Monday 24 June 2019

Blues cage Reds - Cullen has selection headaches ahead of RDS clash with Wasps


TRIUMPH: Leinster’s James Lowe celebrates after Saturday’s PRO14 victory over Munster at Aviva Stadium. Photo: SPORTSFILE
TRIUMPH: Leinster’s James Lowe celebrates after Saturday’s PRO14 victory over Munster at Aviva Stadium. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Leo Cullen won't be too concerned about the hard decisions that have to be made this week.

They all stem from Leinster making 11 changes and still making Munster weep at a packed Aviva Stadium.

As it stands, the champions lead Scarlets by five points in Conference B of the PRO14 League, while fourth-placed Munster trail Glasgow in A.

"The Conference system changes the dynamic," he offered.

"If you think, Munster at the start of the game were ten points behind Glasgow.

"The urgency for them because they want to, I presume, finish top of their conference because of the knock-on significance later on in the season.

"You look at our Conference, the way it is, we want to stay on top.

"The dynamic is unusual and everyone is still trying to get their heads around that."

Cullen was forthcoming on the number of changes made.

It was not an insult to Munster rather a product of their readiness to defend their European crown.

"For us, we try to weigh up a lot of variables," he said.

"We wanted to get guys playing, you know, Jack (McGrath), Dan Leavy, Seán O'Brien, James Ryan.

"It was such a full-on game, very cagey and tense," he added.

"We were fortunate in the fact we took a couple of chances early in the game which meant we always had our noses in front."

Despite this, the coach will not slip to sleep easily as "there's plenty of headaches" in the selection process ahead of Wasps in the Heineken Champions Cup at The RDS on Friday night (KO7.45, BT Sport).

"There will be guys disappointed that they're not going to be involved next week and that is the way we want it.

"There are some difficult conversations we need to manage.

"Hopefully, that drives the group forward because we have so many big games coming up."

The biggest question comes over where Seán O'Brien sits in Cullen's thoughts.


He didn't look totally at ease at number eight and Jack Conan must rank as first choice for that shirt.

Then, Dan Leavy grew with every minute, Josh van der Flier has been super consistent and Rhys Ruddock is doing what he always does, his job.

The next area of interest is the second row where Cullen will have to work out which is the odd-man-out between Devin Toner, James Ryan and Scott Fardy, unless the Australian joins a crowded back row.

"It's every day, like, training-wise you're seeing guys and some things get confirmed, some get altered.

"Day-to-day, you make those calls, you're seeing the players each day.

"They get put in very challenging situations in training.

Some guys get exposed out there. Other guys thrive out there.

"We're making a constant assessment on the physical form of guys as well because we want to pick the fit guys as well.

"The guys who are primed and ready to go physically."

Meanwhile, Munster coach Johann van Graan didn't look too in love with life.

He had to stomach the loss to Leinster and make his way back to Limerick in a stew over most of his scrum-halfs.

Alby Mathewson, the man signed to deputise for Conor Murray - there is still no update on his return to action - is a serious doubt for their daunting trip to Exeter Chiefs on Saturday (KO3.15, BT Sport).

The South African is already working without Neil Cronin (shoulder), James Hart (knee) and Murray.

It leaves Duncan Williams as the only Munster nine guaranteed to make it to the starting line.

"Not a lot of teams have gone down there and got a win," he said.

"I found out last year that in these six games you need to approach each one as a knock-out game and we'll do that accordingly."

He has taken the time to closely investigate how Leinster defused Exeter's gargantuan pack of forwards last year.

"You've got to defend really well," he said.

"You've got to figure out the wind there. They're a team that when they're against the wind, they just keep the ball, and keep the ball.

"And I've said in the pre-season, they're close to the best attacking side in the world. We've known exactly what they do. It's in their DNA. They've come a long way."

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