints were next out for Leinster from the Tier 3 pot and again Leinster have recent experience against the Aviva Premiership side.
“We have a bit of history with them as obviously the Heineken Cup Final win in 2011 was against them and then the 2013/14 pool games subsequent to that.”
“Those games in 2013 were an unusual couple of games where we had a very good win across in Franklin’s Gardens where probably Northampton under-performed on the day but you could see the resilience and the strength of the club shone through the following week when we went back to the Aviva and we got beaten at home.”
Cullen has also been impressed with what he has seen most recently from some of their leading international players.
“They have a lot of experience of competing at the top end of Europe and a lot of experience across their squad in those key leadership positions which is replicated in the English team.
“The most obvious is Dylan Hartley and the role he has had as England captain in their success in recent times. They have been unbeaten since Eddie Jones has come in as Head Coach and Hartley is a real key figure for England and Northampton so without doubt it will be a huge test against them.”
Finally Cullen addressed the challenge posed by Castres who have had highs and lows over the last couple of years but are now very much on the up having finished in 6th place in the TOP 14 and having qualified once again for Europe’s elite club competition.
Leinster last played Castres in the 2014/15 season having also played against them the season before that.
“They’ve been on a bit of a roller coaster the last few years. They won the TOP 14, reached another final after that but then had a tough season and we played them in Europe that year and managed to get the better of them. But they have hit back impressively and are now back in the Champions Cup.
“They have recruited really well, have an excellent coaching team, they have dangerous threats all over the park and are on a very strong upward curve from where they were. Definitely two teams that know each other pretty well.”
Leinster are in the middle of their second week of pre-season and Cullen welcomed the confirmation of the Pool 4 draw and the added focus that it will now bring to training.
“It sharpens the mind knowing who we have. Up until this point you are focusing on improving skill level and trying to get reconditioned to facing into the challenges ahead so having some teams to focus on is a positive.
“The guys are working hard and I suppose when you’ve lost in a final it does focus the minds in terms of what you need to be better at. So the lads are working hard to lay the foundations that will allow us to push forward for later on in the season in both the Guinness PRO12 and in the Champions Cup.
“With the PRO12 fixtures only a few weeks away as well I think for our supporters it’s good that they too can now start planning and start to look forward to the new season.”
Leinster will kick off their Champions Cup campaign on the weekend of 13 October 2016.