Victor Costello: Leo Cullen's hands-on role will allow him put his familiar stamp on proceedings
Published 05/09/2014 | 02:30
Pre-season friendlies are always a gamble for coach and players.
Leinster must remain consistent this year but finding a balance between young players who have been involved in pre-season with the experienced players who would have started that little bit later, is always a job in itself.
Throw in the threat of injury and the speed at which the competitive season creeps up, and pre-season is always stressful and always comes at a price.
Dan Leavy - an upcoming Leinster star - suffered an injury which is a prime example of this. Jordi Murphy's ongoing injury also puts a dent in the back-row availability.
With the pre-season friendlies over now, moving forward into the Pro12, players in each position need a run of games to bed in their personal skills and attributes. While impact off the bench is crucial, players also need security in their position to develop momentum and consistency.
The time for experiments is effectively over. Warm-up matches in the off-season are important, but there is always a team in Matt O'Connor's mind that if forced to show his hand, he could produce tomorrow.
Players have to put their hands up for selection, players like Noel Reid and Dominic Ryan.
I'm looking forward to the season, even though there has been so much disruption in the structure of what we have come to know and love.
As much as we lamented the ERC's inability to defend themselves against the power brokers, the fans have a long season ahead of Pro12 and European Rugby Champions Cup (ERCC), which will follow into the World Cup.
It was regrettable that the ERCC took so long to identify the weekends for the pool games in an already compacted season.
It feels like the fans will have to pace themselves through this season like the squads.
This task, however, will be a lot easier than O'Connor's. Throughout all this disruption, the rugby show must go on.
The pressure for O' Connor is: did Leinster recruit well? Have the academy players come through with another season under their belt? Has the pre-season training made players hungry to get a ball in hand? Have the Irish squad players rested sufficiently from their season-ending tour in Argentina?
All of these questions will be answered in the coming weeks but achieving a good start to the season and maintaining that is the challenge.
It is both exciting and encouraging to watch the progression of Leo Cullen to forwards coach.
Leo has been around this set-up for 16 years and it will be difficult for him to work on both the training park and in the office but not on the pitch on match day.
But the experience in this area between captain and forwards coach is invaluable and will give O'Connor more time to overview his squad.
Leo's connection to the forwards in the Leinster squad has been dominant in their success over the last 10 years. His ambition and pride in the jersey has got him through many intense battles.
The respect in which he is held around the world is immense. Having a hands-on position like his current title will mean that we can look forward to his familiar stamp on proceedings for many years ahead.
Finally, bringing the pre-season games and open training sessions around the province has been a great success over the last few years.
Social media can give fans more access to Leinster players, but supporters and kids having on-field access to the work behind the glamorous scenes in the RDS and The Aviva over the last few weeks in Ashbourne and Tallaght Stadium will prove invaluable to Leinster's success in the future.
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