Leinster v Northampton: Don’t ‘rip people off’ with semi-final tickets, Cullen says

‘Hopefully EPCR price the tickets appropriately for an 82,000 venue because you want a big crowd, don’t you’

Leo Cullen has implored the tournament organisers, European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), not to overprice tickets for Leinster’s Champions Cup semi-final against Northampton which will take place in three weeks at Croke Park on Saturday, May 4th, (kick-off 5.30pm) and will be televised live on RTÉ and TNT Sport.

Cullen highlighted the role played by Leinster’s supporters in their 40-13 quarter-final win over La Rochelle last Saturday, a repeat of the last two finals which drew a noisy 51,700-capacity crowd at the Aviva Stadium with just a week to sell those tickets.

“We’ve had amazing support today and amazing support last week, and if you get a big crowd there, it’s a great thing. It’s a special occasion.

“Hopefully EPCR price the tickets appropriately for an 82,000 venue because you want a big crowd, don’t you? Obviously, it’s an EPCR event, it’s not a Leinster event. That’s the big thing you’d ask because you want a proper crowd there. You want to entice people to be there, to make it a special occasion rather than rip people off.”


Leinster have earned home country advantage for the third successive semi-final but, tellingly, EPCR have failed to sell out either of their last two, both of which were against five-time winners Toulouse. They drew attendances of 42,067 and 46,823 to the Aviva. Tickets are expected to start going on sale next Thursday.

“You don’t want to rip people off,” said Cullen. “So hopefully it’s a proper game now as in we get a big crowd, because if we turn up and whatever, there are 20,000 people — 20,000 is a lot of people but if it’s in an 82,000-capacity stadium then it’s a different kettle of fish, isn’t it?”

Cullen was Leinster’s captain for the 2009 semi-final at Croke Park when they dethroned Munster with a 30-6 win in front of a then world record crowd for a club game of 82,208. That marked a shift in the balance of provincial power in Irish rugby, and something of a starting point in Leinster becoming a European superpower as they went on to beat Leicester to win the cup for the first time.

There appeared to be plenty of hurt from the last 11 months distilled into last Saturday’s performance, their best of the season thus far, but Cullen maintained Leinster were not motivated by revenge.

“This point about losing in a final, the opposition is a bit irrelevant. I know that people like to make a lot of that part, but it wouldn’t bloody matter, would it? As in, you lost in the final of the Champions Cup and the players are desperate to be in this tournament.”

Cullen will take a squad to South Africa on Tuesday for their upcoming games against the Lions and the Stormers, with some frontliners perhaps to travel for the first of those games before returning home in advance of the second. The Leinster head coach admitted a change of tournament, as much as scenery, is welcome.

“I think you have got to decompress after some of these games. It’s not just this week, it was last week as well. Leicester are a bloody tough nut to crack.”

The day after Leinster’s semi-final, Toulouse will host Harlequins after completing the last four with a stunning 64-26 when scoring six tries after trailing with half an hour remaining.

Brian O’Driscoll, a three-time winner, made Toulouse “firm favourites” to lift the trophy for a sixth time at Tottenham Stadium on May 25th. Acknowledging the quality of Leinster’s win over La Rochelle, he maintained: “It will take a really good team to beat Toulouse.”

Speaking before Northampton had completed their quarter-final win over the understrength Bulls, Cullen had noted that Toulouse had looked like “a team on a mission” and observed: “The English Premiership, you see how competitive it is. With the sadness of teams going bust — what’s it done? It’s thrown a lot of talent into other teams who have picked up five, six, seven players.

“They all have stronger squads this year and you can see they were able to manage things across the year because they’ve a hell of a lot of bloody players in England. A great challenge.”

Meanwhile a deflated Ronan O’Gara — himself a two-time former winner as a player and coach — must now lift his weary and deflated side for an attempt at the French championship.

“The beauty of France is that the Top 14 is such a monster,” he said. “There will probably be disappointment tonight but turn the page tomorrow because the club have never won a Bouclier. It’s a goal of all of ours but we need to make a plan first and make sure the appetite is there.”

Leinster’s status as favourites will have been hardened by the manner they dethroned the champions, but they’ve been here before, and as O’Gara warned: “There will always be a challenge I think for whoever came out of this game because, all of a sudden now, they’ll be hot favourites but the air gets thinner as you go semi-final/final. Toulouse are quality. Leinster have always had their measure in this competition but the way they play the game will pose challenges. I see Harlequins had a big win as well.

“For me, it’s two teams with massive tradition left so it’s not a final for Leinster today, I wouldn’t think. There’s still 160 minutes of rugby for them.” Thinking of that, he paused, and concluded: “We would have liked to have had that.”

Leinster are the sole Irish side remaining in either competition after Connacht followed Ulster’s exit the day before in Clermont by losing 39-24 to Benetton in the Stadio Monigo.

Investec Champions Cup semi-finals

(Pool stage rankings in brackets/All kick-offs local times)

Saturday, May 4th

Leinster v Northampton Saints, Croke Park, 5.30pm (RTÉ/TNT Sports)

Sunday, May 5th

Toulouse v Harlequins, Le Stadium, Toulouse, 4pm (TNT Sports)

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Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times