Cullen admits Leinster depth will be tested
LEINSTER captain Leo Cullen believes the province are going to be tested "to the limit" this season, but is excited by the prospect of the younger players proving their worth when the Magners League gets under way next week.
The second-row (named on the 2009/'10 Magners League dream team earlier this week) will be a frustrated onlooker for the next couple of months at least having dislocated his shoulder against Edinburgh last May and believes injuries and the limited availability of Ireland internationals under the Player Management Scheme will ask serious questions of Leinster's depth.
"It's been a tough start with injuries. It will be tough, realistically, for the first month with guys filtering back into it, but that's just the nature of the system," said Cullen.
"I think our squad is going to be tested to the limit. You're bringing on inexperienced guys instead of experienced internationals, so there's going to be a bit of difference in levels.
"Guys are going to be missing at various stages. But to finish high up in the Magners you're going to have to rely on your squad.
"Last year we finished first in the league (Leinster were beaten in the play-off final by the Ospreys) and the squad did really, really well, guys stepped up.
"I think we have got a lot of really talented young fellahs coming through. it can be a bit dangerous relying on younger guys, but if they are brought through in the right way it's really exciting times.
"Some guys still have improving to do but we're limited in who we can sign. But we have a very good academy system and we're going to have to lean on them pretty heavily at times which is a tough ask."
With Joe Schmidt taking over from Michael Cheika, there is also a freshness in the coaching set-up this season and Cullen is anxious to get fit and back into the midst of it.
"Joe is trying to get his ideas across and work on the patterns and the way he wants to play. It's fresh, there's new ideas and it's an exciting time," said Cullen.
"I'm hoping to get back into it maybe next week, get back on the pitch and maybe do some more skill-oriented work with the team.
"It will be a few more weeks before I'm able to do the contact stuff. Generally, it's a four-to-six month procedure and I'm only out three months now. I'm making good progress, but unfortunately you can't speed up time."
Cullen's injury ruled him out of Ireland's summer tour to New Zealand and Australia when Declan Kidney's men lost all three matches including a record defeat to the All Blacks.
Leinster No 8 Jamie Heaslip was red-carded in the first quarter of that match after kneeing Richie McCaw, but Cullen had words of support for his team-mate.
"Jamie gets slagged a lot anyway," said Cullen about Heaslip's return to the Leinster squad. "Listen, when you've got guys that are killing ball on the ground, it gets pretty frustrating at times and it probably wasn't clever the way he did it, but it's not that big a deal. It was more stupidity than anything.
"Whether he (McCaw) would have got sin-binned himself, because he was trying to kill the ball at the time, if Jamie had gone in and tried to clear him out ordinarily, it's a very fine line.
"If you're getting away with it you're brilliant. Jamie lost the head for that split second and paid the ultimate price."
Meanwhile, Luke Fitzgerald gets another chance to impress in his favoured full-back position when Leinster take on Leicester in their final pre-season friendly in Donnybrook tomorrow night.
Fitzgerald is included in a young back line, with former Ulster scrum-half Isaac Boss providing the experience from scrum-half.
Sean O'Brien captains the side from open-side, while Nathan Hines is fit again to take his place in the second-row next to Devin Toner.
With Stan Wright out for six months and Mike Ross nursing a hamstring strain, Schmidt has brought in Ballymena prop Simon Shawe at tight-head.
The 30-year-old has represented Ireland at club international level and has featured for Ulster and Ulster 'A' in the past. Giant U-20 tight-head Stewart Maguire provides cover on a bench which also features former Ulster second-row Ed O'Donoghue.
LEINSTER (v Leicester) -- L Fitzgerald; D Kearney, E O'Malley, F McFadden, N Morris; I McKinley, I Boss; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, S Shawe; N Hines, D Toner; D Ryan, S O'Brien (capt), S Keogh. Reps: J Harris-Wright, J McGrath, S Maguire, E O'Donoghue, P Ryan, P O'Donohoe, I Nacewa, M Keating, M Galarza, E Sheriff, I Madigan, E Sheridan.