Leinster primed for trip to La Rochelle after late late show in Connacht

Cullen’s side will be back to full strength when they lock horns with their great French rivals

The scoreboard serves as vindication.

Leo Cullen’s juggling act with the deepest pool of quality players, previously applauded, has come under increased scrutiny of late.

But by snatching a 24-22 victory from the jaws of defeat in a Saturday night thriller at the Sportsground, they are well set for next Sunday’s grudge rematch against La Rochelle.

Leinster’s sixth win in a row, and fifth with a bonus point, came courtesy of a superbly engineered try in overtime by fullback Ciarán Frawley.


While that might fuel the recently heightened debate about his outhalf credentials, Harry Byrne’s composure and playmaking was also a reminder of his qualities as a ‘10′.

In any event, Leinster head to the Stade Marcel-Deflandre furnace back atop the URC and with frontliners fresh for their ‘European’ fortnight.

“I don’t necessarily like the word ‘experimentation’ but it’s looking at certain things that you want to see. Every week in theory, whether it’s your strongest team or your weakest team it’s an experiment of sorts, isn’t it?” said Cullen

“But you want to see certain things for the bigger picture, and that’s the great thing about being able to have come away from this period of seven games with six wins.”

Cullen said Leinster were “excited” at the prospect of playing at a capacity Stade Marcel-Deflandre, having lost a semi-final there three seasons ago behind closed doors.

“It’s a great challenge going to France, European competition. It’s as good as it gets. They’re a team that are unbelievably well supported and heavily backed on and off the field, and that’s why we’re involved in the game to take these challenges on.”

Despite Connacht’s painful defeat in advance of hosting a star-studded Bordeaux/Begles next Friday, Peter Wilkins maintained: “I think it actually helps it. I hate to paint a silver lining at this stage but we talked in the changing room really frankly about what we’d done well.

“We talked about our frustration and probably a little bit of anger in terms of not coming away with the result. And what an opportunity, to have a Friday night game hopefully in front of another full house against Bordeaux, a massive French club in terms of resources and reputation, in the Champions Cup again?

“You couldn’t wish for a better platform to unleash all of that frustration and I hope we’ll make a really big statement on Friday night.”

Tiernan O’Halloran (ankle), Jack Aungier (ankle) and Oisin Dowling (shoulder) will have their injuries assessed.

On a more positive note, Wilkins said: “We’re hopeful to have Bundee [Aki] back next week. If he ticks the boxes he’s meant to be ticking, he’ll be on track for that. It’s not definite, but by Tuesday we’ll know either way.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times