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Thursday 29 September 2016

Des Berry: Cullen wants to be best in Europe

Leinster coach makes passionate plea for positivity about the PRO12

Head coach Leo Cullen during a press conference ahead of their PRO12 game against Edinburgh tonight Photo: Sportsfile
Head coach Leo Cullen during a press conference ahead of their PRO12 game against Edinburgh tonight Photo: Sportsfile

Leinster coach Leo Cullen has made a strong defence of the beleaguered PRO12 League ahead of their important clash with Edinburgh at The RDS this evening.

When pressed about the quality of the PRO12 product in comparison to The Premiership and the French Top-14, Cullen gulped from the 'glass half-full' approach.

"It is easy to knock things," he said.

"There are a lot of positives about the League as well.

"It has got more and more competitive. There's a lot of excitement about the games coming up his weekend.

"We're sitting in first, just about, playing against Edinburgh, who are trying to push to get a European spot. There's a lot at stake in this game."

The Inter-provincial match in Galway encompasses all the meaning of rugby life at this point of the season.

"There's a lot of hype about Munster, who are in sixth, playing Connacht, who are in second, and everyone knows what's at stake for those two teams.

"Then, you look at The Scarlets at home to Glasgow, one sitting fourth and one sitting third. They are really exciting match-ups.

Positives

"I would rather talk about the positives of those games rather than focus too much on the negatives or compare ourselves to other Leagues."

The PRO12 cannot compete for financial backing or for the overall import of world-class superstars into the rapidly expanding English and French Leagues.

It doesn't have the money or the profile given to The Premiership by the entrance of BT Sport into the sports broadcasting market.

In fairness, Cullen reached out for a favourable figure to dress the PRO12 up in a good light.

"Why not talk about the fact there was 43,000 at the Aviva for our last home game?" he said.

"How many teams around the world had 43,000 people at their last home game? I wouldn't say there was any and that's an unbelievable positive."

Fair enough.

There is, however, a strong argument to be made that the Irish provinces are the only thing standing between the League and its dissolution.

"I would say it is easy to pick things apart," continued Cullen.

"Can we focus on the odd good thing as well? Because it is easy to bash the PRO12 standard for this and that.

"We are making do with what we've got and it is important not to lose sight of some of the really positive things as well."

The historical significance of the Irish Inter-provincial derbies lifts it way above the professionally manufactured contests between The Ospreys and The Dragons, for instance.

"The Pro12 doesn't have 100 years of tradition like some of the other leagues, so we just have to try and grow it.

"Maybe in 100 years time we will be as good as the Top-14 or The Premiership."

The on-pitch product is lagging behind, at the moment, with not one PRO12 club making the last-eight of the Champions Cup.

"We've got to be as smart as we possibly can with the resources we have.

"The market place is incredibly competitive for sure. It's probably been more competitive than it's been.

"But, all the time, you've got to find 'what's your point of difference' and we're still aspiring to be the best team in Europe so we're still working toward that goal."

Cullen works in a club that prefers to take a more pragmatic view.

"There's this cyclical nature to it," he stated.

"Back in 2007, there was an all-English final, Wasps versus Leicester and I was playing for Leicester at the time.

"In 2012, there was an all-Irish final, so it does shift as the years go on.

"Hopefully, next year, there will be an all-Irish final again - that's what we're aspiring to."

Where the PRO12 doesn't fall short is in the commitment of players to sweat blood and tears for the shirts.

As it stands, there are still seven clubs in with a shout of making the last four.

"You will see full-blooded encounters just as you will get in some of the other leagues about the place."

It could be reduced to six if Leinster can see off Edinburgh.

Leinster: R Kearney; F McFadden, B Te'o, N Reid, L Fitzgerald; I Madigan, L McGrath; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross, R Molony, M Kearney, R Ruddock (capt), J van der Flier, J Murphy.
Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; D Hoyland, C Dean, P Burleigh, T Brown; J Tovey, S Hidalgo-Clyne; A Dickinson, R Ford (capt), WP Nel, A Bresler, B Toolis, J Ritchie, J Hardie, C du Preez.

Verdict: Leinster

Leinster v Edinburgh, tonight, live TG4 (KO 7.35)

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