Leo Cullen: Benetton will play hard to beat in Treviso
A win against ‘physical’ Italian side will confirm Leinster’s number one seeding
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen at Leinster HQ in UCD on Friday: ‘They come with a clear plan, so we’ve got to get a better of understanding on what they’re trying to do.’ Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Benetton v Leinster, Stadio Comunale di Monigo, Saturday, 1pm Irish time - Live on BT Sport 3
Leinster’s remit is straightforward: win on Saturday afternoon in Treviso to ensure they will confirm the number one seeding and all the attendant benefits that accrue as the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finalists are determined following this weekend’s final round of pool games.
The contest might prove a tad more troublesome. Benetton have proved sticky opponents for Leinster in recent seasons and, unencumbered by expectation or pressure, the home side will be free to loosen any shackles. A big, physically powerful pack represents a constituent of teams that can occasionally cause Leinster problems.
Head coach Leo Cullen said: “They’ve come with good plans against us. It’s trying to understand what they’re trying to do against us in the couple of games [this season]. Even in the games last year. They’ve beaten us in the RDS and drawn with us in the RDS. They’re one of the teams that we’ve struggled against a hell of a lot more than other teams. They come with a clear plan, so we’ve got to get a better of understanding on what they’re trying to do.
For our guys, it’s making sure when we’re presented with opportunities that we’re clinical
“They tend to be able to nullify what we’re trying to do, because we play them quite a lot. That’s sometimes the challenge of playing against a team on a repeat basis. We’ve had some different, mixed selections against them. Ultimately, they’re a well-coached team. They’re very big and physical, and when they’re at home, they have a lot more zip and oomph about them.
‘Dig in well’
“They were unlucky to lose that Northampton game and they obviously beat Lyon in round four. They dig in well, they stick in games. For our guys, it’s making sure when we’re presented with opportunities that we’re clinical.
“Because they’re the sort of team that are very hard to shake off and even in the round one game in Europe this year, we started well, they come back in and score a try. Even though we score again, they still come back, come back, come back. They do fight hard for each other.”
It’s a fair assessment rather than a smoke-blowing exercise. A key to depowering the Italian side is to play the game at a high tempo, deny them set-piece possession, particularly in the Leinster 22, and kick sensibly and accurately. On Leinster’s to-do list from last week will be a greater level of accuracy in finishing off opportunities.
Cullen has tweaked the team with a couple of things in mind. The backline remains the same and he will be hoping that they can slice and dice Benetton defensively in a similar manner to the way they did against Lyon, while he has freshened up the pack.
Seán Cronin and Andrew Porter are promoted to the starting team from the bench, with James Tracy and Tadhg Furlong heading in the opposite direction. James Ryan has shaken off the calf injury that caused him to miss the Lyon game and partners Devin Toner. The consistently excellent Scott Fardy gets a well-deserved rest on the assumption that he’s not injured. Luke McGrath takes over the captaincy.
The composition of the backrow is interesting, with Max Deegan switching to blindside flanker and Caelan Doris promoted to number eight. Rhys Ruddock, surprisingly left out of Andy Farrell’s Ireland squad, has definitely had better weeks in his rugby career. He was superb last week against Lyon, as he has been all season. It’ll be interesting to see what players are handed the task of carrying in heavy traffic, something at which Ruddock excelled. This, though, is hardly a demotion – more a change of tack, tactically.
We’ve got ourselves into a great position, let’s just go out and deliver a performance
A backrow with Deegan, Doris and Josh van der Flier brings huge athleticism and pace, and if Leinster minds the ball well enough, then they can have a significant bearing on the game. Winning is the only thing that matters, ultimately, and securing that number one seeding.
Cullen admitted: “The home advantage piece [of the jigsaw] is huge. It’s just to finish the job. We’ve got ourselves into a great position, let’s just go out and deliver a performance – be nice and clinical in terms of taking opportunities and mentally stay in the moment. Winning runs, it’s all irrelevant, really. For us, we need to deliver on the 80 minutes in front of us.”
The visitors should be able to comply with that request.
Referee: K Dickson (England)
Verdict: Leinster to win