Leo Cullen with a warning to his Leinster players after Toulouse rout
Home side turn on the style at the Aviva Stadium
You don’t get to where Leinster are without wanting more and, while he was proud of his charges for their Heineken Champions Cup semi-final performance against Toulouse, head coach Leo Cullen is already focused on steering them to a second Dublin final in a week next month.
Leinster outplayed the five-time champions at the Aviva Stadium to book their place in the show-piece event in three weeks’ time, scoring five tries in a devastating display.
The season schedule doesn’t let up and their thoughts must immediately turn to the visit of the Sharks to Lansdowne Road next Saturday. If they win that, Leinster will host either Glasgow Warriors or Munster the week before the European final.
It’s a tough schedule, but it’s where Leinster want to be.
“It's the effort, that's the big thing. There were plenty of moments where the guys were clinical in terms of taking opportunities, which was pleasing as well,” Cullen said.
"It's a semi-final, we were at this stage last year and you put in a big performance and then you're just trying to manage things to a final.
"The season's structure is different this year, so we're into a quarter-final next week. We've got to get our heads around that pretty quickly.
"The most pleasing thing is to be in a final because that's what it's all about. For us, it's, 'Right, the job is done, that part of the job is done and let's turn our attention to what the next challenge is going to be.'
"We'll watch the game (the semi-final between La Rochelle and Exeter Chiefs) with great interest tomorrow and see what comes out of that.
“In the meantime, coaches already towards the tail end of this week, you're turning attention towards the Sharks and now the players come in on Monday morning, review the game, and take the learnings from it, things we can do better and there are some excellent parts of that performance.
"We just look forward to the next challenge. We know we've got a quarter-final but we've never really had a sequence of games quite like this. At the very start of the season, you're looking at the prospect of being here.
"Even the fact that we're playing a quarter-final here as well because Bruce Springsteen is playing in the RDS, which is great in many ways because it makes it tidy.”
Cullen confirmed that Johnny Sexton will not be fit for the Heineken Champions Cup final and praised his backroom team for their work in preparing the players.
Leinster didn’t appear to miss Sexton, James Lowe or Robbie Henshaw as Jack Conan, Dan Sheehan, Josh van der Flier and Jason Jenkins ran in tries.
"That goes from the coaches through to the backroom team. Robbie goes down and picks up nothing too major, hopefully, and then Charlie Nagtai steps in and is ready to go," he said.
“He was excellent for the 50-odd minutes that he played. Some really big moments. That 50:22 (kick), that poach turnover, some big defensive plays as well. He was really strong in contact. Huge credit to him and credit to the rehab team to get him back in good shape.
“You go through the season, there's plenty we've had to deal with at different stages and different points. Relying on the group and working hard for each other. You saw plenty of that out there today.
“It was a great response from the supporters as well. You see that connection. That's the really special stuff, isn't it? For the supporters they're seeing moments from players live, what they're doing, how they're doing it. You see it at the drive into the ground coming down Serpentine (Road) and turning past the Sandymount Hotel there, seeing the blue flags.
“Hopefully we see that next week as well because we might tweak the team a little bit next week because I think we just need to keep that freshness there and whoever's there, let's hope we get a big crowd again.
“So that's the thing. There's four weeks left in the season. The last game of our season is the URC final so we have a quarter-final here. Win the quarter-final and we advance to the semi-final but at least we know we have another final.
“For the group that's here, we talk about some players that aren't playing today. Some players won't play for Leinster again that are in our group and we had a couple of retirements early in the season as well so it's really just about enjoying the time together now.
As a player you never get this time back. So it's about trying to maximise everything in this window.
We talked about a five-week window. Now, it's a four-week window left, we hope. At least we have three weeks to look forward to. It might be two games but it's three weeks so it's about trying to enjoy our time together.
"We're back here next week, you've got that type of battle ritual in many regards. Back to the question, what's the most pleasing thing? To win the semi-final and be in a final. But it's trying to manage the next little period that will be the key bit."
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