Leo Cullen: ‘It’s just about getting the job done at the moment’
Leinster head coach praises his side after battling display in France
Luke McGrath kicks the ball clear during the Heineken Champions Cup match against Lyon at Stadium de Gerland. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Perhaps with as much relief as pride in the way Leinster dug out their 13-6 win in Stade de Matmut, coach Leo Cullen will gladly take the scrappy win and move on to Northampton in round three.
European matches in France always come tough and Lyon was no exception on a greasy pitch and in front of a partisan crowd.
“It’s a win in France and that’s very, very pleasing,” said the Leinster coach. “We struggled in this round two game last season, we referenced that a lot this week. You can see it’s a little bit different. Stu [Lancaster] and I came over here a few weeks ago for the Bordeaux game and Bordeaux were 10 points up and Lyon came back. It was flashing in my head.”
Cullen knows that the game was available to take earlier and by a greater margin had accuracy and awareness been a little bit sharper on the night. Robbie Henshaw broke and didn’t release the ball in the first half and James Ryan had a similar chance to release backs outside in the second half.
“We had chances a couple of times to kill the game off, but it was a pretty scrappy game, 10-0, could we have kicked on? We had a couple of chances, but we weren’t giving it to people on the edges, carrying into contact and just being a little bit inaccurate across the board,” said Cullen.
“So, we expected it to a certain degree because it still feels like we’re only trying to get going again. It has this pre-season feel about it, with very, very big games at the weekend. It’s tricky. We’ll be better for it, hopefully.”
Leinster moves back into the Pro 14 with Glasgow away next weekend before they meet Premiership side Northampton in back-to-back matches in round three and four.
“It’s very unusual run of games, four European games in five weeks with a different competition sandwiched in between,” he said. “It’s trying to flit between the two, understanding they’re very, very different.
“I see Northampton had a good win themselves [35-32 away to Benetton], which makes things tight. It’s the haves and the have-nots at the moment, but one of those teams could win two games and keep alive within the pool.
“Northampton are a team we know well. They’re a team we’ve had plenty of battles with in the past, jeepers, where do you start?”
Cullen pointed to the character Leinster showed in their defensive play, especially when winger Jordan Larmour was sin-binned towards the end of the first half and Leinster were reduced to 14 players as Lyon controlled possession in the Leinster half and pressed for a try.
“When we really, really needed to dig in we have that gear which is pleasing. Particularly when Jordan gets sin-binned,” said Cullen. “We’re inaccurate at the scrum, the ball pops out and it’s hacked through. Suddeny we’re scrambling, is it in or out? Jordan has a gamble, you need to just check with the referee on those ones really.
“Unfortunately, we end up with a man in the bin, but it’s pleasing the way we dig in there. Some really good ‘d’ on the line; we deal with the scrum first and foremost with eight, only six backs.
“We dig in there, they make a mistake. We get a scrum, we clear our lines and have another chance down the other end and misfire another lineout.
“It was a bit like that, but when we really needed to dig in we were able to. Defensively, we were okay. Breached a couple of times. Charlie Ngatai is exceptional, [Baptist] Couilloud is very dangerous. They’ve multiple threats and experience across the board, a few crafty operators up front.
“It’s good we were able to dig in when we needed to and got the job done. It’s just about getting the job done at the moment, isn’t it? On we got to the next one,”