TIME FOR SOME EX FAC­TOR TROU­BLE FRENCH CHAMPS A

Blues know de­feat like 2015 will leave them in soapy wa­ter but Leo’s learnt lots since then

Irish Daily Mirror - - SPORTS - BY ALEX SPINK BY MICHAEL SCULLY BY MICHAEL SCULLY

Ex­eter Glouces­ter Pool 2, Sandy Park, KO 1pm

v HENRY SLADE ad­mits Ex­eter have not yet lived up to Brian O’driscoll’s billing in Europe.

Li­ons leg­end O’driscoll in­stalled Chiefs as tour­na­ment favourites with Le­in­ster and Sara­cens.

But a third of the way through the pool stages Ex­eter have yet to win a game - and host Glouces­ter to­day know­ing they can’t af­ford an­other blank.

“It’s been very frus­trat­ing,” ad­mit­ted Slade, Eng­land’s firstchoice out­side-cen­tre. “We set our­selves a goal of want­ing to do re­ally well, of re­ally at­tack­ing Europe and we feel we’ve sold our­selves a lit­tle bit short.

“It’s not yet do or die as there’s still plenty of points to be had but we know how im­por­tant it is to get a win this week­end, es­pe­cially be­ing at home as well.”

Ex­eter are bot­tom of Pool 2 hav­ing started with a home draw with Mun­ster and an away loss to Cas­tres.

Last week they lost at Har­lequins, their first league de­feat of the cam­paign.

Chiefs are tar­get­ing an im­prove­ment in their break­down work against a Glouces­ter side which wel­comes back Matt Bana­han, Tom Hud­son and Henry Trinder and gives a full de­but to hooker Jaco Vis­agie.

Bath Le­in­ster Pool 1, The Rec 3.15pm

v IT’S three years since Le­in­ster last rolled up to The Rec but it feels like a life­time ago.

Leo Cullen’s reign was in its in­fancy and, while Eu­ro­pean debu­tant Josh van der Flier’s try lev­elled up the con­test, Ge­orge Ford’s penalty four min­utes from time de­liv­ered the Blues a sec­ond suc­ces­sive de­feat in their pool.

They went on to crash out be­fore the knock­out stages.

“I can’t re­mem­ber how he was that ex­act day, a bit an­grier I’d say but he’s sm­i­lier now,” said Rhys

Rud­dock who earns his 150th cap for the prov­ince to­day.

“To be cap­tained by Leo through pretty much all my ca­reer and now to be coached by him is ob­vi­ously a mas­sive hon­our and a spe­cial thing.

“To see him and the team go from days like that to the suc­cess of last year has been spe­cial to be a part of.”

Cullen last sea­son made his­tory by be­com­ing the first man to win the com­pe­ti­tion as both a player and a head coach.

But if his cham­pi­ons lose on Bath’s heavy pitch this af­ter­noon, it will be their sec­ond pool de­feat on the spin – just like three years ago.

“It was only six or seven games in at that point,” said Cullen of 2015’s 19-16 loss.

It formed part of a dif­fi­cult start to his ten­ure af­ter he re­luc­tantly suc­ceeded Matt O’con­nor so early into his coach­ing ca­reer.

But he added: “It takes a while to change and you guys (the me­dia) aren’t that pa­tient some­times, you ex­pect it straight away. It takes a bit longer.

“We lost to Wasps pretty heav­ily the week be­fore, I re­mem­ber that well. The last seven or eight min­utes of the game, there were a few things we didn’t man­age well.

“I look back on that Wasps game a lot of the time and how we could have done things bet­ter. “But the group is so dif­fer­ent now, it’s in a very, very dif­fer­ent place.”

Cullen be­lieves what hap­pened in the pre­vi­ous round this sea­son – a 28-27 loss at resur­gent Toulouse – was not a re­turn to old ways. He added: “I don’t think so. It’s not the same. I don’t like to say the word ‘blip’ but any­way, the fu­ture will de­cide where it sits.

“There were def­i­nitely things in that game we can be bet­ter at for sure. They’re some of the things we’re go­ing af­ter.”

Fit-again Dan Leavy starts for only the fourth time in the No.8 slot.

“He’s good to go and con­fi­dent he can do a good job,” said Cullen. BATH LE­IN­STER TV TIMES: Live on BT Sport 2 from 3pm

Mun­ster Cas­tres

Pool 2, Thomond Park, to­mor­row, 1pm

v FOR once this Cas­tres team de­serves to be re­spected on the road.

Tra­di­tion­ally they have been can­non fod­der for the Irish provinces at home in Europe.

But Mun­ster rightly don’t see it that way this week.

Out of their 25 away games in the Cham­pi­ons Cup over the past decade, Cas­tres have won just once - a three-point vic­tory in Glas­gow five years ago.

When they pitched up in Thomond Park last sea­son, Mun­ster dished out a 48-3 ham­mer­ing, the lat­est in a line of sorry de­feats for the vis­i­tors.

They have suf­fered seven losses away to Irish op­po­si­tion in the com­pe­ti­tion to date.

But Cas­tres beat the odds by win­ning the Top 14 ti­tle last term and al­though they’re only in sev­enth place in their do­mes­tic league this sea­son, they have been tar­get­ing Eu­ro­pean progress.

A bonus point de­feat at Glouces­ter was backed up by a thrilling win over Ex­eter, de­spite be­ing down to 14 men. “You don’t

COM­MAN­DER IN CHIEFS Henry Slade BACK­ING Leg­end Brian O’driscoll tipped Ex­eter

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