Sunday 25 September 2016

Cullen will deliver, says Jennings

Tom Rooney

Published 18/09/2015 | 02:30

Cian Healy, Dave Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald during the Irish squad's training session in
Cardiff yesterday
Cian Healy, Dave Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald during the Irish squad's training session in Cardiff yesterday

While it remains to be seen whether or not Leo Cullen's first season at the helm for Leinster will be adversely affected by the absence of so many key players on World Cup duty, Shane Jennings is adamant it will be the making of his old team-mate.

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It's no great secret that Cullen's appointment was met with some degree of uncertainty, given his lack of experience and his capacity to cope without the 16 squad members that Joe Schmidt ultimately decided to take to Wales and England.

Few have a more intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the blue machine than Jennings or, indeed, Cullen's strength of character. The pair did, after all, play the better part of 15 years together, which included a stint at the Leicester Tigers.

According to Jennings, who says he's revelling in his post-rugby life, Cullen and his new coaching ticket will find it far easier to impart their philosophy and requirements to the wide-eyed youngsters than to former colleagues with whom they may have a personal relationship.

"I think it's a great thing," he said, "And it will give him time to implement what he wants to put into the squad. It gives John Fogarty, Kurt McQuilkin and Girvan Dempsey time to embed what they want to do, and say 'this is the standard'.

"So when the lads come back, whether it's seasoned internationals or Tadhg Furlong, who's made the step very quickly, they can say, 'This is what we're doing here, we don't care what anybody else is going to do, and we need buy-in and ownership from you guys'".

During his last season at Leinster, Jennings witnessed Cullen's graduation from player to coach and found there to be little change in former-lock's demeanour, though there was no mistaking him for a team-mate anymore.

This, he believes, will be vital in Cullen establishing himself as the ultimate authority going forward.

"He's certainly not a dictator - Leo is a great guy. I lived with him in England; we're good friends, so I know what he's like away from it. But you can't be great fun or one of the lads, when you're head coach. You must have that degree of separation when it comes down to it.

"He's got good friends in there, he's played with and he's going to have to making decisions whether they play or not. And, eventually, there's going to be conversation about whether these people continue their rugby career or not.

"The one thing with Leo is that you're going to get an honest conversation with him, and he's going to be straight up with you."

Jennings, who will be a panellist during TV3's World Cup coverage, recognises that Cullen has clocked a meagre amount of coaching hours for man who has just been entrusted with such a role, yet he maintains that if there had been a more eligible candidate then they would have been hired.

"The thing about Leo is, even when he was playing, he had that strategic thinking. He knows the place inside out, he knows what has made it successful and he knows what has made it fail in the past.

"You can't replace experience, but that's the reality of it. By his own admission, it has come early for him. He's no fool and he knows that he has a lack of experience in the head coach role.

"If there was nobody good enough to come in and fill that position, Leo was delighted to take it. Leo, in whatever he's done, has been successful. People have to be patient, and you'll see some success in the future."

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