Saturday 22 October 2016

Cullen's cubs bring back roar

Leinster coach seeking redemption at Wasps

James Tracy is one of the exciting young players making the breakthrough at Leinster.
James Tracy is one of the exciting young players making the breakthrough at Leinster.

Leo Cullen was as nervous as a 6'6" kitten. Imagine that.

No, really, imagine that.

You see, the Leinster coach took a gamble which could have blown up in his face.

Instead, the four cubs in his front five played like lions to detonate the bombs that blew Bath out of the European waters for another year, even though Bath's beastly crew of forwards had the incalculable advantages of weight of muscle and experience.

"Bath may have seen the team and probably didn't recognise a lot of the names, to be fair," said Cullen.

"If you're just a little off, you can come unstuck very quickly."


"I was really nervous this week," he said. "It's not because I don't believe in those guys. It is just I want them to do well. I was as nervous as I've ever been."

He went a step further.

"I felt like it was my debut game for Leinster myself," he threw in.

"It is hard to describe those guys, the actions they produce every day. It is heartening, I guess."

Now that Bath have been beaten and Cullen has seen the evidence in practice turn to proof on the pitch, the rookie head coach can set about planning for Wasps.

On the face of it, like Bath, there is nothing more than pride on the line.

However, it is that first round reverse to Wasps that still stings worst of all. Worse than Bath away. Worse than Toulon at home or away.

"Unfortunately, the Wasps game sticks out the most because that's our start in Europe.

"We still want to be competing at the top end in Europe.

"When you're zero-from-four, unfortunately, you don't really feel like you are at the top end.

"They are all really good teams. Toulon are three times champions. Bath and Wasps are two of the English teams that are pumping as much resources as any club into their teams."

The Group of Death may have had a terminal effect on Leinster's campaign.

But, it may just have been the birthplace of more than one Ireland career.

It is most likely Peter Dooley, James Tracy, Ross Molony, Luke McGrath and Garry Ringrose would not have started against Bath on Saturday were the quarter-finals still on the line.

That one big game experience has done more for all of them than anything else in their careers.

What's more, they did not do it in the shelter of Ireland internationals. They did it together.

It was their fearlessness that set the tone, something sadly lacking in round one when Ireland's fallen men had to be nursed back into club rugby from the ashes of the World Cup.

"The Wasps game, I hate to harp on about it," recalled the coach.

"But, bloody hell, there was so many things we could do better in that game. And the game is completely different.

"I think we had something like 65 per cent of possession that day.

"Unfortunately, we didn't control things. But, again, there was a lot of other factors as well.

"No point in rehashing old ground."

And, yet, he turned back time and again to last November.

"We didn't deliver that level of intensity back then and that's something we need to look at for us going forward in the future."

Now, Cullen has to determine whether it is more beneficial to allow these men to do in Coventry what they did at home. After Wasps lost 15-11 away against Toulon, with the last play of the game, they will have to beat Leinster to keep their Champions Cup dream alive.

Cullen, at least, may be able to take satisfaction at putting out both English teams from the group if they win next weekend.

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