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Sunday 17 November 2019

Too narrow a focus on Blues

Cullen won't jump aboard the Schmidt bandwagon

Head coach Leo Cullen during Leinster squad training at UCD
Head coach Leo Cullen during Leinster squad training at UCD

Where there is a vat of empty facts, various theories are poured in to fill up the information deficit.

There are none more knowledgeable about Joe Schmidt than Isa Nacewa, the man who recommended the coach who would change the face of Leinster and Irish rugby for the greater span of a decade.

More importantly, Nacewa has always been careful in his comments about his club and Irish rugby.

This is why it was so surprising to hear the retired player protest at how Schmidt abandoned the expressive approach that earned the 2018 Grand Slam for a more conservative strategy, after being dominated by England last February.

The idea that Schmidt was leaning towards Stuart Lancaster's embrace of "unstructured chaos" is nowhere near true.

Faith

However, there was an expression of faith in the growing of their game in Twickenham in 2018, and last November against the All Blacks, that has never truly seen the light of game day since then.

Leo Cullen sees the interpretation of involving Lancaster's evolution for its impact on Ireland as "a bit of a narrow focus" on his club.

Cullen is slow to take the plaudits when Ireland are going well and just as slow to throw stones when they aren't.

Understandably, the coach is not amused to see the Blues being dragged into the conversation about Ireland's success and failure.

Perhaps the link between Schmidt and his former club is one that will never end.

It is one that is all too easily used to compare to Ireland's evolution and/or regression.

After all, the theory that the Ireland coach had something magical up his sleeve for the World Cup was all predicated on the memory of Schmidt's free-flowing Blues in 2011 and 2012.

"There are comparisons made when coaches come in," said Cullen.

"You could easily say what about the World Cup? There were 14 Leinster players out there originally.

"There were 12 Munster players too. Why does nobody pick up on the change of coaches in Munster? Did that have an affect?

"It is a bit of a narrow focus, would be my overall observation," Cullen added, about the idea that Ireland flirted with playing like Leinster.

For example, Connacht have been playing expansive rugby for years from Pat Lam to Andy Friend with varying degrees of success.

Munster have been on a similar but slower development path.

Ulster have also pushed the boundaries of their game through their various coaches in recent seasons, as they bid to compete in the PRO14 League and in Europe.

"What about England? How many teams are represented in their group? What about New Zealand?

It does seem incongruous that when Ireland show a desire to expand their game, Leinster are automatically attached to the reason why.

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