Sunday 22 April 2018

Cullen convinced Leinster were good enough to go all the way in Europe

Leo Cullen. Photo: Sportsfile
Leo Cullen. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Having arrived back in Dublin late on Sunday night, any notion of the Leinster players being allowed to wallow in self pity were quickly dispelled as the entire squad gathered for the review session in UCD yesterday.

While no one really wanted to be there, a five-day turnaround before Glasgow arrive on Friday demands that little time is spent dwelling on the bitterly disappointing defeat in Lyon.

The positives were in plentiful supply but that will come as little comfort to a young squad who have now suffered a Guinness PRO12 final defeat and a Champions Cup semi-final loss.

Successful teams are built from such heartaches but there is something that still really irks Leo Cullen; he fully believes that his side were good enough to go all the way this year.

In contrast to Rassie Erasmus' assessment that Munster are "15 to 20" points behind Saracens, Leinster certainly don't think they are that far away.

Johnny Sexton hinted as much afterwards and that nagging feeling between the coaches and players will remain until they get a chance to right the wrongs in Europe next season.

"Always," Cullen replied when asked if he felt his squad were good enough to win the Champions Cup this season.

"(I have) 100pc faith in them. As always, there's a couple of things you need to go your way, referee's calls etc.

"There's a lot of things (that went wrong) in our control. The players would love another crack at it. The biggest frustration for them is that's their chance.

"They'd love to go back out and play again today. Unfortunately you don't get that chance, and it's a bloody long wait until you get into another European semi-final again. Hopefully it's only a year."

Leinster have shown enough this season to suggest that they will be back on the same stage next season but Cullen's task now is to ensure that those young players who have experienced two costly defeats on the big stage, don't mentally suffer.

"Thinking back to the PRO12, we had a really good performance in the semi-final," Cullen recalled. "Because you have that feel good factor, you think you are just going to carry on where you left off. Unfortunately, we just got a bit of a shock at the start.

"You are always riding that balance of complacency and confidence. I don't think the players lacked confidence or ability in any way.

"Even at 15 points down, I was 100pc backing them. We created chances in the first-half where we were guilty of forcing it.

"It's very hard to throw players into that atmosphere of 41,000 people. It's hard to replicate that on the training field, the pressure, the tension, the anxiety that comes with that.

"Whereas, as the game goes on, when we were behind, it was almost like 'We're relaxed now' so we know what we have to do - we'll chase the game.

"The start of the game is sometimes the hardest. You get that anxiety that builds up and players make uncharacteristic errors because they are forcing things so hard.

"It was that little bit of composure that we needed."

Leinster's slow start will haunt Cullen and his players for some time yet but there were enough encouraging signs in how the young players fought back.

Garry Ringrose recovered from some early nerves to put in a superb performance that was capped by his wonder-try that will live long in the memory.

Warren Gatland might not think that Ringrose is ready to tour with the Lions just yet but Cullen unsurprisingly disagreed with the Kiwi.

"I was disappointed for him," the Leinster head coach added.

"Who knows what's going to happen between now and the departure, and during the course of the tour but I'd have no worries for Garry (touring). He's an unbelievably smart kid who works very hard. I'd be delighted to see him go."

Irish Independent

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