Tuesday 6 December 2016

Cullen refuses to look beyond Ulster

Published 22/04/2016 | 02:30

The Bank of Ireland Leinster Rugby Camps were launched at a pop up training session in St. Mary’s National School, Ranelagh this week. The camps will run in 27 different venues across the province throughout July and August. Visit www.leinsterrugby.ie/camps for more information. From left, Leinster stars Jack McGrath, Hayden Triggs and Jamie Heaslip with pupils, front row, Stella Hurley, Hugh Quinn and Catherine Orr
The Bank of Ireland Leinster Rugby Camps were launched at a pop up training session in St. Mary’s National School, Ranelagh this week. The camps will run in 27 different venues across the province throughout July and August. Visit www.leinsterrugby.ie/camps for more information. From left, Leinster stars Jack McGrath, Hayden Triggs and Jamie Heaslip with pupils, front row, Stella Hurley, Hugh Quinn and Catherine Orr

Leinster's place in next season's Champions Cup may be guaranteed and while they are also odds on to seal a home semi-final in the Pro12, they are not looking any further than next Saturday's clash against Ulster.

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That's according to Leo Cullen who has steered his side to the top of the table after some early-season wobbles.

Their European campaign may have been disastrous but, according to players like Mike Ross, watching the quarter-finals and presumably the semi-finals this weekend, has fuelled the fire for next season.

But with so much still at stake, Cullen is urging his players not to look beyond the task at hand as they look to ensure that the coach finishes his first season in charge with some silverware.

"It's dangerous to look that far ahead," Cullen insisted.

"I think there's definitely a sense of, when you look at the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final in a few weeks, they are teams playing at the top end of Europe and you're very envious of those that are still left.

"It's important that we put ourselves in a better position for next season. It's dangerous to think that far ahead though because we're so focused on the next week. It's not focusing on what happened last week, it's what's coming next and our minds are very firmly fixed on Ulster.

"It's another huge, crucial game and maybe in the back of our minds we can think about Europe next year but it's hard to really discuss it in too much detail because we've so much going on here ourselves at the moment."

Leinster have used a staggering 56 players this season which is a clear indication of their strength in depth and while plenty of the less experienced players have played their part, Cullen is hoping to welcome back a few more of his bigger hitters.

Sean O'Brien (hamstring) is said to be "making good progress and is closer to being back", although a return against Ulster is still to be decided.

Marty Moore (hamstring) on the other hand played 40 minutes for Lansdowne in the AIL last weekend and he should be available for selection. Johnny Sexton is also set to return. "They'll be in the frame. Marty is obviously ahead because of the fact that he's already played. He's definitely back in contention," Cullen said.

"Seanie still has a couple of more boxes to tick in terms of his progress but he's making steady progress now.

"Some guys have had a bit of time off and the way these two break weeks have panned out, a lot of guys have had bigger breaks."

With Ulster currently lying in fourth place, there is a chance that Leinster could face the northern province in the semi-final but Cullen admitted that possibility would not affect how he plans for next Saturday's game.

"You have to put it to the side at the moment. There's so much at stake in these games. Again, it's not looking too far ahead," he maintained.

"We can't really worry about the fact that we might play Ulster in the semi-final. It's the here and the now is what's important.

"We can attack this next block of games; Ulster away and Treviso at home. Hopefully we'll be in a good position to play in the semi-final.

"There's a lot of pleasing aspects about the way the year has unfolded, particularly in the Pro12.

"Europe was disappointing and it was almost over in the blink of an eye. You lose your first four games which has never happened to us before and it is absolutely gutting to be a part of that but I'm more focused on the positive aspects."

Irish Independent

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