Cullen wary of chal­lenge posed by pow­er­ful Cler­mont

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN FAL­LON

WARM sun­shine and a firm sod yes­ter­day greeted Le­in­ster when they ar­rived at the Mat­mut Stade de Ger­land in Lyon where over 35,000 Cler­mont sup­port­ers will to­day pro­vide as hos­tile an en­vi­ron­ment as Leo Cullen’s men could en­counter.

But Cullen wants his side to feed off the at­mos­phere — Le­in­ster are ex­pect­ing 2,000 fans to travel — and book their place in the Cham­pi­ons Cup fi­nal.

Cullen will be look­ing to four of his five Lions — Rob­bie Hen­shaw, Jonathan Sex­ton, Jack McGrath and Tadhg Fur­long — to pro­vide the lead­er­ship in the ab­sence of such experienced play­ers as ab­sent Lion Seán O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip and the sus­pended Cian Healy.

Cullen ad­mit­ted they were a big loss and that Healy’s sus­pen­sion in mid­week fur­ther re­duced the level of ex­pe­ri­ence, but pointed out that his re­place­ment Peter Doo­ley was push­ing hard for se­lec­tion in any event.

“Seán and Cian are two very experienced play­ers, but hav­ing said that when you look at the other play­ers who have stepped in, Peter Doo­ley has per­formed so well for the group all sea­son, he was push­ing hard for se­lec­tion any­way.

“With Seán, it’s well doc­u­mented that the back-row is a very com­pet­i­tive area of our squad. Rhys (Rud­dock) was un­lucky to be in­jured the week lead­ing into the Wasps game, but he has played the last two week­ends and has gone re­ally well and cap­tained the team last week­end. Dan Leavy and Jack Co­nan have been in re­ally good form all sea­son and we still have Josh van der Flier on the bench.”

Cullen said the Cler­mont team se­lec­tion was very much as he ex­pected.

“It’s very sim­i­lar to what we saw in the quar­ter-fi­nal against Toulon and it’s very much how we prepped this week. We knew that they had lost a cou­ple of key play­ers them­selves but that’s the way it is. They have a huge squad with a lot of re­sources be­hind them and they are a well-sup­ported team and we are look­ing for­ward to the at­mos­phere.

“We re­spect Cler­mont as a club, they are a team with a lot of power, and are com­fort­able play­ing un­struc­tured rugby and have a coach in Jono Gibbes who knows our group very well and that’s def­i­nitely an ad­van­tage they have, hav­ing a coach who un­der­stands so many of our play­ers.”

Jack McGrath said it would crown a fan­tas­tic week for him to reach the Cham­pi­ons Cup fi­nal a few days af­ter be­ing called up to the Lions squad.

But McGrath said that his se­lec­tion along with a quar­tet of his Le­in­ster team­mates has been parked since Wed­nes­day’s an­nounce­ment.

“It was an ex­cit­ing time on Wed­nes­day, we all watched it to­gether as a squad, but then it was straight out to training.

“It’s a mas­sive hon­our but there is still a lot of rugby to be played to that point. That’s how we’re look­ing at it, plenty of work to be done and the se­lec­tion is not go­ing to cloud any judge­ment,” said the loose­head prop.

Leo Cullen: Look­ing for lead­ers on the pitch

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