Sunday 18 March 2018

cullen: versatile luke fitz priceless

Strange that Leo Cullen should be staring out onto The Aviva Stadium grass when he is asked for his opinion on Luke Fitzgerald's knife-edge decision on whether to accept his new contract.

"Standing looking out here, the last time Leinster was in The Aviva, I can almost still see him making that scorching run up the touchline for that try against Bath. That showed everything about the quality of player he is," said Cullen.

"Lukie is one of the most important players in the squad for his versatility.

"You see someone like Isa (Nacewa), who can play in a lot of roles. Lukie is even more versatile.

"I have no clue as to what his negotiation situation is. I don't know where it is. I do know that he is invaluable as a Leinster player and as an Ireland player."

As always, the Leinster captain has a thoughtful perspective on the club and the direction it is moving in. Stalwarts Brian O'Driscoll, 33, and Gordon D'Arcy, 32, are on the other side of the hill. "I just think you look at the age profile," added Cullen. "He is approaching the prime of his career at the moment.

"We have some backs who have obviously been around a while.

"Shane's (Horgan) announcement (of his retirement) adds to the fact that Lukie is an important part of Leinster."

Surely, the money men at the IRFU cannot be so short-sighted that they cannot see beyond the here and now.

Sure, Fitzgerald has suffered from injury and loss of form.

But, the recovery looked close to complete when he sizzled down the left touchline for that glorious Heineken Cup try in January. Once again, injury intervened.

This is a cutthroat business. If you get injured at the wrong time, if you run out of form and confidence at the wrong time, you make it harder for yourself when it comes to contract negotiations.


"That is the nature of sport, I guess. That is part and parcel of the game. Unfortunately, it can be tough. It can be precarious at times," said Cullen. "For instance, I am fortunate enough to be in one piece at 34 even though I have had three shoulder reconstructions.

"There are many young players who never come through the system, not because they aren't good enough, but because their bodies let them down".

Cullen can never afford to dwell too long on the ins and outs of the individuals at the club he leads. Munster are next on the agenda in the PRO12 League at Thomond Park on Saturday.

They appear to be light in the second row? "I think they have four second rows out. So they say. We'll see who they line up. Donncha (O'Callaghan) and Mick (O'Driscoll) have been around the block for a long time.

"It is one position where they have plenty of depth.

"There are certain stages to the season. This is the most exciting one.

"We are in a good position for what we hope will be two months of one big game after another."

Starting at Thomond Park.

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