'They were p***ed off' - Leo Cullen reveals Johnny Sexton and Sean O'Brien's fury at being subbed
Leo Cullen said his decision to withdraw Johnny Sexton and Sean O’Brien at half-time of his side’s 22-16 defeat to Monepellier was not down to injury and revealed the star duo were not happy with his decision.
The Leinster coach decided to replace the Lions pair at the interval, with Joey Carbery and Jordi Murphy coming on to the field.
O’Brien was making his first appearance since February, while Sexton was an injury doubt all week after missing the opening Champions Cup game against Castres with a hamstring strain.
Unusually, the No 10 handed the kicking duties to Isa Nacewa who has a 100% record and was responsible for all of his side’s points as they battled back to secure what could prove a vital losing bonus point with a last gasp try and conversion.
Second-row Mick Kearney was withdrawn with a suspected concussion and was replaced despite passing his Head Injury Assessment according to Cullen.
And the coach said the call to remove the key duo was in part down to the heavy pitch and said that they were unhappy to be replaced.
“Him and Seany, the two of them are coming back in. We're making assessments all week on those guys on what's suitable and not putting guys at unnecessary risk,” Cullen said.
“The two of them came through and they were p***ed off coming off at half-time because we made the call.
“The kicking is really between Isa and Johnny, those two are bouncing off each other all the time. I don't make the call on who kicks. those two guys have a ton of experience and if Isa steps up and says he's happy, Johnny goes 'yeah'.”
On Friday, Nacewa was asked if he might continue to do the goal-kicking and said: “I won’t be place kicking this weekend. When Johnny’s back, Johnny goal kicks.”
After a 100% return at Amstrad Stadium, the Leinster skipper smiled when asked about taking the kicking tee from Sexton.
“It's a hard thing to do, everyone at Leinster knows that,” he said.
“Look, I was kicking last week and I came down here yesterday at the Captain's Run and just started slotting them, kicking them well.
“So, even before kick-off I knew I was going to take the kicks. It was happy days and it went well today.
“Look, he's coming into his first European game; him and Seany O'Brien.
“Once again, it's a team effort and I kicked well in the Captain's Run so I just got the charge.”
The Leinster captain was delighted with his side’s response in adverse conditions as they prevented an at-times rampant Montpellier from securing a four-try bonus and then nabbed a point of their own that leaves them top of Pool 4 after two games.
“Listen, this competition is so hard and every single point counts,” he said.
“Especially in these early two rounds so it's a great sign by the squad and moreso the bench; the impact those guys had there to come back there at the end and come away from there with the point.”
Cullen reflected on a strange game.
“It was a strange game, really strange. Those conditions were difficult and it led to it being quite a scrappy game in the first half in particular,” the former second-row said.
“For the most part I thought we were getting the upper hand even though we were playing in to a reasonable breeze - it was swirling a bit but I think we were definitely playing into it in the first half.
“For the most part we handled things really well, but then we get a really good turnover and give the ball straight back to them when they score.
“It felt like a really cheap seven points. A couple of minutes later we defend a maul quite well to the sideline, but we defended quite narrow because of some of the threats they have and then Nadolo,really strong finish from him, we know the threat he poses.
“Again, the try in the second half, we do really well to defend the maul, get a scrum from the turnover and we just cough up a cheap one.
“You have to be able to deal with things like that if you want to progress in this tournament. I thought the lads scrambled their way back into the game, showed good fighting spirit.
“Even after not getting over a couple of times, for Isa to get over at the end was pleasing and Isa's smart enough to get a little closer to the posts to make the conversion a bit easier.”