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Sunday 11 December 2016

True blue Cullen stands firm at the helm

Leinster leader wants old values back at Bath

Leo Cullen
Leo Cullen

It has taken the move from captain to coach to finally get an up close and personal view of the passion Leo Cullen brings to rugby.

It is merely a fact to report that the rookie headman has been thrown into the deep end when he should still be wading towards it.

When Joe Schmidt came to Leinster he went out of his way to point out how it was his first post as the main man.

By then, he had banked eight years experience as an assistant at Bay of Plenty, Auckland Blues and Clermont-Auvergne.

Cullen graduated to forwards coach last season; head coach this.

The experience of losing big games will make him a better coach in the long-term. No doubt.

"There is never enough time do what you want to do," he said.

"I was under no illusions going into this job there were going to be some tough days."

He has just worked through one of the worst.

"Looking back on the game, 33-6 at home is what will go down in history.

"But, if you gave someone the stats of the game and asked: 'what was the score?' I don't think many people would come up with 33-6.

"I don't think it really paints a true reflection of what happened in the game.

"We had, I think, 63% of possession. Wasps had zero breakdown in our 22, but they managed to come away with 33 points.

"Unfortunately, that is just the reality."

This is a short-term business in a competition in which every match matters.

"Regardless of who's sitting in this chair, it was going to be a challenge this year with the nature of people coming in and out."

What Schmidt had in coaching experience, Cullen initially has to find from his playing days and his single season working under Matt O'Connor.

"For me, I have a lot of experience with the group," said Cullen.

"I have a lot of experience in Leinster rugby, a lot of experience in Europe, not necessarily as a coach, but what it involved to be successful in these campaigns.

"In terms of European experience, there's not many people have more. That's a fact."

Cullen is an out and out realist.

He doesn't pretend to know it all. No one does.

"The coaching part of it, yeah there are certain things (I have not been through)," he acknowledged.

"But, there's not a huge amount I can do about that.

"I will endeavour to do the very best that I can for this club because it means a huge amount for me.

"I would be a firm believer in the ability that we have in this building as well."

One disaster is not the end of the world.

A second loss in The Pool of Death would almost certainly spell the end of The Champions Cup for this season.

Cullen had to look back in review of what Leinster did wrong to move forward.

"We had a bad day at the office," he considered, when reflecting on Wasps.

"It's important that we address certain things that did not go so well.

"And it's important that we move on to the next challenge because we're in a very tough block of games.

"We don't have the opportunity, like we normally would in pre-season, to try out new ideas.

"We're into competitive games."

There have been few more important than that against Bath tomorrow.

Leinster have qualified for the last eight in Europe for eleven of the last 14 seasons and won The Challenge Cup in 2013.

There are standards to be upheld.

Cullen knows this better than anyone because he was right at the heart of building them.

Based on last season, Bath should be a step-up from Wasps.

Based on this, that may not necessarily be the case.

Centre Jonathan Joseph will be out for another two months with a chest injury.

The return of Sam Burgess to rugby league in Sydney has been a wrench for the club.

The entirely inappropriate and untimely statements made by the club's owner Bruce Craig this week have not helped their cause either.

Bath v Leinster, The Recreation Ground, Tomorrow (KO 3.15, BT Sport)

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