No sooner had the dust settled on Leinster’s 23-14 win over Leicester in the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final, and Leo Cullen was already turning his attention to next weekend’s last four meeting with Toulouse.
he defending champions were taken all the way by Munster in a thrilling contest that ended in a penalty shootout, meanwhile over in Welford Road, despite a blistering first-half display, Leinster were made to work hard for their victory.
Having left his first-choice squad at home rather than taking them to South Africa, Cullen was fully vindicated in his decision, even if some of his players ran out of steam in the latter stages.
Cullen only caught the first 20 minutes of Toulouse’s dramatic victory against Munster, but the Leinster head coach is well aware that a tough challenge lies ahead at the Aviva Stadium.
“Toulouse look incredibly dangerous,” Cullen said.
“Their half-backs (Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack) are two of the best players in the world at the moment. They have a big, powerful pack as well who get them on the front foot.
“They’re a very dangerous team and it’s an unbelievable challenge for our guys but that’s what we want. It’s a huge week ahead. Hopefully we’ll get a big crowd at the Aviva and we’ll need every bit of energy we can get from that.”
Jamison Gibson-Park’s scrum-half battle with Dupont will be one of many fascinating subplots in Dublin next weekend.
Gibson-Park was outstanding in Leicester, as he expertly ran the show on the back of a strong performance from the Leinster pack, led by Caelan Doris and James Ryan.
Asked if he would swap Dupont for Gibson-Park, Cullen smiled: “No, I’m very happy with our guys that we have. A lot of that Toulouse squad have won a Grand Slam with France.
“A lot of our Irish guys involved today will have played against France in the Six Nations over in Paris. It’s great for our guys to go up against their quality.
“Jamison was excellent today. There was lots of variety to his game. He has a strong kicking game but also the ability to snipe, he made some really good breaks today.
“When he’s in the back-field he’s so comfortable in terms of open spaces. He had a really good game against a couple of very experienced half-backs.”
While Cullen was pleased with Leinster’s win, he was concerned by the fact that his side lost the second-half 14-3.
Toulouse will pose a similar physical test up front, but their back-line is far more potent, which is why Cullen believes there is still plenty of room for improvement ahead of the mouthwatering showdown between the four and five times European champions.
“We had really good intent in the first-half in attack and in defence,” Cullen added.
“We put Tigers under a fair bit of pressure when they had the ball. In the second-half they threw the kitchen sink at us.
“It didn’t feel comfortable in the second-half from our point of view but we’re delighted to get a win.
“Credit to the guys, their attitude was good, but there are parts of our performance that can get hell of a lot better.
“There was a bit of risk because some of our guys haven’t played for the last couple of weeks and were they going to be a little shy in terms of that battle hardened piece?
“But we’ve got through to the next round and hopefully we’ll be in better shape going into next week.
“We’re going to be better next week. It’s such a massive challenge up against Toulouse, five times champions. Hopefully we’ll have a big crowd at the Aviva.”