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Cullen stays cool under fire


Leinster head coach Leo Cullen during yesterday’s press conference at Belfield (Sportsfile)

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen during yesterday’s press conference at Belfield (Sportsfile)

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen during yesterday’s press conference at Belfield (Sportsfile)

You wouldn't know it to look at him.

Leo Cullen suffers more than most of us.

He was in no mood to play like a rock and pretend he is impervious to everything going on around him out at Leinster headquarters yesterday.

"I feel under pressure all the time," said Cullen, in his inimitable, amiable manner.

He may feel it. He rarely shows it.

This is a gift given from whatever God he talks to or the genes that course through his veins.

"I always feel the pressure like that. I don't think the results have changed that. I don't feel any additional pressure. I'm fully focused on making sure the team is best prepared as possible."

There is a real sense of the cool head in a crisis that made him such a formidable captain.

You have to think those same personality traits and the skills he is acquiring day-to-day transfer to the coaching office he now holds.

That remains to be seen, not just heard.

For the moment, he has to stand in the gap for his struggling out-half.

"Johnny (Sexton) is as good a pro as you are ever going to come across in any sport.

"When the team loses he hurts badly and he takes a huge amount of pride and responsibility in what he does representing this team."

Toulon are becoming as much a psychological problem for Leinster as they are a physical one.

That is saying something.

There may come a day when everyone has to throw their hands up and exhale loudly: 'they're just too good.'

Until then, Cullen and his lieutenant assistants will fight the good fight.

They will fix, alter, tinker, reshape, regroup in the belief that there has to be a way to sling a stone that will 'breakdown' this Goliath.

It will have to happen where groundhogs Steffon Armitage, Duane Vermeulen, Matieu Bastareaud and even Bryan Habana cause carnage and chaos.

Now, Nigel Owens is the best in the business because he allows a contest just about everywhere on the field.

He officiates on feel as much as the application of the rule book.

English barrister Wayne Barnes operates to the letter of the law.

He is pernickety about its' application and does not feel inclined to favour the dominant force.

This may just play in Leinster's favour tomorrow.

Toulon are the masters of the ruck even though there is more than a quibble about the legality of their foremost forager Armitage when he gets there.

"It's not like we haven't been aware of it. The reality is dealing with it on the day," said Cullen.

"We suffered pretty similarly, particularly in Mayol two years ago. We dealt with it a little bit better last year when Armitage came off the bench.

"Wayne Barnes was refereeing both of those games. We saw in that game as well. It is hard to see, the way his (Armitage) technique is."

Where Cullen will have instructions for his back row, and the supporting cast, to do what they can in a jungle of bodies, it may just have to be Barnes that is quickest to the breakdown to give him best chance to see what exactly is happening.

One second or one step too late on the scene and the crime will already have been committed.

There is no blame attached to either Owens or Barnes. They have an instant to make a decision.

"I think the officials need about ten pairs of eyes at the moment. It's a tough game to referee at times," asserted Cullen.

Despite the creeping dominance of Toulon last week, Leinster didn't help their case with 17 penalties and three yellow cards.

Previous to that, they had seen the bin three times in the previous ten matches.

The problem is seasoned internationals, like Cian Healy and Devin Toner, will act uncharacteristically when they are not able to make the impact they expect.

Frustration leads to indiscipline.

In turn, this leads to penalties, territory and, in Toulon's case, the platform for a juggernaut maul.

"For this week, it's about producing a performance and correcting what went wrong last weekend," said Cullen.

"The guys really care and they want to put in a better performance."