Monday 26 September 2016

'Regardless of who is sitting in this chair, it's a challenge' - Defiant Leo Cullen comes out fighting

Leinster coach is confident that he’s the right man to lead club forward

Published 20/11/2015 | 02:30

Leo Cullen admits he has a difficult job ahead of him as Leinster head coach
Leo Cullen admits he has a difficult job ahead of him as Leinster head coach

Leo Cullen always knew that there would be weeks like this but he perhaps wasn't expecting it to happen after his first European game in charge of Leinster.

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A record home defeat in Europe doesn't look good whatever way you dress it up and Cullen hasn't shirked the part he played in the humiliation by Wasps last weekend.

To a man, the Leinster players have come out this week and defended their new coach, who many people believe was given the job too soon but despite his relative inexperience, Cullen insists that he is the right man to bring Leinster forward.

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Jordi Murphy, Sean Cronin, Devin Toner and Fergus McFadden just before the final whistle
of their stinging defeat
Jordi Murphy, Sean Cronin, Devin Toner and Fergus McFadden just before the final whistle of their stinging defeat

Panic buttons aren't being pressed yet but a defeat in Bath tomorrow would raise a few more eyebrows. But Cullen, in a staunch defence of his credentials, was eager to point out that what he lacks in coaching experience, he makes up for as a player, having captained Leinster to three Heineken Cups.

"It is a difficult job," Cullen acknowledged.

"But regardless of who's sitting in this chair, it was going to be a challenge this year with the nature of people coming in and out.

"For me, I have a lot of experience with the group. I have a lot of experience in Leinster rugby, a lot of experience in Europe, not necessarily as a coach, but what it means to be successful in these campaigns.

Wasps' Nathan Hughes offloads as he is tackled by Johnny Sexton of Leinster
Wasps' Nathan Hughes offloads as he is tackled by Johnny Sexton of Leinster

"In terms of European experience, there are not many people who have more. That's a fact. The coaching part of it, yeah there are certain things. But, there's not a huge amount I can do about that.

"I will endeavour to do the very best that I can for this club because it means a huge amount for me. I would be a firm believer in the ability that we have in this building as well. We had a bad day at the office.

"It's important that we address certain things that didn't go well. And it's important that we move on to the next challenge because we're in a very tough block of games."

One of the most jarring aspects of Leinster's shoddy performance at the RDS was that many of the combinations that Cullen chose, were players who have been together since August - with Leinster and Ireland.

Dejected Leinster players (from left) Luke McGrath, Cian Healy, Jordi Murphy, and Jamie Heaslip troop off the pitch after their humiliating defeat to Wasps
Dejected Leinster players (from left) Luke McGrath, Cian Healy, Jordi Murphy, and Jamie Heaslip troop off the pitch after their humiliating defeat to Wasps

That Leinster were the bulk suppliers to Ireland's World Cup campaign has certainly hindered them, regardless of what many of the players might want you to believe and speaking from his own experience, Cullen accepts that it can take time to re-adjust.

However, he knows that a performance like the one that his side dished out was far from acceptable, regardless of the circumstances.

"It's very hard to know because with the systems and structures it is just a little bit different," he said.

"As a player I know what that was like coming in and out of different environments. It can be a challenge but we still should be good enough to get on with it and manage things better.

"I have been in the position (as a player) where we lost to London Irish in that first game in Europe in the past. Not by as big a margin but lost, nonetheless, at home.

"Even when I was playing with Leicester Tigers when we had Munster in our group we lost at home in our first game so it is not a new experience.

"I have gone away from those games thinking the world is over, but we just need to focus on what we can focus on and that is Bath."

This week has been a huge learning curve in terms of Cullen's fledgling coaching career and it has included plenty of challenges along the way.

Isa Nacewa revealed that Cullen had a few harsh words that were very much warranted for the players and that in itself isn't something he has had to do since having his full squad available to him.

"It's okay. I know the group so well. I don't over-think a lot of these things," he maintained.

"It's what you do in the moment. That's how I was as a player. As a coach, in my behavioural habits, I would be very similar, I think.

"As it is unfolding I am trying to work out why certain things are happening. Make some judgement calls at the time, watch the game seven or eight times later and you make a lot clearer judgement.

"Again, what is the most challenging thing? It is trying to strike the right chord all the time because we have to get a certain level of detail against a team that we know is going to be a tough challenge and the guys needed to see some harsh realities to the game, where we let ourselves down.

"There are areas we can fix that are very much in our control and that would disappoint me and anger me from the weekend."

This week may have been different to anything that Cullen has had to endure in the past but he'll know that if there is a repeat next week, Leinster's European adventure will be over before it even began.

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