Cullen wary of Pienaar-powered Cheetahs as Leinster get back in gear
The reigning champions can extend their winning run, but that is no motivating factor for Leo Cullen.
Four weeks have passed since the Champions Cup pool victory over Benetton brought Leinster over their previous record of 15 wins on the trot – achieved under Matt Williams in the 2001/02 season.
They will be searching for their 17th consecutive win of the term later today, when the Cheetahs provide the opposition for a Guinness PRO14 clash at the RDS (kick-off 2.30pm, eir Sport).
“It’s just one of those things. It’s bubbling in the background, but it’s not something we would really focus on in any way,” Cullen explained yesterday while stressing the need to plan ahead to compete on two fronts.
“We’ve a [European] quarter-final. If you lose, you’re out. We’ve done a lot to get that number one seed, which means you’re at home etc. The Pro14 is similar. We want to make sure we get ourselves in the best position possible, but we also want to have our own standards as well.
We don’t want to be this inconsistent team that’s really good one week and has a massive drop-off the next. It’s just not that enjoyable to be part of.”
Little fear of that.
Whereas Leinster have remained idle since that Benetton success on January 18, the Cheetahs have been busy bolstering their own Pro14 play-off prospects. Following back-to-back victories over the Southern Kings, they are now up to third in the Conference A table.
For Cullen, the chance to build further momentum will be their main focus for today’s game – rather than bringing Leinster’s winning sequence to an abrupt halt.
“The motivating factor for Cheetahs is making sure they try to get as high up the ladder themselves. They have a lot to play for rather than trying to deny another team something. I don’t think, generally, that is the strongest of motivators.
“A team like Cheetahs, where they sit at the moment, they are in the play-off spot. It is a chance for them to gather more points so that they can push on.”
While there will be a sense of familiarity from the past meetings between the two teams, Ruan Pienaar’s presence within the Cheetahs ranks could add considerable spice to this afternoon’s proceedings.
Following a two-year stint in Montpellier, the former Ulster scrum-half linked up with the Bloemfontein outfit last summer. With Storm Dennis set to take full effect over the course of the contest, Cullen expects Pienaar to be the driving force behind the Cheetahs challenge.
“Obviously he has experience of playing in Ireland. The conditions are due to be wet and windy, and he’s played in many a wet and windy night in Ravenhill,” Cullen said of the Springbok.
“He has a ton of experience and how different that [weather] is to what potentially these guys are used to.”
Leinster: Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Jimmy O’Brien, Joe Tomane, Dave Kearney, Ciarán Frawley, Luke McGrath; Peter Dooley, Rónan Kelleher, Michael Bent, Ross Molony, Scott Fardy (Capt.) Rhys Ruddock, Will Connors, Max Deegan.
Replacements: Seán Cronin, Michael Milne, Roman Salanoa, Ryan Baird, Scott Penny, Jamison Gibson-Park, Harry Byrne, Cian Kelleher.
Cheetahs: Rhyno Smith, Clayton Blommetjies, William Small-Smith, Benhard Janse van Rensburg, Rabz Maxwane, Tian Schoeman, Ruan Pienaar (c), Charles Marais, Joseph Dweba, Aranos Coetzee, Walt Steenkamp, JP du Preez, Chris Massyn, Junior Pokomela, Jasper Wiese
Replacements: Wilmar Arnoldi, Boan Venter, Luan de Bruin, Aidon Davis, Gerhard Olivier, Tian Meyer, Louis Fouche, Chris Smit