Cullen reaping benefits from Ireland break
LEO CULLEN is ahead of schedule and back in business after coming through 80 minutes against the Ospreys last Friday night.
The 34-year-old Leinster captain made a difficult decision to undergo surgery in January, giving up his Six Nations ambitions for the greater good of long-term gain. His Achilles had been painful for a year and he decided that the pace of the international game would do it no good.
Cullen was supposed to return in April, with the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Cardiff Blues seen as the ideal time, but everything has gone better than expected and the second-row came back a fortnight early.
After coming through the full 80 minutes against the Welsh side at the RDS, Cullen is all systems go for Saturday's showdown with Munster at Thomond Park.
"At this stage of the season, considering where I was at, it was the correct decision," he said of the choice of surgery over the Six Nations. "International rugby is a step up in terms of intensity, and it was deemed to be the best thing at the time as well.
"It was good to get through the game on Friday. I wasn't sure beforehand how long I would get through but I felt pretty good as the game went on. I found it difficult to get into the rhythm of the game in the first half, but as the game went on I felt pretty good.
"It's been about a year since I had a pain-free match. At the start of the season I felt pretty good after time off, but three or four games into the season I was back to square one.
"The rehabilitation wasn't too bad. The surgeon was pretty simplistic -- just start walking first of all and then build up to jogging at a very, very slow pace initially and then gradually increase the work rate.
"I've had my fair share of injuries. I've had three shoulder reconstructions at this stage and I'm pretty much stapled together. It's the profile of a 34-year-old rugby player I suppose."
Perhaps, it helped that Cullen packed down with a man with more miles on the clock than he on Friday night.
All Black Brad Thorn may be 37 but he threw himself into his first game for his new club with gusto.
The Leinster captain has been chatting to the new arrival, looking for titbits of advice on how to stay fit in such an attritional game and, having watched Thorn at close quarters, he reckons he has a few years left in him yet.
"We were both pretty nervous," he admitted. "I was saying how nervous I was before the game and he was the same. It was great to play with a guy of his calibre and experience. It was just a pity we didn't get a result on the night.
"I chat to him about how he manages himself, in terms of the gym stuff that he does. You see Simon Shaw playing away at 38 in Toulon, so it is manageable. Brad has dedicated a huge part of his life to managing his body to get through the punishment that you have to put up with over the course of his career and he is a very interesting guy to talk to, certainly.
"He's a really powerful guy, he has been around the block and is a very, very strong guy. Coming from a rugby league background, he is very powerful and explosive as well. I thought he carried pretty well on the night and I'll think he'll benefit from a few games in the system here."