Cullen delighted with character his squad have shown
Published 22/04/2016 | 02:30
The next month will decide how Leo Cullen looks back on his maiden season in charge of his home province but there have been enough positive signs to suggest that he is building a squad that will soon be competing amongst Europe's elite again in the not-too-distant future.
Leinster will be confident of beating anyone in a home semi-final, should they as expected seal their own fate but there is still plenty to work on despite last week's bonus-point victory over Edinburgh.
As the team with the best defensive record in the Pro12, conceding 23 points, which included three, second-half tries, was not part of the plan but that has already been worked on in training this week.
Leinster were without the bulk of their squad in the earlier part of the week as Ireland held a 24-hour training camp in Meath, and while the focus has already shifted towards Ulster next weekend, Cullen admitted that his side must be more clinical than they were in last week's first half.
"I thought we created a lot of good chances in the first half. We need to be more clinical for sure," he said.
"We can certainly be better. We talked about it after the game, Edinburgh went hard after our ball which always poses difficulties.
"We're not top of the try scoring but we are top of the points differential. Teams concede penalties against us and we actually opted to kick for the corner a few times and it didn't quite pay off.
"Maybe in hindsight it would have been better to take some shots at goal but you take the factors like the weather into account as well.
"It's just the constant pressure we had built in the first half made it easier for us to break Edinburgh down in the second half. No team is going to give up easy at this time of year.
"We'll do a bit of review of the game and there's definitely aspects we can bet better at but there's a need to put in a big performance against Ulster because again, they're in a situation where they're scrapping away to stay in the top four themselves."
Cullen has watched plenty of his younger players like Josh van der Flier, Garry Ringrose and Luke McGrath evolve this season and while he is hoping for more to do the same, he knows how important the Academy system has again proved to be.
"The attitude that the guys have shown from day one in pre-season when some were looking to take their chance during the World Cup period was good.
"We had 23 guys pretty much away in Carton House training with Ireland at that stage which is a pretty big chunk of your squad.
"I think 19 went to the World Cup as well and you can add in Zane (Kirchner) with South Africa in that period as well.
"So to use the amount of players that we did (56), we got some guys in from club teams and we relied very heavily on the Academy as well. To be able to work with those guys and see how hungry they are to be successful is pleasing.
"When you look back on it now and see where some of those guys have gotten to at this stage is also pleasing and hopefully some of the things that they've picked up along the way will serve us all well into the future."