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PREVIEW: Cullen wary of Castres challenge

Thursday 13th October 2016

12:00 am (GMT)

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If the form book is anything to go by then this should be a routine win for Leinster at their fortress RDS. - 13/10/2016 12:54

If the form book is anything to go by then this should be a routine win for Leinster at their fortress RDS. - 13/10/2016 12:54

If the form book is anything to go by then this should be a routine win for Leinster at their fortress RDS.

Castres Olympique return to the top tier of European rugby after a season in the Challenge Cup, but haven’t won in the Champions Cup since the third round in 2013. They were whitewashed in the 2014/15 campaign, including two defeats to Leinster and a 50-8 hammering in Dublin, and have lost their last seven games on the road.

But you won’t find Leinster head coach Leo Cullen taking anything for granted. He knows better than anyone that can’t be done after his side emerged with only one victory in six pool games last season.

“Castres won the TOP 14 a few seasons ago and we are preparing for a very tough battle. They showed in their recent game against Clermont that there is a real desire to play for one another within their squad and that makes them very dangerous,” said Cullen.

“We had a difficult start to last season’s European campaign and we ran into a strong Wasps team. Then we lost a tight game against Bath and had to go to Toulon after that,” recalled Cullen.

“There were three very strong teams in our pool last year and there were always going to be some big casualties.
Things didn’t go as we would have liked them to, but had we been successful we would have approached this season’s tournament in exactly the same way.

“We’ve had better preparation this year than last, but we know we’ve got two very physical French sides in our pool to go along with Northampton Saints.”

A big derby win over arch-rivals Munster Rugby at the Aviva Stadium made it five wins out of six outings in the Guinness PRO12 for Cullen’s side to take them level on points with table-topping Ulster Rugby. Castres, meanwhile, are currently languishing in 11th place in the TOP 14 with three wins and a draw from their eight games to date.

Can the French side break their run of nine successive defeats in the Champions Cup? They’ve never won in nine attempts on Irish soil in the tournament and have been beaten by Leinster in Dublin on three previous occasions.

The carrot for both teams is a possible trip to BT Murrayfield for the Champions Cup final in May, 2017. The last time the final was played there Cullen was captain of the victorious Leinster side in 2009.

“It’s going to be a tough challenge to get back to Murrayfield. The final is so far away that we have to focus on what is in front of us now rather than think too far ahead,” said Cullen. “But this Leinster playing group is ambitious and wants to be successful.”

Match Facts

  • This will be the seventh meeting between the clubs in the competition, Leinster have won five of the previous six, including the last four in a row.
  • The Irish province have won all three home games against Castres in the competition, restricting the French to single figures on each occasion.
  • Leinster have won 19 of their last 21 home matches against TOP 14 opposition (L2), although they lost their last such fixture against Toulon last season.
  • Castres have never won in Ireland in the top flight, losing all nine away to Irish provinces.
  • Leinster had the lowest lineout success last season on their own throw (79%), however, they averaged 2.3 steals per game on their opponents’ throw, the joint highest rate in the competition.

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REPORT: Bonus-point start for Leinster in Dublin

Saturday 15th October 2016

12:00 am (GMT)

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Comme à chaque fois qu'ils ont accueilli le CO

Comme à chaque fois qu'ils ont accueilli le CO

Sean Cronin’s two first-half tries put Leinster on course for a handsome opening victory in the European Rugby Champions Cup.

The Ireland hooker twice finished devastating lineout drives from the Leinster pack to put the hosts in charge at the RDS Showground. But the biggest cheer was for his front-row partner Jack McGrath, who celebrated his 100th appearance for the province with a try.

A penalty try for Castres just before half-time threatened to disrupt Leinster’s dominance but man of the match Isa Nacewa’s solo-try early in the second half ensured maximum points for the former European champions. 

Castres had not tasted success in this competition since 2013, losing their last seven on the road, and facing an uphill task early on in Dublin. Nacewa missed his first effort at goal after a high tackle on Cronin. But the hooker dusted himself off to finish a drive set-up by the towering Devon Toner after just eight minutes.

All eyes were on Jonathan Sexton’s young deputy, Joey Carvery, and the fly-half almost snatched an interception with an acrobatic effort.

Gary Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw went close but Castres defended valiantly while No8 Alex Tulou, the top ball-carrier in the Top 14, proved a threat. Cronin then peeled off another drive on 26 minutes, stepping past one defender and spinning out a challenge for his second try.

Rob Kearney’s high tackle on livewire scrum-half Antoine Dupont enabled Benjamin Urdapilleta to claw back three points. Prop McGrath had his special moment on 32 minutes when he picked up and crashed over after Luke McGrath was stopped short.

The scrum-half was then frustrated at the other try line when he was shown a yellow card and conceded a penalty try after diving in as the Castres pack rumbled over. Urdapilleta’s conversion narrowed the gap to 19-10 on the stroke of half-time.

Yet with just 14 men, Leinster and in particular Nacewa, showed their class as the full-back picked up and brushed off two tackles as he galloped over for the bonus-point score that he converted himself.

Castres then lost Thibault Lassale to the sin bin and Leinster’s scrum, now blostered by a fresh Mike Ross, capitalised, turning the screw until referee Matthew Carley awarded another penalty try.

The 14 men of Castres managed a response as 20-year-old rookie Anthony Jelonch dived over but Leinster were not to be denied.

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