Leo Cullen was full of praise for his Leinster charges after they qualified for their second successive Champions Cup final following a 30-12 win over Toulouse at the Aviva Stadium.
There was questions being asked of Leinster heading into the game as many thought they hadn’t yet reached the heights of last season when they steamrolled their way to a domestic and European double.
“When were here yesterday we were talking about the fact that the team hadn’t played together a huge amount but I think probably what pleased most was the attitude of the players of the last couple of weeks and how they applied themselves at training.
“When they prepare well they have a much better chance at performing well in these big games. There was a great fight for each other, you could see the players how much it means to them and I thought they responded well to the support they received, it was another great occasion here at the Aviva, a great crowd and the players feed off that energy.
“I think they showed a lot of resilience particularly as we got close to our try line. They are good qualities to have in those big games.”
Leinster had to call upon all of their experience at the Aviva Stadium and it was two of their more senior stars, in particular, who stood out today in the form of Johnny Sexton and Sean O’Brien.
Cullen singled both men out for praise, highlighting how important it is to have them around in the weeks leading up to such big games.
“Sean’s an unbelievable competitor and he’s worked incredibly hard to get back from his injury and you could see what it means to him. Physically he throws everything he has into his performances and I thought he was really exceptional today, not just his performance but how he leads the group. In the week the way he talks, how he understands the threats that the opposition are going to pose on both sides of the ball.
“In terms of dominating that contact area I think he’s one of the best players to have ever played the game, certainly among the Irish guys in that area. I think he’s showing again what he’s capable of. It was good to have Sean back out there.”
“It’s great to have Johnny back in the team, we haven’t had him since the end of December but behind the scenes, Johnny’s always working hard to drive standards in the group and that’s the amazing quality that he has, there’s never an end point to it.
“Even if we think we’ve been doing things well he’ll find other things that we can get better at and that’s what we need in the group. We know we have to be very, very good because at this stage of the competition all of the teams are heavily loaded, heavily resourced and everything’s gearing up to trying to win on the big days and trying to play well. The standards that Johnny sets for himself I think is exceptional and it rubs off on everybody else.”
A fifth Champions Cup final awaits this Leinster side now and they will go into the game against Saracens full of confidence given that they have won four from four in European finals.
Leinster and Saracens will descend upon St. James Park for May’s final and Cullen stressed the importance of not letting the occasion get to them.
“I think the main thing is just not to get too caught up in the occasion. It’s another game of rugby that we need to prepare well for so guys are clear around what’s expected of them.
“You don’t want to get too caught up in the occasion of being in a final. It’s unusual in that we’ll go to a ground we’ve never gone to before, similar to last year in Bilbao, so we kinda understand what that’s like.
“The main thing is that, physically, resting up and recovering for guys when they get those windows. Players get managed well by the backroom team so they’re able to fire as well as possible at this time of year and give all of themselves whe it comes to these big games.
“That’s the important part and then not getting too caught up in the occasion, making sure that we play the game because it’s another 80 minutes we need to get a win from.”