Thursday 19 April 2018

Captain Cullen set to make welcome return at Wembley

Leo Cullen is set for his first action since a shoulder injury sustained last May.
Leo Cullen is set for his first action since a shoulder injury sustained last May.
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

It is quite a setting for any comeback, and yesterday Leo Cullen confirmed that he is highly likely to make his return to rugby at Wembley on Saturday.

The Leinster captain has not played since dislocating his shoulder against Edinburgh on May 9, ruling him out of the Magners League semi-final and final as well as Ireland's summer tour.

After months of rehabilitation and some recent contact sessions, the experienced lock is ready to make an impact against a highly rated Saracens side looking to bounce back from their opening- day defeat to Clermont this weekend.

"Good to go this week," he said. "If I can get through training now tomorrow then I can play some sort of role this week. It feels really good, I'm really happy with where I'm at at the moment, so we'll see how we go, the final leap of faith.

"It stems back from when I was in school, I had a dislocation and it has just always been there, really. I've had periods where I've got it fixed. I had surgery in 2003 and I didn't have a problem until 2008 and since then it's been pretty messy.


"It was out for a while and I was like, f*** it, I just want to get this sorted'. With a shoulder you can carry on, like even if it could be hanging off you -- you can still run around. It's grand when it's in, as long as it's not out.

"It's a little bit (of a trust issue), a kind of apprehension. There's a strength issue there as well, obviously, when you're getting sliced open you're going to be a lot weaker and you have got to get that strength back."

The timing of Cullen's return couldn't be better for Leinster coach Joe Schmidt, who travels to London with huge doubts over the fitness of Brian O'Driscoll.

The 24-cap second-row didn't enjoy his spell on the sidelines and Cullen admitted he found the period in which Leinster lost three Magners League matches out of four particularly difficult.

"When the team is not going great there is massive frustration because it's a disaster," he said. "You don't want to be chirping up too much in meetings because you're not really there, it's pretty easy from the sidelines.

"At the same time, when the team does well there's almost an envy factor, you want to be there for the big days. I think players want to play at the end of the day, whether the team is winning or losing, you still want to be out there doing your bit.

"But yeah, it was very frustrating, definitely, I must say. Especially when the team comes in for a bit of criticism, it's even more frustrating I think."

Although the English Premiership has evolved since Cullen left Leicester in 2007, the lock keeps in touch with the game across the Irish Sea through his good friend at London Irish, Bob Casey, and he describes the South African-dominated Saracens as being a tightly-knit unit.

"Going back to the days of (Francois) Pienaar, (Michael) Lynagh and (Phillipe) Sella they have been seen as a money team," he said. "They had a rich benefactor, but I think they have changed a little bit.

"In the last two years they have gone down a different road with a bit more, obviously, of a South African influence. They are trying to make the whole thing a bit more sustainable.

"I admire them in many ways for what they are doing. In terms of how they are perceived, from talking to Bob (Casey), they are a tight-knit group of players.

"I think that is the (Brendan) Venter influence. Some of their players have signed extensions there -- that's what they emphasise, a tight-knit, family group."

Irish Independent

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