Cullen hails ‘exceptional’ Leinster after PRO14 and Champions Cup double

Leo Cullen hailed his side’s ability to navigate through the “mental and physical test” required to secure a Guinness PRO14 and European Cup double.

Hot on the heels on their nail-biting Champions Cup success over Racing 92, the Irish province picked the right moments to strike against Scarlets at the Aviva Stadium, clinching a first PRO14 and European Cup double for a Celtic side.

“The last couple of weeks have been a mental and physical test for all of us,” admitted Cullen afterwards.

“The European game a couple of weeks ago, the feeling at the end was incredible because it was so tight and only going into the lead in the 79th minute of the game.

“Huge challenge last week against Munster in the RDS and dealing with the celebrations etc. try and get our feet back on the ground this week was a challenge, but credit the players. They’re the ones that produce the goods on the field and I thought they were exceptional.”

Despite a late three-try flurry from the Welsh region, Leinster scored at crucial stages in the decider including James Lowe’s effort on the stroke of half-time for a 21-11 lead.

Sean Cronin and Jordan Larmour scored in the third quarter and Jack Conan got the clinching fifth try while man of the match Jonathan Sexton kicked 13 points and was influential in the build-up to three tries.

Isa Nacewa’s in the 185th and final Leinster appearance was cut short as a calf injury led to his 18th-minute withdrawal from the field of play.

However, with Rory O’Loughlin stepping up to the plate in his absence, he was happy to end his second spell in Dublin on a high note.

“I blew my calf quite early. Not the way I envisaged, admitted Nacewa.

“I think I sat here yesterday and said I’d last far more than 40 minutes. Don’t think I got to 20! ‘Locko’ [O’Loughlin] had trained all week and I think he was just outstanding tonight.”

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While Scarlets’ quest for a second consecutive league title came up short, head coach Wayne Pivac believes their late surge typified the spirit and resolve of his squad.

“At 40-18 [behind], it just showed the true character of this side and how far we’ve come,” said Pivac.

“We’re very, very pleased that we were able to show that character right through to the final whistle and to pick up a couple of tries at the end – albeit the game was over, he added.

“I just felt that it typified this group. We take our hats off to a very, very good Leinster side.”