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Cullen open to closed matches

But rugby may take longer to get back


COMPLICATIONS: Leo Cullen has no way of knowing what type of games will be played when rugby eventually resumes. Pic: Sportsfile

COMPLICATIONS: Leo Cullen has no way of knowing what type of games will be played when rugby eventually resumes. Pic: Sportsfile

COMPLICATIONS: Leo Cullen has no way of knowing what type of games will be played when rugby eventually resumes. Pic: Sportsfile

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen insists that the province is very much open to playing games behind closed doors, if it means getting the season back up and running, but he warned that other sports could return before rugby due to the contact nature of the sport.

Cullen, who addressed the media on a lengthy conference call yesterday afternoon, admitted that the decision would ultimately be made by government officials, but he remains hopeful that rugby can resume this year, despite Health Minister Simon Harris telling the Sunday Independent that mass gatherings for the remainder of 2020 were "highly unlikely".

Leinster haven't yet ruled out the possibility of returning to some sort of training next month, while Cullen also confirmed that he is keen on the idea of playing an inter-provincial series this year.

While that may well happen due to the potential restrictions on cross-border competitions, such as the Champions Cup and PRO14, Cullen would welcome the chance to play behind closed doors as a last resort.

"We don't have a full grasp of some of those conversations that are taking place," Cullen said.

"What would it look like behind closed doors? We will just get on with that if that is the arrangement.

"We've all been involved in training games and pre-season games where there is not that same crowd atmosphere.

"It takes away from what supporters bring to sport and we have been incredibly lucky over the last number of years in terms of the involvement our supporters have had, and yeah, they would potentially be denied being in the stadium, but it would be better than nothing.

"And obviously it would allow us to get sport back up and running as well.

"We'll adhere to all the various guidelines that come out. It is obviously up to the health minister and all the relevant health authorities as to how that interaction happens with the different sporting bodies."

Given the contact element of the sport, there are growing fears that rugby could be one of the last sports to be allowed to return and Cullen admitted that rugby would likely have to be guided by other sports.

"Most team sports, there is going to be some level of contact, so what all that looks like is still unknown," Cullen continued.

"There are complications because we are in the middle of the season and there are still games to be played. We're challenged by the cross-border issue as well.

"The actual challenge of playing the game itself, we will see. There is probably going to be other sports back up and running before us and we will see how a lot of that materialises.

"We're just trying to put a plan around the playing group."

The IRFU may look at implementing an inter-provincial series and while supporters would certainly welcome that development, so too would Cullen.

"Definitely, at some point we're going to have to get back to playing and training, whether that's in small groups or extended out," the Leinster boss maintained.

"We've got inter-provincial teams on our doorstep and we've got four teams and then we've got our club situation as well.

"We need to be open-minded about some of the decisions that have to be made because it's trying to make the best of the situation we find ourselves in.

"I think the provinces have been good in terms of their alignment and we're all working to a similar plan. So if there is a situation where we need to get back up and playing games, at least that situation is positive because the provinces are operating under very similar restrictions, I guess."

Reports in recent days have suggested that a second Six Nations could be played later this year in a bid to ease the mounting financial issues due to the coronavirus.

Cullen explained that if that scenario does arise, Leinster would approach it as they would a World Cup, when most of their players are on international duty with Ireland.

"We'll adapt to whatever we have to, so it's very similar to that World Cup period, where we're playing competition games the same weekend as there are World Cup games going on as well," he said. "We will be prepared to crack on."