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Friday 30 September 2016

Tightrope act for Cullen to follow

Leinster boss is trying to strike a balance between winning and looking out for his players' welfare

Leo Cullen
Leo Cullen

You are damned if you do; damned if you don't.

Leinster coach Leo Cullen has taken the decision to do his utmost to have his best men in the best possible shape for the PRO12 League semi-finals by allowing their bodies to heal after the Six Nations.

There is a persuasive argument to be made that his senior internationals were undercooked for what they were confronted with at Ravenhill.

"There's always big games," he said.

"But we always want to make sure guys can perform to the best of their abilities.

"It's important that we manage players accordingly.

"Some players will always say, 'I'm fine. I'll keep trucking on through.'

"It is important we have those strong medics who are able to make the call ahead of what the player actually feels is necessary."

The price of providing the bulk of Ireland's squad is the toll it takes on each and every body.

For instance, Cullen took flak a few weeks back by being charged with devaluing the PRO12 League by putting some of his frontline internationals on ice for the home tie against Edinburgh.

"Yeah, some guys didn't play that game against Edinburgh," he said.

"The fact is that there were breaks for the quarter-final and semi-final of Europe, which ordinarily we'd love to be involved in.

"With that in mind, we made a conscious decision that some guys had been carrying niggles and had a heavy workload.

"They'd been going through all the way from the World Cup to Six Nations."

The respect for the health of the players had to take precedence over the promotion of the League.

Cullen took the calculated gamble to stand in the gap as a head coach and make ready for the criticism, should Edinburgh have caused a shock.

However, Leinster were out-of-synch in Ulster where the chickens came home to roost.

"Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards and that's what we did," he added.

"Did we go backwards against Ulster? Were those guys shy of the game time and just that little bit off?

"Sometimes that's all it takes," he said.

"With the whole scheme of the season, that's a call that we made.

"Extra pressure is piled on you when you don't get a result against Ulster.

"That's something you have to take.

"We make these decisions because we think that's the best thing for us.

"How exactly it unfolds is anyone's guess. But I think the squad is in reasonably good shape.

"You need to have an eye on what's important in the short-term," he said.

"You have to have an eye on the bigger picture as well, especially in Ireland, because we have a smaller pool of resources than they would have in other countries.

"We need to manage those resources very carefully."

Leinster: R Kearney; I Nacewa (capt), G Ringrose, B Te'o, D Kearney; J Sexton, E Reddan; J McGrath, R Strauss, M Ross, D Toner, M Kearney, R Ruddock, J Murphy, J Heaslip.

Benetton Rugby: J Hayward; L Nitoglia, T Iannone, A Sgarbi, A Esposito; L McLean, E Gori; M Zanusso, O Gega, S Ferrari, M Fuser, F Paulo, F Minto, A Zanni (capt), A Steyn.

Verdict: Leinster.

Leinster v Treviso, The RDS, Today KO3.0

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